Tom Knieser. Photograph by Brian Wolfe.

‘Please don’t call it a War Memorial’

On April 3, opening day for the Historical Society’s 2016 season, a number of local experts and community volunteers gathered to present a program on “Monumental Newburgh” about the monuments and public sculptures in the city of Newburgh. Photographer Tom Kneiser led with a slide show of photos showing the variety of such monuments. Other speakers then expanded on the topic with additional presentations.

Speaking of the Orange County Veterans Memorial at the corner of Liberty Street and Leroy Place, David McTamaney, a veteran support advocate and once a combat photographer in Vietnam, declared, “It is not a memorial to war. It’s a memorial to those who’ve died at war!”

The speaker’s podium and microphone on the opposite side of the screen seemed unnecessary to the former English and Latin teacher who spent his career speaking before high school students. His notes were memorized and David had no issue projecting his voice over an audience that filled the double parlor of the Crawford House.

David spoke to his experience as a member of a group of local citizens that oversaw the Orange County Veterans Memorial project that included fundraising, research, construction and its dedication on Veteran’s Day 1987. “It was difficult to decide on the criteria for what names got on there,” David said referring to memorial’s plaque listing the names of 820 Orange County citizens who died in twentieth century wars. One example was how the definition of “casualty” changed throughout the century. Similar circumstances that led to a soldier’s death were counted differently depending on the conflict, the influence of politics and public perception.

Today, a bronze statue of a Vietnam-era soldier, sculpted by Richard Masloski and nicknamed “Joe” by the organizers, leans onto the eight-foot memorial to his fallen brothers and sisters. “Please don’t call it a War Memorial,” said McTamaney.

Keith Nieto, member of both the Society and the Downing Park Planning Committee, was inspired to stand and comment from the audience of sixty-four, “I want everyone to understand how important our monuments are.” Members of the Planning Committee act as stewards of the 35 acre park, itself a monument to the famous landscape architect Andrew Jackson Downing and the setting to three memorials – Volunteer Firemen Memorial, Veterans Memorial, and the Civil War Monument.

The State of New York has already raised 1.6 million to restore the Tower of Victory, “a rare centennial monument dedicated to peace, rather than to a battle or war.” Elyse B. Goldberg, Historic Site Manager of Washington’s Headquarters State Historic Site, spoke about the historical significance of the tower, damaged by hurricane-like storms and vandalism, as well as the handful of others within the 6.5 acre park.

The Tower of Victory is likely to reach its funding goal and be restored. Other monuments within the City of Newburgh also have met destructive forces, but will not have a similar success story.

“My dad was on this one,” City Historian Mary McTamaney said about one such lost monument. On the projector screen was a postcard of the World War II Memorial that once sat at the foot of Broadway. That force was a crash in 1946 by a truck that lost its brakes. The destroyed memorial was moved into city storage. Soon after, the insurance was claimed and used to build the Veteran’s Memorial in 1961 at Downing Park.

There are two dozen such memorials, monuments and sculptures scattered throughout the City of Newburgh, which have become lasting elements of the city’s landscape while offering unique lenses into a local heritage. The forum left many more to explore. Tom Knieser, Monumental Newburgh forum moderator, reflecting on how he came to appreciate the topic once said, “the outdoor sculptures became a part of the memory.”

 
Top Image: Tom Knieser, forum moderator, speaking to an audience made up mostly of members. Photo by Brian Wolfe.

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