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Iron & Paint:
The Lee-Jackson Memorial: A Rational Interpretation

1,765 words

Bmore LJM 2 [1]There has been much anger expressed on either side of the racial divide in Baltimore, concerning the so-called “Lee-Jackson Memorial.” This past week, on a fog-shrouded, drizzling, winter Wednesday, a young White Nationalist from out of state came to Baltimore on his personal mission to photograph Caucasian monuments before they are taken down by the New Left [2]. I accompanied him.

Before continuing, if your parents avoided damaging your brain in childhood, you may wish to access A Dictionary of Symbols [3] by J. E. Cirlot.

If your mother was drunk while you abided in her womb, just grab Transformations of Myth Through Time [4] by Joseph Campbell.

If Mom was a stoner and Dad was smacking her around before you were ejected from her womb to eat lead paint, view an NFL game, and understand that you will not have access to the prime vagina dancing on the sidelines, because you are not one of the Homeric bruisers on the gridiron, nor one of their puppet masters . . .

Monumental architecture and the subordinate statuary are generally limited to erection in un-free social circumstances, with the minority representing the fleeting victory of some un-free soul (such as an athlete or hero) in the face of Time’s yawning maw, and the majority representing messages to the slaves of the future by the masters of the past, in support of the masters that have assumed their ancient powers over the minds of the masses and the bodies of all.

One must be careful not to isolate individual works of art that comprise larger municipal monuments, as these entire parks are often integrated metaphoric schemes, which were conceived in the context of a general education that no longer exists. When Wyman Park was built it was known by most U.S. denizens that, though the Union prevailed in the Civil War, the Confederacy fielded better fighting men at all levels. At this time, circa 1910, Union and Confederate veterans of major battles were sometimes gathering to honor each other. These healings and the known history of the Civil War, generated something of a demon question:

“How could the Confederacy, formed as a rebellious entity for the very purpose of extending the reach of forced human servitude, in one of its crueler forms, into the unconquered West and Latin America, have produced the most courageous, competent, heroic and honorable combatants?”

At Wyman Park, in what was essentially a border state, the architects of this park seem to have made an attempt to put this demon to rest within the larger context of a monument honoring the Maryland men who fought for the “preservation of the Union,” on land, river, and sea.

Bmore LJM 3 [5]

Below I shall do my best to describe the Union war memorial that is Wyman Park.

Facing Charles Street, which is the most culturally significant primary street in Baltimore, is a jutting eminence of stone, backed by a marble half-circle bench. This viewer took the bench as both an invitation to sit and ponder the monument, once viewed, but also as a symbol of deliberation, the seats now unoccupied by the men who passed sentence on a former age and who no longer walk among us.

On the pedestal is a single union soldier, representing the anonymous men who did most of the dying, for the cause — as stipulated by the epigram — of preserving the Union.

The soldier stands above the Anvil of Victory, indicating a long, arduous struggle.

On either side are army and naval symbols.

WymanParkMemorial1 [6]

On the soldier’s left stands Pallas Athena, goddess of thoughtful, civic, war making, of the just striving of the collective “demos,” marking this monument as inspired by the battle dead monuments raised by the ancient Athenians [from which our democratic principles descend down through the ages]. The shield of Athena—for the goddess was generally seen as the protector of communities in ancient statuary, contrary to the drivel of postmodern “masculinity” advocates—is emblazoned with the naval and army symbols.

On the soldier’s right is Nike, winged goddess of victory.

The soldier has divine sanction to left and to right.

Below the statues, on the flanks of the eminence, are carvings of sailors to one side and soldiers to the other, striving heroically, under great threat, in a collective, suffering, but undeterred, body.

On the eve of the age of mass, nationalistic warfare, no more fitting message for the individual fighting man could be left in the name of his heroic predecessors.

Behind the monument stands a children’s playground, offering the civic lesson—perhaps an apocryphal or spurious one, as I am not familiar with the date of its inclusion—that in the wake of the suffering of men, children might safely play.

A wooded hillside gives way to an artificially deepened valley, evoking the Valley of the Shadow of Death that is War, congruent with the Christian imagery subtly worked into the victory monument above.

A stair rises from the valley—which is representative of the Civil War that divided the nation—into a stand of trees. These trees manage to evoke the forest when the viewer stands beneath the next monument. The forest is the key context for heroic striving across a vast body of Western Mythology, a metaphor with particular resonance in the United States as “the superseded past,” for this land was the most heavily forested in the world upon its settlement, and at the time of the monument was almost completely deforested. (Forest cover a hundred years ago in the Eastern U.S. was a much less than today, as agricultural production has since been moved primarily beyond the Mississippi.)

Amid this “forest,” (often symbolizing the hero’s quest) on the far side of the park, on a platform that sits lower than the “plateau” upon which the main monument is placed, is a flat marble platform on a low ziggurat-style tier. On this platform, is an eminence that grows awesome as the viewer walks beneath it, as the two men are seated on horses, twice human scale like the soldier and goddesses of the main monument. The horses represent—by default, throughout Western history—the servitude of not only these beasts, but of lesser men as well.

WymanParkMemorial2 [7]

The men are “Stonewall” Jackson, hero general of the Confederacy—though no word about the Confederacy, or the “lost cause” is mentioned. Jackson, as he did in his storied career, wore a simple soldier’s cap, not the general’s hat of his commander, Lee, who sits next to him. It was well known to every student of the Civil War that Lee claimed that he lost the key battle of the war at Gettysburg, for lack of Jackson, who was his “right arm,” and Jackson does sit his horse to Lee’s right.

Lee is cloaked as if against the rain, or the night, or in mourning of the pending loss of the man he depended on so often for victory. The scene is stipulated in the epigram as depicting the parting of Lee and Jackson for the last time, as they ride off to supervise their brilliant victory at Chancellorsville, at the close of which Jackson will be killed, accidentally, by his own men. For the Southern cause, this is the moment of ultimate victory and of unavoidable doom, all in one.

WymanParkMemorial3 [8]

The feeling, in ancient Hellenic terms—which was the pattern of the Park—is of the archaic, heroic period, the time of kings and heroes, before the rise of democratic communities like Athens, when monumental architecture is of single heroes, who will be incorporated in later collective monuments, like the Parthenon.

There is a laudatory quote by Lee, about Jackson, on his side of the monument, which I do not recall.

There is a quote by Jackson, that he would follow Lee “blindly,” under any circumstances.

The statue of Robert E. Lee, cast in black iron like the rest of the figures, is grave, as he sits on Traveler, his storied horse. Jackson, Lee and the entire Army of Northern Virginia constituted one of the most successful battlefield fraternities in masculine history. The men revered Lee like a father — and more, loved him — sometimes refusing to fight until he was safely in the rear, and then driving in a suicidal fury at the enemy, often in bare feet. Indeed, Lee got caught out of position at Gettysburg trying to get to a shoe factory so his men would have something to wear on their feet in the coming winter.

This monument cannot be understood without the above knowledge of the devotion of these men to each other, the only devotion described on this image of iron and stone.

Most ominously, as Lee and Jackson look into a parking lot, over ground seemingly intended to represent the past—of some lost age—the man who Jackson has said he will follow blindly anywhere, has taken his binoculars out of their case, but does not look through them.

The monument of a divided nation that is Wyman Park, will lose its lesson, and its soul, when a people blinded by hate remove this tragic portion of it, and in so doing remove their own past without knowing what it was.

Post Script

On the saddle of Jackson’s horse, a stick, crudely placed and painted the color of iron, holds a pair of wooden shackles, meant to indicate that Jackson represented slavery. This adulterous addition to the Union Monument, dedicated to the Soldiers of Maryland, is streaked as the paint fades under the elements, in sharp contrast to the unmarred iron it was intended to amend.

When one looks across the street to the left, a view of student housing for John’s Hopkins University looks like an old English debtors’ prison, with bars and iron grates barricading the ground floor windows and doors, the left most building defaced with numerous no trespassing and security notices.

As one looks across Charles Street, in a southeasterly direction, past the barricaded dormitory and the emergency call station, an ancient church looms, ominous and holy, except for the armed guard patrolling the front. The viewer has the sense of standing in a deeply divided nation, where — according to all appearances — the acts of learning and worship seem to be undertaken in the utmost peril, as a twenty-year-old woman looks this way and that, like some furtive, hunted creature, at midday, as she descends the stairs of her ancient lodging with a basket of laundry.

Jackson would have surely detailed some lucky, barefoot soldier to carry that basket past whatever danger haunted her so.

Find a link to the location below:

http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=wyman+park&qpvt=wyman+park&qpvt=wyman+park&FORM=IGRE [9]