Monuments have long been used by civilizations as a way to commemorate a common history and to visualize a shared future. The great ones become emblems of whole societies: The Great Pyramid, the Arc de Triumph, the Heads of Easter Island or The Great Wall of China.
In Downtown Providence, our monuments contributed to the formation of public spaces and are now an intrinsic part of a destination visited by thousands of people each day. For many travelers to the plaza, a glimpse of Soldiers and Sailors Monument is often the first sign of arrival home.
As part of its work to revitalize the city center, DPPC is leading efforts to repair and restore the historic statues of Greater Kennedy Plaza. Acid rain, chemicals and exposure to harsh winters have left each in need of refurbishment. Most recently, General Burnside was given a loving and meticulous scrub down. This spring, we will be doing the same for our beloved Hiker in the center of Kennedy Plaza’s bus hub.
Even though we pass by these memorials, sometimes daily, it is rare that we consider the histories they represent. Here are some explanations of Greater Kennedy Plaza’s most conspicuous landmarks, so the next time you take a seat near one, you’ll be able to reflect on what we have built together.
Soldiers and Sailors Monument
At 40 feet high with the stone work fashioned out of Westerly granite, this grand work memorializes the 1,727 Rhode Islanders that sacrificed their lives during the Civil War. Designed by American artist Randolph Roger, there are several elements that come together to comemorate RI involvement in the Civil War. In each corner there are four 7 foot high representations of each branch of military service. The four bronze reliefs depict allegorical women that remind us of the important values that were so hard won during a most difficult time in our nation. These include representations of War, Victory, Peace, and Freedom. The representation of America sits atop the monument at 11 feet high. Twelve bronze tablets list those who died in service to their country.
One panel reads “Erected by the People of Rhode Island to the Memory of Those who Died That the Country Might Live.” During the dedication ceremony in September 1871, veterans with shredded flags and worn uniforms paraded down the street. Prayers were given, and a chorus of 500 sang. Exchange Place was reportedly filled to overflowing. All claimed it was an appropriate recognition for those who now ‘sleep for the flag.’
General Ambrose E. Burnside
General Burnside, as it turns out, was not such a great general. During the Civil War, he rose from commander of a Rhode Island unit to lead the Union Army in Virginia. After a succession of losses, and ultimately what Ulysses S. Grant called “the saddest affair I have witnessed in war,” in Petersburg(1864), Burnside returned to his home in Rhode Island for good.
However, the quixotic hero must have been quite charming and personable–he won three elections to serve three 1-year-terms as governor. Then, in 1874 he was elected to the Senate. He won a second term as a Senator in 1880, but died shortly after in 1881. The statue was proposed shortly afterwards, and completed in 1887.
Today, Burnside is mostly known for the eponymous facial hair motif, the “sideburn.” If you head out to the park, you will see his brassy whiskers shining in all of their glory!
“The Hiker has been a part of Kennedy Plaza for over 100 years, since 1911. . . . By preserving The Hiker, generations of people who visit Providence will enjoy its beauty and history.” Cliff Wood, Executive director, Downtown Providence Parks Conservancy
Originally, The Hiker was built for the University of Minnesota in 1906 by Theo Alice Ruggles Kitson. The noble work depicts a hero stripped of his parade uniform and shown as a soldier reacting to the challenges of the battlefields.
The Hiker design was purchased by Gorham Manufacturing, then located in Providence. The statue now found at Kennedy Plaza was installed in 1911, and dedicated in 1927. The Placard reads: “This Monument Erected by The City of Providence to her sons who on land and sea defended the Nation’s honor in the war with Spain, the Insurrection in the Philippines and the China Relief Expedition 1898-1902.”
Gotham cast at least 50 hiker statues, located all over the United States.
Through research, fundraising and advocacy, the DPPC has made the preservation of our downtown statues a high priority. We are excited to announce the refurbishment of The Hiker, slated to take place this spring.