I had some big plans over Spring Break- I intended on going to NYC to see a show, but then also visit several monuments and memorials, places like The Statue of Liberty and the 9/11 Memorial. At the last minute the plans changed and I was left unsure of what types of monuments and memorials I'd find along the way. I lucked out and stumbled across some really interesting locations throughout my trip. We traveled to Chincoteague and Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia and Washington, DC and I was very excited to be able to compare some very different types of monuments and memorials.
Chincoteague Island Waterman's Memorial
Merritt's Harbor, Chincoteague, VA
While in Chincoteague, VA we decided to take a boat tour to see the wild horses on the island. The guide, Shane, is a local who told us a lot of stories about the island's history and what you can find on the island besides Chincoteague Reserve. One of the things he pointed out was a memorial that was set high on a bluff over Curtis Merritt Harbor. After our boat tour we headed over to see the memorial and I was really impressed.
On one of the plaques we are told this is "To honor all local watermen and military services who were lost at sea" and the memorial does a really nice job remembering those who were lost without being obtrusive to the location.
When I think of memorials I tend to either think of them as either a small roadside memorial, or big grand gestures. This one struck a very different note for me. Set on a bluff by itself the large cross can be scene for miles. When you get closer you begin to see the thought that went into the design. The base of the cross is a compass and sundial and there are 3 plaques that talk about the Waterman's Memorial. There are also several benches that are set near the cliff that allow you to either look at the memorial or look out into the bay.
What I really liked about this memorial was that it serves a reminder without overtaking the space. Often we see memorials that are the center of attention. Here you get the real sense that the place in the centerpiece and the memorial there just to tell the story of what has happened there. The minimalist design allows you to learn about the place and the history of the place, take time to reflect on what has come before, and still be able to enjoy the place as it is today. I also really liked that while it isn't grand, you can see it from miles away and it draws your attention. It also sits right at the entrance to the harbor so everyone who comes and goes from the harbor passes and is reminded of those who were lost.
This informational sign sits away from the actual memorial and serves as an introduction. It recounts 3 local tragedies that represent the danger associated with the ocean. The information about Graden Cherrix (1947) includes an account from Graden's daughter Gail.
This sign also gives information about the Chincoteague Naval Air Station, which currently part of the current NASA- Wallops Flight Facility. Many aviators trained for WWII at this site and this marker served as the first memorial for those who were lost on training missions.
SS Marine Electric Memorial
"They became heroes that night by helping save the lives of crew of of the F/V Theodora; later, overcome by the storm, their journey back home from the sea began by being brought to our island by the US Coastguard"
Colonial Williamsburg is a living history museum in Williamsburg, VA that allows visitors to visit a colonial town. You are allowed to take tours of some of the historic homes, visit local workers, as well as shop for reproductions in stores. As such, the memorials less obvious. For instance, you are just visiting a place, like the church, and you come across several small memorials.
When my 7 year old asked what a memorial was I told her that it was there to remind you of a person or an event. In a sense, all of Colonial Williamsburg is a memorial, but I felt like the church really did a great job at allowing the church to exist as it did in the past, while also serving as a reminder of who went there and what events were attached to it.
For instance, each pew is marked with a name of someone who attended that church. Names like George Washington, James Madison, and Thomas Jefferson line the aisle. Visitors are invited to sit in the pews and take in the church much the same way the Founding Fathers might have. My daughter really enjoyed sitting in Thomas Jefferson's pew and then telling all about what she has learned about him (and the other Founding Fathers) in school. I thought this was a very nice way to teach about the founding fathers because it allowed her to imagine what it might have been like for them, use the knowledge she already had, and then talk to the docent about the church.
Also, the church has memorials built into it, that were to remind it's parishioners of people and events of the town. I found it to be a really nice balance of letting the building speak for itself and reminding visitors of exactly who spent time in this place. This one in particular says: "In memory of the confederate soldiers who fell in the Battle of Williamsburg. May the 5th 1862. And of those, who died of the wounds received in the same. They died for us."
The last set of monuments and memorials that I looked at are much more well known. I'd imagine that many people would be be able to identify at least some of them, and the one's that they might not know the specifics on, they would still be able to tell you where they are located.
I've visited DC several times and had a chance to walk around the numerous monuments and memorials that are found on the National Mall. What I always take a way is the sheer size of these. They are meant to be seen, to overwhelm the senses and to give the visitor a sense of the sheer scope of the events and people they are memorializing.
The monuments and memorials that you can visit on the Mall are: Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, Korean War Memorial, DC Memorial, World War II Memorial, Thomas Jefferson Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial as well as numerous museums. I visited multiple times and still have yet to really take in all of the different monuments, memorials and museums.
What has always struck me about this particular type of monument is that it tried to find a balance between grandeur and allowing for quiet moments of reflection. You can see the Washington Monument rising in the distance as you tour the mall. The walls of the World War II memorial rise over visitors and Abraham Lincoln towers over the crowds that press in to see him. From atop the stairs of the Lincoln Memorial you can look down the mall and see the other memorials scattered across the field of view. It is near impossible to not feel small while visiting.
Still, for all the enormity of the monuments and memorials, they are still designed to allow for visitors to connect to the events and people of the past. Visitors to the Vietnam Memorial can find the names of family members who gave their lives in service to their country. The Honor Flight Network brings veteran's to DC to visit their memorials. More then once I've visited the Mall and seen these veterans visiting one of the memorials and watching them reflect on their service adds another layer to the experience. It allows other visitors to not only learn about the events that took place, but also share in the veterans moment of reflection.
While this was not the trip I had initially planned, I think it was a better learning experience in terms of the different types of monuments and memorials that are out there. Choosing how to present your memorial/monument largely depends on the audience and the intended purpose. On Chincoteague it serves as a quiet reminder of a way of life that has taken so much even as it sustains the island. In Williamsburg, the memorials help visitors feel what life may have been like and helps them to think about where we came from. In DC, the Mall allows visitors to reflect on a large swath of American History and the impact people and events have had. What I took away from this trip was that there is no one right way to do it, but that if you look at what you want to convey, you can come up with something appropriate and moving that will allow visitors to create a connection with the people and events.