When I first began my search for a World War I monument in Worcester, the city where I live, I wasn’t sure where to start. When, after Googling it, I found that I drive by the city’s memorial each day on my way to work, I began to realize just how much memorials fade into the background—or simply fade away—if not kept up over the years.
The Worcester Memorial Auditorium is in Lincoln Square, a heavy traffic area, so there is no reason it should be forgotten. The arena was built to be a center of community life; it has hosted a Bob Dylan concert and the Holy Cross Crusaders’ sports teams. It has served as a storage place for Massachusetts State Trial Court records, and, in 2013, was used as part of a set for the film American Hustle.
What’s the catch? It’s currently empty and on the “Most Endangered Historic Resources List” presented in 2009 by the statewide non-profit group Preservation Massachusetts. It closed in 1998. In a 2013 article published by The Telegram & Gazette, a reporter writes of the building’s stunning features: the largest mural in America (when it was created in the 1930s); bronze, iron, granite, and limestone detailing; a 700-pipe organ; and an impressive façade and staircase.
I dwell on the memorial in Worcester because it’s the one I drive by each day, and because its emptiness and its grandeur speak to both the absence and the presence of World War I in our lives today, as we commemorate the war during its centennial years on this Veterans Day.
It’s no coincidence that the U.S. Veterans Day on November 11th coincides with Armistice Day, which marks the day the Allies of World War I and Germany signed a ceasefire agreement for the Western Front in 1918. While fighting continued in other regions (parts of the former Ottoman Empire and in Russia, for example), November 11th came to be known worldwide as a day of peace. In the UK, November 11th is celebrated as Remembrance Day. Never mind that the war officially ended with the Treaty of Versailles on June 28, 1919; the official end, for most Western nations, came, as the agreement noted, “at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.”
The history of Veterans Day in the United States began as Armistice Day. In 1919, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed November 11th a holiday to reflect on “the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory…” It was not until 1945 that the idea to celebrate all veterans was raised and the bill that signed Veterans Day into law passed in 1954. Since then, the day has become synonymous with a day off from school or work, and the significance of the 1918 armistice has faded into the background—much the same way that the Worcester Memorial Auditorium has faded into the landscape of the city.
The World War I Centennial Commission, established by the World War One Centennial Commission Act (passed in 2013), and which boasts former presidents Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush as honorary chairs, is trying to change all that. It recognizes “thousands of memorials—from simple honor rolls, to Doughboy sculptures, to grandiose architectural ensembles” that were erected in the first half of the twentieth century. “Each of these memorials, regardless of size or expense, has a story,” a statement on its website argues. The group contends that World War I memorials are “a vital window onto the conflict, its participants, and those determined to remember them.”
One of the group’s goals is to encourage citizens to rediscover the memorials. On this Veterans Day, I’ll give a short list of some Massachusetts memorials to start you off, should you take up the challenge to rediscover a monument in your own hometown.
- Boston: Adams Park memorial (1958), which features a female figure with a palm of victory.
- Haverhill: Kenoza Avenue (1956), which features a granite backdrop with benches.
- Woburn: Woburn Common memorial (1923), which features a bronze eagle and the names of local deceased veterans.
- Barre: central park (date not listed).
- Hopkinton: Hopkinton Common (1931), which serves as a marker for the start point of the Boston Marathon.
- Quincy: Quincy Historical Society Building (1924).
- Taunton: City Common (1937).
Plaques and Smaller Statues:
- Agawam: Veterans Green (1989).
- Becket: Ballou Park (date not listed).
- Dudley: Dudley Municipal Complex (date not listed).
- Foxborough: Foxborough Town Common (date not listed).
- Littleton: Hathaway Park (date not listed).
- Northbridge: Whitinsville Town Common (1922).
- Peabody: Peabody City Hall (2001).
- Shutesbury: park on Cooleyville Road (1937).
- Southbridge: Elm Street (near Town Hall) (1938).
- Williamstown and Nantucket also have memorials.