Monday is Labor Day which is a holiday and your humble is taking a little holiday in honor of the occasion. This week’s entry will not be part of the narrative nor will it be part of the ancient history that forms the basis for the narrative. It is not totally unrelated to the blog because it will speak of historical Galveston and of people who were individually and collectively in the supporting cast. Enjoy your week off – nothing in this week’s entry will be on the exam – think kindly of the author’s photographs [he is no photographer!] and reflect on the quality and grace of the simple monuments and the artistry of the great ones.
With 245 Texas Historical Markers Galveston is ahead of even San Antonio [197 – but who’s counting] as a place where history is celebrated. If you took the list of markers and planned a tour of the county based on them you would see most of the sights and have a very good history lesson in the bargain. We tend to think of these markers like street signs – wonderful for telling you where you are – but if you want to know who was there before you and what they did you need to use the maker to get a few facts, names and dates and then begin your research.
We have chosen to celebrate a selection of different monuments – many have their own Texas Historical Marker – and reflect on them. Galveston has a wonderful tradition of public art funded by private means and the quality that such a tradition engenders is evident in many of these works. Some are memorials and the simplicity and the dignity of their design speaks to the nobility of the sacrifice that they commemorate. Others stand before public works and their solidity comfortably deceives us into believing that such things can stand forever. Finally, one in particular, calls to mind the greatest sacrifice and reminds us that when all the others have been reduced to ash or rubble what it symbolizes will live.
All discussion of monuments in Galveston begin with the Heroes of the Texas Revolution Monument that is somehow the center of the island – in terms of spirit if not in precise geographical terms. Some of the aspects of the monument were described in the NEW YORK TIMES of June 4, 1899.
IN MEMORY OF TEXAS HEROES
Monument Being Erected at Galveston to Commemorate the Wresting of the State from Mexico
The memory of the heroes who wrested Texas from the domination of Mexico and were instrumental in adding thousands of square miles of territory to the United States is, after the lapse of many years, to be commemorated in an appropriate manner.
The late Henry Rosenberg, a well-known banker, who died sometime since bequeathed nearly a quarter of a million dollars to public enterprises and among other items his will set aside $50,000.00 for the erection of a monument to commemorate the deeds of the heroes who participated in the struggle for Texas’s independence. The monument, which is rapidly approaching completion, will, it is expected, be the finest work of the kind in the South.
It is located at the intersection of Broadway and Rosenberg Avenue – the two widest streets in the city. The foundation is twenty-four feet square and four and one half feet deep. The monument, which is constructed of grey granite from the celebrated quarries at Concord, N. H., stands 74 feet in height. It is composed of four columns, each weighing twelve tons, said to be the largest single columns ever used in a work of this character. Surrounding these columns is a capstone upon which is inscribed the words, PATRIOTISM, HONOR, DEVOTION, COURAGE. On this capstone there will be placed a bronze figure twenty feet high, emblematic of Texas crowning the heroes of the revolution, with a wreath of laurel. The figure holds in one hand a sword entwined by flowers.
The north front of the monument has the following inscription: “A tribute from Henry Rosenberg to the heroes of the Texas Revolution of 1836,” and on the same side there will be a bronze panel three and one half by nine feet representing the Battle of San Jacinto, April 21, 1836. Above it will be a bronze medallion of General Sam Houston, the Texas Commander in Chief, flanked by allegorical representations of peace and war.
On the south front there will be a bronze panel commemorating the fall of the Alamo fortress at San Antonio and a medallion of Stephen F. Austin, one of the founders of the Texas Republic, surrounded by allegorical figures.
On the east front will be a seated female figure seven feet high in the attitude of unsheathing a sword and offering DEFIANCE. This represents Texas in October 1835 when under Mexican dominion. The bronze panel on this side commemorates the massacre of the Georgia Battalion commanded by Colonel J. W. Fannin by the Mexicans at Goliad, La Bahia, after they had surrendered as prisoners of war.
On the west face there will be a bronze figure of PEACE. The bronze panel on this side commemorates the capture and surrender of Santa Anna, the Mexican president-dictator, at the battle of San Jacinto, who is represented brought before Houston, who is reclining, wounded, under the shade of an oak tree.
Around the sub-base of the monument there will be a number of busts in bas-relief. The statue groups, bas reliefs and other bronze works have been executed in Rome by Professor Amaties. Professor Amaties was required to submit his work to the College of Sculptors at Rome for approval.
Having won independence in 1836 Texas would remain independent until 1845 when it agreed to join the United States through a Treaty of Annexation. Remaining free from Mexico was no small challenge and one of the principal means of retaining that hard-won freedom was the Texas Navy. The politicians of early Texas were not, for the most part, believers in the possibility of a viable Texas Navy but the merchants of Galveston knew exactly how important sea power was. Largely thanks to their efforts and the skill of the Texas mariners they were able to support the rebels in the Yucatan and keep Santa Anna busy enough in the south that he could not turn his attention north until it was too late. The true test of the skill of the Texas Navy is the fact that it records the only case in history of vessels under sail defeating a steam-powered fleet proving with finality the motto of the Texas Rangers – “Little man whip a big man every time if the little man’s right and keeps a coming.”
A few blocks north of his monument to the Heroes of the Texas Revolution Henry Rosenberg sits, in monumental form, in front of the library that was another of his gifts to the island city. Like the Heroes monument this one was also executed by Louis Amateis an Italian born sculptor who immigrated to the United States in 1883 and founded the School of Architecture and fine Arts at George Washington University. Rosenberg was not only prominent in business and city government but may be thought of as the prototypical Galvestonian philanthropist having endowed orphanages, churches, schools, the YMCA, a rest home and public monuments on a grand scale. Rosenberg’s example has been followed by the Sealy family which gave Galveston John Sealy Hospital and the Kempner Fund which has been particularly active in the arts to name but two – almost every Galveston family of note has contributed not only funds but also leadership for charitable endeavors on the island.
There is another Amateis/Rosenberg collaboration in Galveston. In the center of the space where the rotunda of the 1899 Galveston County Courthouse stood there is a memorial to the soldiers and sailors of the Confederate States of America. The sculpture was commissioned by the Veuve Jefferson Davis Chapter No. 17 of the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1899 who raised the $6,000 needed to fund the sculpture, which was dedicated on the anniversary of Jefferson Davis’ birth – which, until the 1940’s, was an observed holiday in the South [along with Washington’s birthday but NOT Lincoln’s]. Mollie Ragan Macgill Rosenberg – Henry’s second wife and a philanthropist in her own right – was the president of the monument committee. A standing male figure, representing the brave sons of the South, holds a Confederate battle flag over his left shoulder and a broken sword in his right hand. He wears a shirt, pants and knee-high boots. Behind him is a dismantled cannon with a cannonball balanced on top. An anchor and foliage are under the cannon. On the rear of the base is a bronze medallion with a horse and rider in the center. On the bronze plaque on the front is inscribed, THERE HAS NEVER BEEN AN ARMED FORCE WHICH IN PURITY OF MOTIVES, INTENSITY OF COURAGE AND HEROISM HAS EQUALED THE ARMY AND NAVY OF THE CONFEDERATE STATES OF AMERICA, 1861-65.
The people who have chosen to make Galveston their home have a long tradition of service and have lived their lives to demonstrate that Ciceronian principle that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice; moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue. The earliest monument we came across in support of this is a marker on an old grave in Calvary cemetery for one Valentine T. Dalton [1782 – 1885] who fought in the Battle of New Orleans in 1815. He gave an affidavit to the effect that he fired the shot that killed the British General Packingham. He states “I cannot resist the temptation of saying that on the morning of January 8th, 1815, I had command of part of our company at the breastwork and Sir, I have always claimed the honour, if there be any honour in killing a man, but it’s considered honour in war, that the ball from my rifle killed General Packingham, (the cannon balls notwithstanding) at the crack of my rifle he fell, as the word had passed a short time previously “shoot the officers “. Not a cannon had been fired before he fell.” We find an article about him in the Galveston Daily News dated June 4, 1885 which states, “Captain Valentine T. Dalton. who resides at the intersection of avenue K and Twelfth Street, is undoubtedly tho oldest person in the city, having been born at Baton Rouge, in 1782, when Louisiana was a Spanish province, his father being in the employment of the government as a customs officer. Captain Dalton fought under General Jackson at the battle of New Orleans, and for years has been receiving a pension as a veteran of the war of 1812. He emigrated to Texas a number of years ago, and, shortly after the war of the rebellion closed, concluded to try Mexico, and emigrated to Tuxpan, where he remained for some time, and then returned to Galveston. He is now 103 years old, and can only move out of his room when assisted.” What Captain Dalton apparently had in common with his brothers in arms who had fought at San Jacinto is that he had sided with the South during the War for Southern Independence.
Near the Texas Navy monument there is a memorial to the sons of Galveston who fell in the First World War. Beneath the scroll with their names inscribed are lines from Laurence Binyon’s poem, For the Fallen,
They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
A few blocks east of the Texas Heroes monument is World War Two Memorial engraved with the names of the sons and daughters of the city that perished in places from Normandy to Okinawa. There is no heart wrenching verse on this megalith of a tablet nor is there any on the minor monuments that surround it commemorating the dead of Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. If things do not change they will take up the rest of the esplanade and it will be too late for poetry.
It has been one of the great benefits of this country that graduates of the Military Academy at West Point were trained a civil engineers just as their compatriots at the Naval Academy at Annapolis were trained as marine engineers. When there was a job to be done that required engineering on a massive scale or to protect a border or to maintain the highways and waterways of interstate commerce the Army Corps of Engineers could be and were called on.
One of their greatest projects was the construction of the Galveston Sea Wall after the 1900 Storm. But it was not only the construction of the Sea Wall but it was also the grade raising of the city behind the sea wall that is a key part of this gargantuan undertaking – if you build a dike around something and don’t raise it you have New Orleans after Katrina. While the Sea Wall in all its glory is the work of the Corps of Engineers the grade raising was exclusively a Galveston project designed and paid for by Galvestonians. When you visit the island today you are anywhere between two to sixteen feet higher than you would have been in 1900. Houses and whole building were lifted and supported while dredged fill was pumped under them and then they were set back in place – and people continued to live and work in them all the while.
The Sea Wall worked. Where the casualties had been 6,000 souls in 1900 there were only 400 lost in 1915 which was a more intense storm. The grade raising worked. Galveston hasn’t washed away after another century of storms have done their worst.
At 48th Street and Seawall Blvd. sits David Moore’s 10 foot tall bronze statue memorializing the victims of the 1900 Storm. The Texas Historical Commission plaque reads:
The 1900 Storm Commemorative Sculpture, dedicated on September 9, 2000 represents the suffering of those who perished and the tenacity of those who survived this nation’s deadliest natural disaster. On September 8, 1900 a powerful hurricane struck Galveston Island, killing more than 6,000 people and leaving the island in ruins. The next day the survivors began the cleanup, and the city began making plans to rebuild the island with a seawall to protect it against future storms. Over the next decade, the wall was completed and the land behind it raised. These measures served Galveston well. In 1915, when another intense hurricane struck the island, less than a dozen people living behind the seawall lost their lives.
The Congregation of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word, an Order of Women Religious, was founded in Galveston in 1866. Here they established the first Catholic hospital in the state in 1867 and later founded St. Mary’s Orphan Asylum. The 1900 Storm destroyed the orphanage, killing 90 children and 10 sisters. (The historic plaque describing the Sisters’ struggle to save the children is located near the site of the orphanage on Seawall Boulevard at 69th Street.) True to the gallant spirit of Galveston Islanders, the Congregation built another orphanage, which opened one year after the storm.
The Women’s Health Protective Association grew out of an effort by Galveston club women to restore and beautify the city after the 1900 Storm. They also took on the grim task of burying bodies of both identified and unidentified storm victims. Over an eight-year period the WHPA moved the remains of more than 500 unidentified victims to the Municipal Cemetery for proper burial and placed a pink granite marker at the site bearing the inscription: “To the unknown who perished in the Storm of Sept. 8, 1900.” (This marker still exists in the Municipal Cemetery on Avenue T 1/2 between 57th and 61st Streets.) On September 8, 1901 the WHPA held a memorial service attended by 7,000 mourners.
Galveston has never been a stranger to heroism – of both the everyday and the extraordinary varieties – and it has always been blessed by philanthropy and art at both the highest and the whimsical levels. No place is the heroism more evident than in the memorial outside of the fire department. Inscribed with the names of fire fighters who have, since 1869, given the last full measure of devotion to their calling it stands in mute testimony to their bravery.
A few yards east of this solemn reminder there is a tree carved to look like a fire hydrant gushing water. The tree was a victim of Hurricane Ike and is one of many carved by island artists who, in addition to their extraordinary talent, seem to enjoy the, “you give us lemons, we’ll make lemonade,” joie de vivre that has sustained the island through so much.
But it is not only bravery and humor that has sustained the island and all of the philanthropy and monuments in the world will not sustain souls. From the time Cabeza de Vaca set foot on the island there have been “padres” to minister to the islanders. They have ranged from simple parsons to learned rabbis to a monsignor who was one of the greatest leaders ever to exercise influence using only his moral authority to demand that the better angels be heeded.
Galveston has survived not only storms, war and fires but has been decimated by the tropical diseases that living on a sandbar relieved only by swamps could foster. At St. Mary’s cathedral there is a cast-iron statue of Mary, Star of the Sea, and mariners used the lighted crown of the statue as a beacon to guide them into the port of Galveston. On the grounds outside the basilica is an obelisk topped with a cross commemorating the yellow fever victims of Galveston and this is our last monument to show you. Thomas Babington, Lord Macaulay wrote, “She [the Roman Catholic Church] may still exist in undiminished vigour when some traveller from New Zealand shall, in the midst of a vast solitude, take his stand on a broken arch of London Bridge to sketch the ruins of St. Paul’s.” We do not know if that particular circumstance will occur but we do enjoy undiminished faith that the Word will prevail.