Home News How Syracuse rallied to save a downtown statue honoring a group of WWI heroes

How Syracuse rallied to save a downtown statue honoring a group of WWI heroes

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Why would a statue of an American soldier end up thousands of dollars in debt?

Such was the situation faced by Syracuse’s Rock of the Marne monument in Billings Park in 1923, as Armistice Day, now known as Veterans Day, approached.

The soldiers of the 38th Regiment, who bravely fought in the Second Battle of the Marne during World War I, have been awarded $6,500 (currently He owed approximately $117,000.

It wasn’t exactly their fault. After the war, the value of the French franc plummeted and soldiers extorted money from French banks.

How were soldiers returning from the horrors of the European trenches expected to learn about the exchange rate of the depreciating French franc to the American dollar?

Fortunately, Syracuse residents made donations ranging from $1 to $1,500 to keep the men from lining their own pockets for the statue.

Local civic leader Reverend Frederick W. Betts called this a “debt of honor” and wrote that the city “has an obligation to care on behalf of the boys.”

So, that’s exactly what Syracuse did.


– The Doughboys were formed at Camp Syracuse at the New York State Fairgrounds in the summer of 1917 during World War I.

On July 15, 1918, as other units withdrew, the 38th Regiment lost 228 men and 34 officers in one of the last major German attacks of World War I. Despite this, he continued to hold his position at the Marne crossing at Château-Thierry in France.

This unit was given the nickname “Rock of the Marne”, and historians considered their actions there one of the “Rocks of the Marne”. turning point of war.

Before leaving France after the Armistice on November 11, 1918, the troops raised funds for the construction of a monument commemorating their heroic deeds. They collected $24,187.22 worth of French francs and deposited them in a bank in Paris.

The question of where to erect the monument was voted down by troops, either on a French battlefield or at Arlington National Cemetery.

Syracuse was the overwhelming choice, as the regiment was organized and trained at “Camp Syracuse” at the New York State Fairgrounds.

“Syracuse was named because it was the birthplace of the regiment,” said Col. Frank Adams.

Sculpted by nationally known artist Roland Hilton Perry, the monument depicts an American doughboy in combat fatigues. He was dedicated on July 15, 1920, the second anniversary of the battle.

The price was $24,961.

The soldiers soon realized that the value of the French franc had fallen sharply since the end of the war. They were in a deep hole.

The Rock of the Marne monument in Billings Park in downtown Syracuse was dedicated in 1920.

In the fall of 1919, Congress proposed a bill to cover the debt, but it was never passed.

The men sold subscriptions to raise some of the funds, but as of October 1923 they were still $6,500 short.

That’s when Syracuse took action.

On October 2, Pastor Betts sent a letter to Mayor John Walrath asking for a $1,000 donation from the city.

“I know this request is out of order, but we must pay that debt and share it together,” he wrote in the letter. “If any narrow-minded citizen or politician criticizes you for unearthing this donation from the city, send him to me and I will try to convince him of the error of his ways.”

While the city government considered the matter, private citizens and businesses rallied together.

Donations started coming in from everywhere.

Leading the way was the Syracuse Herald newspaper, which directly appealed to Syracuse’s patriotism.

New articles about the fundraiser ended with all-caps phrases like “Do it for Syracuse” and “Show your patriotism.”

The paper also diverted $1,500 collected from city schoolchildren for the elephants at the city zoo to build a monument.

“This money is now being used for such a patriotic purpose that the Herald knew every Syracuse child would be in favor,” the editors wrote.

(The zoo’s World War II wizards were probably comfortable supporting this plan, probably because there was still nowhere to house the new elephants.)

Money came from the rich and poor of the city.

The collection, held at Syracuse Arena on the night of the boxing match, raised $241.

Mr. Betts donated $25, as did the law firm of Bond & Schoneck.

9-year-old EA O’Hara Jr. donated $5.

– The Syracuse Herald published this “Roll of Honor” on October 7, 1923, including all those who helped pay off the debt of the Rock of the Marne Monument in Billings Park. Donations ranged from $1 to $1,500, and the paper diverted money from the city zoo’s elephant fund.Provided by World Archive

“I wish I could donate $9, but I don’t have any more money,” he wrote with his donation.

On October 8, the Syracuse City Council passed a bipartisan ordinance, following Dr. Betts’ suggestion, contributing $1,000 to the fund and making the campaign a top priority.

The city raised $6,623.30 in just six days.

On October 17, the Marne Rock statue, free of debt, became the property of the city of Syracuse forever.

Colonel Adams, former commander of the 38th Regiment, sent a telegram to the Herald from Ohio:

“This is a wonderful accomplishment, and no one other than those who have cared for this debt will be able to understand our gratitude. To the 38th graduating class, we thank you and wish you a long life.”

On Armistice Day, November 11, 1923, the fifth anniversary of the end of World War I, the Keith Theater on Salina Street in Syracuse (where the Red House is today) was packed with people looking for speeches and patriotic music. Ta.

Thousands of people then gathered around the Rock of the Marne memorial in Billings Park for a simple wreath-laying ceremony.

The Rev. Frederick W. Betts, once described as “Syracuse’s most useful citizen,” began a campaign to pay off the debts of the soldiers of the 38th Regiment in 1923 at the Rock of the Marne monument in downtown Syracuse.

Dr. Betts spoke briefly and eloquently about the people the monument represents.

“Those of us who were here in Syracuse during the war knew who this monument was erected for and by. They were American boys. They weren’t career soldiers, they weren’t murderers. They were family boys, shop boys, office boys, caring for the needs of the nation and the needs of the world. He was a farming boy who was drawn from several jobs during a great crisis.

“They became the dead of the nation. So their comrades built this monument for them, because here they formed a common life and a common experience. All this With this in mind, we lay wreaths at this monument with a single prayer to God and a simple high resolution in our own souls: “These boys and our May we never forget those who sacrificed their lives for us.”

Syracuse’s Rock of the Marne monument still stands where it was dedicated more than a century ago in Billings Park at the intersection of Warren, Adams and South Salina streets.

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This feature is part of CNY Nostalgia, a section of syracuse.com. Send your ideas and curiosities to Johnathan Croyle: Email | 315-416-3882.

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