Three Memorials for Memorial Day

Memorial Day was born in 1866, out of the Civil War, and has grown to become a holiday to commemorate the dead of all wars. This year of 1995 has brought us two special war commemorations - the ending of World War II in Europe is fifty years old and the Vietnam War's end is already more than twenty years old. Jamaica Plain sent soldiers to all three conflicts and when they returned, memorials to their fallen comrades were established in the town. The three memorials were built in different eras, and speak to us differently about our past. Where are these three memorials?

In the center of Jamaica Plain, at the corner of Centre and South Streets, lies the Civil War monument. The arched granite commemorative is our town's most recognizable landmark. An impressive, gothic Victorian symbol to the War between the States, it was erected in 1871, and designed by the architect William W. Lummus. Frederick and Field Company of Quincy cut it from stone. It is thirty-four feet high overall, and made from light gray Clark's Island granite sitting on an eleven-foot square base of darker Quincy granite. The four arches form a covered space in which is a marble tablet containing the names of the townsmen who died from the war. Surmounting the canopy of the arches is a seven-foot statue of a pensive soldier carved by Joseph Sala.

Jamaica Plain was part of West Roxbury, and this was actually erected by the short-lived Town of West Roxbury (1851-1874) as its Soldiers Monument. It was a deliberate act of civic pride to put it next to the Town Hall (now Curtis Hall). The effect of the memorial is like a sacred temple remembering the departed. It is a gothic shrine to memory - with a military motif hovering above it. It speaks of its importance by its placement behind a fence, by its size, its heavy materials and its intricate design. The Monument is practically the most important object in town.

In contrast, Jamaica Plain's World War I and II memorial is almost hard to find. Located at the side of the traffic circle at Centre Street and Arborway, it sits by itself on a grassy plot with hardly anybody walking by. It is a starkly simple granite stone five feet high commemorating the Jamaica Plain dead from both World War I and World War II, and was erected by the Women's Auxiliary of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 675. The fallen are remembered solemnly, but the Town of West Roxbury did not exist any more as a separate municipality, and Victorian ostentation was no longer in style.

By the time of the end of the Vietnam War, styles in memorials were changing again. With Jamaica Plain becoming a part of Boston when the Town of West Roxbury was annexed, a municipal memorial was never a possibility. But different neighborhoods of Boston did create their own expressions of remembrance for the fallen in the Vietnam War. Jamaica Plain was one of these neighborhoods. Jamaica Plain had an annual Vietnam Veterans Parade in the early 1980's, and did dedicate a memorial to the Jamaica Plain dead. Seven trees in a row were planted in front of Curtis Hall next to one already fully grown. All seven have flourished and stand as a monument during this twentieth anniversary year. It seems fitting that a memorial has returned to the old Town Hall, the center of civic pride. But this memorial is of its time: a living monument, not of stone but of green; no names are inscribed, indeed no words at all are attached to the memorial, but the seven living symbols of the will to persevere and be reborn are a fitting memorial.

By Michael Reiskind


Alfred S. Roe, Monuments, Tablets and Other Memorials Erected in Massachusetts, Boston, 1910; Roxbury Gazette, June 9,1870.

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