Sunday, May 27, 2012

65th Anniversary of Lorain's WWII Memorial

You've driven past it a hundred times – and probably didn't even know it was there.

I'm talking about the World War II memorial on the west side of Henderson Drive on the eastern approach to the Lofton Henderson Memorial Bridge. This Memorial Day is the 65th anniversary of its dedication.

Strangely enough, the memorial sits in front of the building that was home to Lake Erie Upholstering at 1830 Henderson Drive. The memorial originally was on the east side of Henderson Drive. How it ended up on the west side – as well as its history – is an interesting story.

The memorial was originally dedicated as part of the climax of Lorain's Memorial Day celebration on May 31, 1947. The Lorain City Club dedicated the memorial as well as 103 sycamore trees lining the eastern approach to the bridge. The plaque on the memorial reads, "THIS AVENUE OF TREES IS DEDICATED AS A TRIBUTE TO THOSE FROM THE CITY OF LORAIN WHO LOST THEIR LIVES IN WORLD WAR II."

Since World War II had only ended two years earlier, honoring Lorain's war dead was an especially emotional event. As the Lorain Journal stated in its coverage of the dedication, "A little Lorain mother flung herself to the ground before the plaque erected at Central High Level bridge in memory of Lorain's World War II dead and cried hysterically. She had lost two sons in the last war and the plaque, erected by the Lorain City club, was dedicated to her two boys, as well as to 217 other Lorainites killed in action."

Unfortunately, it didn't take long for the World War II memorial to be forgotten.

Photo and caption from May 20, 1951 Lorain Sunday News
By 1951, the area around the memorial was a mess. As the May 20, 1951 Lorain Sunday News described, "A visit to the memorial on Henderson Drive, on the east end of the Central High Level Bridge, reveals that it is being sadly neglected."

"There are weeds around the memorial, some more than a foot high, and the marker has been scarred by automobiles that have scraped it in several accidents in that area.

"It is thought that the marker not only needs attention, but that it could be moved, placed further from the street, but still in view of passing traffic and that a chain could be placed around it held by steel or concrete posts.

The memorial was indeed moved, although the exact date cannot be verified. But it remained neglected.

A short article in the November 23, 1954 Chronicle-Telegram stated, "Moved last March from its position on the east side of the roadway to the west side, the monument has become something of a "sore thumb" to area merchants who say its position blocks erection of more business establishments there. Two foot-high weeds around the monument were cleared away recently by a merchant who said the city is not caring for the monument dedicated to those who lost their lives in World War II. The monument is about six feet from the property line of the Hi-Level Nursery on Henderson Drive. "

A May 11, 1955 article in the Lorain Journal entitled "Memorial Neglected" wasn't very pretty, stating, "The Lorain Memorial Association will blast the city for failure to maintain properly the Henderson Dr. Memorial in honor of World War II dead at a meeting in American Legion home at 8 p.m. tomorrow.

"Officials of the association, which sponsors the annual Memorial Day services and parade, said the memorial marker, adjacent the High Level Nursery, was a "disgrace to the community."

"Although a plot of land with about 25 feet of frontage on Henderson Drive was donated to the city for a memorial, the land has the appearance of a trash yard. Large mounds of dirt from recent sewer excavations line the entire frontage. There are several utility poles on the ground to the right of the marker and bales of peat moss and large quantities of nursery stock occupy considerable space on the memorial plot. The ground has no grass and the extreme rear of the plot contains clippings from bushes, branches from trees, cans and other debris."

The article went on to explain that the marker was moved "more than two years ago" when the Memorial Association complained that too many motorists were running into it, and that the high weeds kept it from being seen.

"After" photo from June 1, 1955 Lorain Journal
Happily, the city cleaned up the area.

A simple "before and after" set of photos of the memorial appeared on the front page of the Lorain Journal on June 1, 1955. The photo at right shows the final result.

Today in 2012, the area around the memorial has been better maintained.

The immediate proximity includes a similarly designed monument to its left that is inscribed with names under a small sign that reads "In Remembrance." The Stars & Stripes fly from a flagpole with inscribed paver bricks surrounding its base.

Despite its unusual location in front of a commercial strip, the memorial's original purpose – honoring Lorain's World War II dead – is as important today as it was 65 years ago. Hopefully, the memorial's proximity to the bridge honoring one of Lorain's many war heroes will ensure that it is never neglected again.

The view today, looking towards the Lofton Henderson Memorial Bridge in background


Loraine Ritchey said...

When I was trying ( with other to save what is now Veteran's Park) 2005Lorain's orignal green space I kept being asked what happened to the WW2 memorial that used to be there ( probably a different one than the one in your post) anyway at one such meeting ( tempers were hot) someone asked Jack Lavirha what happened to the original WW2 memorial from that park- he stated he had it in his garage- he is now passed but I am not sure if that memorial ever found its way to a home...... just another of Lorain's buried deep and forgotten

Dan Brady said...

The World War II memorial that used to be in Washington Park that you are referring to is the old Honor Roll, which contained the names of Lorain residents who died while serving in World War II as well as the Korean War. It was a large wooden structure that resembled a framed bulletin board that was erected by the Moose Lodge. By the early 1960s it was deteriorating, so plans were made to replace it (and the old CIvil War soldier monument) with the tablet that is there today.

I'll have to do a post on it soon, I have a few newspaper photos showing what it looks like.

Loraine Ritchey said...

I lost what I typed - anyway now you describe it. the WW1 Honor Roll, I seem to remember that as well as the Civil War soldier looking like a garden gnome in the middle of the flower bed- they took that down in the 80's didn't they when they put up the ampitheatre and renamed Washington Park Veterans's Park- I wasn't here in the 60's - I wonder if anyone has the original now Jack has gone...... maybe if we can get a decent likeness from the photos we could recreate it - and put it back...... ( the sign not the soldier- I was told that would be very expensive.....

Dan Brady said...

The Honor Roll and the soldier were both taken down in April 1967 and replaced by the monolithic monument that honors the soldiers of all wars. You're right that in the 1980s the whole thing was paved over with the addition of the huge fountain, which became quite controversial since it was very expensive and time-consuming to maintain and it turned a public green space into a sea of concrete, which the Parks Director at the time was against.

Drew Penfield said...

Very good to see the monument is being cared for today. I'm amazed that any merchants at that time would have openly complained about the monument being in the way of building more businesses. While I can understand some peoples' desire to forget about a long and bloody war and only look forward to happier things, openly advocating for the removal of such a memorial strikes me as shameful.

Any word on what happened to the 103 sycamore trees? Obviously they were cut down at some point, but do you know the reason? It's too bad. Rows of trees lining the road would certainly beautify that area.

Dan Brady said...

That's a good question, Drew! Yet another Lorain mystery!

Loraine Ritchey said...

I am confused because I was in London in the 60's didn't arrive here until the next decade and I am sure I remember the soldier in the flower bed as I went to city hall.... unless I was having premonitions of my life to come eewwwwwwwwww another mystery