More likely to be spirited away in the dead of night
It seemed like a reasonable question. Would Madison city government hold a ceremony when the forklift yanks the memorial stone from Confederate Rest cemetery?
Mayor Soglin at the controls. A gaily colored ribbon decorates the hydraulic lever. Cameras roll. Invited speakers congratulate city leaders for removing the evil stone. Alds. Matt Phair, Mark Clear, and Shiva Bidar-Sielaff forever linked with Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King Jr., and Rosa Parks. A nice round of applause. Punch and finger food afterwards.
An historic wrong, righted. No longer will the KKK rally at the stone to fire their fearful crosses. Generations of impressionable snowflakes will be spared the stone’s provocative hate speech:
“Erected in loving memory by United Daughters of Confederacy
to Alice Whiting Waterman and her boys.”
A Madison woman who for decades cared for the potters field where the dead southern prisoners of war were deposited. Whose ministrations attracted the attention of Union Generals Lucius Fairchild, who lost an arm at Gettysburg, and Cadwallader Washburn, who fought with U.S. Grant at Vicksburg. Both governors of Wisconsin were celebrated throughout the nation for their spirit of reconciliation, as Abraham Lincoln had implored. “Bind up the nation’s wounds.”
And those names engraved on the stone! 140 of them, all traitors!
After 112 years in the sunlight — history in its own right — the cenotaph will be hidden away in a dark and dank corner of some anonymous warehouse, covered with a tarpaulin. Unless some museum takes it. Which begs the question: If this hateful stone — carved here in Madison — can be exposed to innocent eyes in a museum, why can it not be seen in its historic setting? Alders Tuesday night foreswore Ald. Paul Skidmore’s offer — echoing that proposed by the city’s Landmark Commission — to post an explanatory signboard next to it, as can be seen in the Union soldiers’ cemetery nearby.
That history is of one-armed veterans of the Union cause, Madison men who shed their own blood in freedom’s fight, who lobbied for that stone. Celebrated its placement at Confederate Rest in 1906. And for years thereafter honored its presence until, in 1937, the last survivors of the northern cause — now well into their 90s — placed a final wreath at this very stone.
Blaska harasses alders
Would Madison city government hold a ceremony when the forklift yanks the monument from Confederate Rest cemetery?
Your resourceful Bloggeur asked this very question of as many alders as he could corral after the Madison Common Council on Tuesday night (05-01-18) reaffirmed, 14 to 4, its voice vote of April 10 to remove the memorial stone. (Only Mike Verveer, Dave Ahrens, Steve King, and Paul Skidmore voted to reconsider. Sheri Carter absent; Samba Baldeh who chaired the meeting not voting.)
Let’s just say that the alders did not appreciate Blaska’s inquiries. Seemed almost ashamed of the vote they had just taken. Scurried off to their cars in the parking garage. Actually summoned the police to bid your correspondent to just go away. Which they never did for Brandi Grayson or the BLM F-bombers.
The Squire of the Stately Manor made no threats. Uttered no imprecations. Disrupted no meeting. Raised not his honeyed voice. But mother told us life isn’t fair.
The intrepid CEO of the Blaska Policy Werkes had accompanied Ald. Phair down the elevator to the underground parking garage while the good alder explained that he teaches history and, therefore, knew that the stone was a product of the South’s stealthy “lost cause” campaign.
As for Mayor Soglin? Missing in action. Not present for either the May 10 meeting or Tuesday’s failure to reconsider. Deputy Mayor Gloria Reyes (congratulations on your election to the school board) told me the mayor has been ill.
Paul Soglin favored keeping the stone
Which is too bad, because Hizzonner — who started this mess — seems to have had a small change of heart. The mayor reached out to UW-Madison Department of History professor Stephen Kantrowitz “to share with us an example of what could be placed on a plaque at Confederate Rest.” The Vilas Distinguished Achievement professor wrote, part:
This monument reflects that history of white Northerners abandoning the cause of interracial democracy. Shortly after the war, a white Southern transplant to Madison, Alice Waterman, began tending the graves. Over the next twenty years, her efforts won the sympathy of leading Wisconsinites, including several governors and a mayor. As a Jim Crow social order rose in the former slave states, Madison’s politicians and Union veterans laid flowers on these Confederate graves on Memorial Day. The United Daughters of the Confederacy, which built similar monuments all across the nation, though mostly in the South, constructed this one in 1906 to celebrate and encourage such scenes of white reconciliation. This monument represents an era in which white Americans, North and South, reasserted their national kinship at the expense of justice, equality, and an honest accounting of our shared past.
Soglin concluded, in an e-mail on Monday: “I would recommend retaining the Confederate Rest Monument and adding this language.”
‘Lost cause’ never an issue in Madison
The professor omits the mention that the Daughters collected money for the stone at the instigation of Union soldiers who fought secession and slavery. But disagree entirely with the prof’s allegation that the cenotaph “reflects that history of white Northerners abandoning the cause of interracial democracy.”
It is the case that Rutherford B. Hayes achieved the presidency by promising in 1876 to end Reconstruction in return for the electoral college votes of key southern states, where Jim Crow was put in place and lynchings enforced white supremacy. In that era, statues of defiant Confederate generals on rearing horses dominated the city square. It is also true that former Gov. Lucius Fairchild castigated Hayes for doing so. (“He believed Reconstruction ended too early, and on terms he described as “cowardly” and “disgraceful.” He supported Wisconsin Senator Timothy O. Howe in pushing for more severe measures in the South that would guarantee civil rights by force.” — Wikipedia)
Madison was never South Carolina. Madison was Fairchild’s town. (Fairchild Street, anyone?) Slavery was prohibited by the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, written by Nathan Dane. In Madison, black people ran hotels. One was even nominated for mayor. The memorial stone at Madison’s Forest Lawn Cemetery is much more humble — gratitude for the simple kindness of Mrs. Waterman. Although born in the south, since age 9 she lived in the north, first in New York city, then Chicago and Milwaukee before moving to Madison. At some point, she moved into the family home of Union Captain Frank Oakley, an ally of General Fairchild. Oakley started the fund-raising campaign for the memorial stone after Mrs. Waterman’s death in 1897.
The granite stone served as the first permanent marker of the buried dead, replacing constantly weathering wooden boards. The stone grave markers seen there now were installed three years later. Made of softer stone, most are now so weathered that their names cannot be read.
The mayor, the Landmarks Commission, the Parks Commission, the WI State Journal, and a steady stream of letter writers agreed on keeping the stone where it is.
A man who described himself as the lead worker at Forest Hills Cemetery stepped forward Tuesday night to encourage the council to leave the stone as is, reporting that every visitor urged its retention. So did a Lutheran minister from Oshkosh who described himself as a descendant of Col. Christian Hegg, killed at Chickamauga, whose statue stands on the southeast corner of Capitol Park.
Is the Council’s decision written in stone?
There remains a chance that the stone could stay. Madison historian Stu Levitan intimated to the Stately Manor that the Landmarks Commission he chairs could deny a certificate of suitability, or some such thing. Seems like a stretch.
Blaska’s Bottom Line: Ald. Clear last night indicated that some future city government could restore the cenotaph. What does that tell you? As for a ceremony at its removal? Can’t you take a joke? The stone will be removed in the dark of night, unannounced. What does THAT tell you?