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Mares: Sacred Space

I've been doing some research for a book project with retired UVM professor Bill Lipke about war monuments, memorials and cemeteries in the U.S., Canada, and Great Britain. The final chapter treats Vermont's memorial landscape – and that includes the State House, where there are memorials related to six different wars. Sorting out the jumble of events people and places there is a little like excavating layers of the city of Troy.

Larkin Mead's statue of Vermont's Revolutionary War hero Ethan Allen stands on the portico next to a British cannon taken by American troops at the Battle of Bennington.

Nearby are two steel Krupp naval guns from the Spanish cruiser Castilla, sunk at the battle of Manila Bay, May 1, 1898. The American commander there was Montpelier-born Admiral George Dewey.

In the State House foyer two paintings of Dewey on the bridge of his flagship face each other. Turn 90 degrees to see another Larkin Mead creation, a portrait sculpture of a fatherly Abraham Lincoln.

Outside the Senate chamber are bronze plaques honoring several Civil War generals, as well as Governor John Abner Mead, who had enlisted as a private, and all the common soldiers "who went from Vermont to save their nation."

On a tight rear stairway between the first and third floor one finds a brooding Thaddeus Stevens from Danville, then Burlington-born Admiral Henry T. Mayo, World War One commander of the Atlantic fleet; and Wallace Greene of Waterbury, a Commandant of the Marine Corps in the 1960's. Above them is a portrait of Edward L. Fox, from Gilman, one of the Immortal Chaplains who gave their life jackets to soldiers on the troop ship Dorchester after it was torpedoed in World War Two.

In an adjoining room hangs a portrait of Rutland native Major General Leonard Wing, commander of the 43rd Infantry Division in World War Two.

But the dominant feature of that room is the 10X20 foot Julian Scott painting of the battle of Cedar Creek on Oct. 19, 1864 in which more Vermonters were engaged than in any other event of the War. Cedar Creek was the decisive battle of the Shenandoah campaign and had a direct effect on the election of 1864. Scott's masterpiece is deeply realistic, heroic but not bombastic, and even includes sympathetic renderings of Rebel prisoners.

However, few people stop to gaze at Scott's great work. Politicians, like armies, march on their stomachs and most of the daily traffic passing this historic painting is on its way to the cafeteria.

Writer Bill Mares of Burlington is also a former teacher and state legislator. His most recent book is a collection of his VPR commentaries, titled "3:14 And Out."
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