Monuments’ Restoration Envisioned

As Memorial Day approaches, monuments and statues are on the minds of many people in Wheeling.

A committee organized through Wheeling Heritage to return the Soldiers and Sailors Monument to the downtown area has raised $78,000 for the project, exceeding the group’s initial goal. The cost of moving and repairing the monument is estimated at $75,000, but, of course, the final figure could top that amount. For that reason, the committee wanted to raise an additional $3,000 as a cushion for any cost overruns.

Originally, the group wanted to have the monument ready for rededication on Memorial Day this year, but that won’t happen. The committee has set a new target date of August for completion of the project.

The committee is seeking to have the statuary moved to the grounds of West Virginia Independence Hall on Market Street. However, more geotechnical work must be done at the hall’s side yard to determine whether the site can hold the weight of the massive monument and its base.

Currently, the heavy monument is located on a hilltop at Wheeling Park, where it has stood for 59 years.

The monument was ordered from the New England Granite Co. of Hartford, Conn., in 1878. The design features 19 blocks of limestone and three granite figures, with Lady Liberty at the top and a soldier and a sailor on opposite sides of the base.

After considerable debate and a court ruling, the monument was installed at 16th and Chapline streets, on the grounds of the state Capitol (site of the present City-County Building). The monument was dedicated on Memorial Day in 1883.

The memorial remained at that location until 1956, when the former Capitol was demolished. The monument was moved to the Linsly grounds at Thedah Place. However, it was moved to Wheeling Park in 1958 because of Interstate 70 construction.

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Meanwhile, the Aviator statue — located on Linsly’s current grounds at Leatherwood — also is in the news again.

Speaking at the People’s University course, “The First World War,” at the Ohio County Public Library Tuesday evening, Dr. David T. Javersak of Wheeling shared the story of flying ace Louis Bennett Jr., who was the inspiration for the statue.

Javersak said a wreath-laying ceremony will be conducted beside the Aviator statue at Linsly on May 29, which is Memorial Day. He explained that the event will mark the start of a year-long campaign to raise funds for restoration of the memorial.

Rededication of the Aviator is planned for 2018, the 100th anniversary of Bennett’s death.

Wheeling native Sallie Maxwell Bennett (1857-1944) commissioned the statue to honor her son who was killed in action at age 23. The young pilot died on Aug. 24, 1918, after being shot down over France.

Bennett was the only World War I flying ace from West Virginia, although he did not serve with U.S. forces, Javersak said.

A student at Yale University, Bennett organized the West Virginia Flying Corps in Beech Bottom in 1917. The War Department rejected his idea of forming a West Virginia aerial unit, so he joined the British Royal Flying Corps.

Bennett left Yale in his senior year to attend flight school in Canada. After receiving additional training in England, he was stationed in northern France in the summer of 1918.

Javersak pointed out that Bennett served in combat for only 10 days before being killed. During that brief period, though, he earned flying ace status by shooting down three enemy planes and nine balloons.

The Aviator statue is one of 12 memorials that Bennett’s mother dedicated to ensure that her son not be forgotten, Javersak said. The most famous memorial is a stained glass window in Westminster Abbey in London. The window, installed in 1922, overlooks the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior. It is dedicated to Bennett and all members of Royal Flying Corps who died in World War I.

Javersak said Edward Stifel, who brought aviation to Wheeling with the establishment of Stifel Field, suggested to Sallie Maxwell Bennett that the Aviator statue be placed at Linsly. Javersak said the statue was dedicated on Armistice Day in 1925 and rededicated 50 years later, on Veterans Day in 1975.

Linda Comins can be reached via email at: lcomins@theintelligencer.net

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