|Original setting of Silent Sentry sculpture, Mount Moriah Cemetery|
I very rarely time my blogs with particular events. Not because I don’t try, but because I’m scatterbrained. You would think this would be relatively easy, with, for instance, holidays, which tend to happen on the same day every year! But for Memorial Day 2016, I believe I will actually be able to post a topical blog in time for the holiday! Now, I’m not perfect – the Memorial Day event about which I’m writing actually happened two years ago, in 2014.
|Re-enactors at Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, for re-dedication of the Silent Sentry, 2014|
But here’s a timeless fact: Memorial Day (or Decoration Day as it was originally called), an observance with Civil War origins, was first officially held on May 30, 1868. It was observed in Philadelphia at Laurel Hill Cemetery on that date (ref.).
|Ed Snyder with Silent Sentry|
|Civil War reenactors giving a 21-gun salute at General George Meade's grave|
The Silent Sentry statue itself, a magnificent seven-and-a-half-foot-tall bronze of a Civil War soldier, was originally in residence at Philadelphia's Mount Moriah Cemetery. It was installed on the Yeadon, PA side of the cemetery in 1884; Mount Moriah spans two counties, half of it is in Philadelphia, the other half in Delaware County.
|Ceremony at General George Meade's grave site|
When and why did the Silent Sentry leave Mount Moriah?
The plot is the final resting place for 96 Civil War soldiers. In 1889, after 25 years of service, the Soldiers Home “dissolved their corporation and deeded their treasury and burial lots and memorials in Trust to the ‘Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States,’” or MOLLUS (ref.).
|Civil War veterans' MOLLUS Plot at Mount Moriah Cemetery|
Since then, the original Soldiers Home plot has been referred to as the MOLLUS plot. The plot with its small white marble headstones is still there (see photo above), but the statue and pedestal are gone. The Silent Sentry was removed in the 1970s by thieves, who stole it and attempted to sell it to a Camden, New Jersey scrap yard. The scrap dealer notified authorities, who retrieved the damaged sculpture. It was taken to the Laran Bronze foundry in Chester, PA where it was repaired. The bronze statue remained there for about forty years, as MOLLUS did not feel there was adequate security at Mount Moriah Cemetery.
The Silent Sentry’s New Home
|Silent Sentry at Laurel Hill Cemetery|
rededicated on Memorial Day 2014. It “stands watch over the Gen. Meade Post No. 1 Grand Army of the Republic burial plot, looking out at the cemetery where nearly 20 other generals from the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Mexican War, World War I and World War II also are buried” (ref). A fitting place for the statue, in many people’s opinion.
|Silent Sentry arriving at Laurel Hill Cemetery, 2013 (http://civilwarcavalry.com)|
But back to the re-dedication of the statue. Speeches were made and music was played during the ceremony. It was a rather solemn event. People forget that Memorial Day means more than just a cookout in the back yard with family and friends. Memorial Day honors those who have died in the defense of their country. Originally, the occasion referred specifically to decorating the graves of the Union war dead with flowers. The legal holiday originated in 1868 by the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.), an organization of Union veterans, for the purpose of honoring Union soldiers who had died in the Civil War. Confederate traditions were observed on a different day but by the beginning of the twentieth century, the two had merged. The nation began observing the day in honor of all those who have died while in military service.
Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War.” Knowing that my friend Sam Ricks, a member of the “Sons of Confederate Veterans“ was nearby, I introduced them to each other. After they smiled and shook hands, I slipped away into the crowd ….
References and Further Reading: