CUSTER STATUE HAD THREE SITES DURING TENURE IN CITY
(Monroe Evening News, March 17, 1973)
Erected by the people of Michigan, the 14 foot equestrian statue, one of the finest in the nation was dedicated June 4, 1910, at Monroe, Gen. George A. Custer's home.
What's not generally known is that the statue represents a Civil War general rather than an Indian War commander.
President William Howard Taft, here with Washington dignitaries for the ceremonies, paid tribute to the world's cavalry commanders and said of Gen. Custer, "he stands equal with them all."
Dominating the day's events, although she never spoke a public word, was the General's widow, Mrs. Elizabeth Bacon Custer, a native of Monroe. Her moment came when grasping the yellow satin ribbon, the cavalry color, she broke apart the two American flags revealing the figure of her husband on his mount. Mrs. Custer smiled and after a long, full look, nodded in appreciation.
The cannons boomed in salute, the band struck up "The Star Spangled Banner" and cheers of the 25,000 gathered there filled the public square at the intersection of E. First and Washington Sts.
That day the statue was unveiled at its original site, midway in the intersection facing south in line with the Gettysburg tradition and to get the maximum sun on its face.
It was presented by Michigan Gov. Fred M. Warner as a gift not only to Monroe but to the world, "an inspiration to all mankind."
"The State of Michigan leaves this statue in this beautiful city - knowing that its patriotic and graceful people will guard and keep it with zealous love and care" he said.
Three years before the legislature had appropriated $25,000 for the memorial and $2,000 for the dedicatory ceremony.
Edward C. Potter of Greenwich, Conn., was chosen from among 25 artists to carve the sculpture.
Entitled "Sighting the Enemy" it was designed to represent the young Civil War hero in action against J.E.B. Stuart's confederate cavalry at Gettysburg.
The "old boys" proudly wearing the red neckties of Custer's brigade, eyed the statue critically. They agreed with all the details, the light cavalry saddle, the Army blanket underneath, the single rein, uniform and mount; even the face and bearing satisfied the veterans.
The initial movement to establish a memorial had begun at Monroe in 1876 shortly after the tragedy and death of Custer and his command at the Little Big Horn. This effort was thwarted when the general was buried at West Point and national attention was focused on a suitable marker for his grave.
Thirty years later the Custer Memorial Association was revived to seek state assistance for a Monroe statue. Charles E. Greening provided the impetus and campaigners, funded by a benefit concert, joined forces with the Michigan Cavalry Brigade. State posts of the Grand Army of the Republic wrote letters to Lansing urging support of the monument bill. The Rev. Michael J. Crowley of St. John's Catholic Church, a match for any politician, gave the final push by spending the night before the crucial vote on the telephone calling friends at the capitol.
Duly appointed by Gov. Warner, the State Commission had the advice and active assistance of the general's widow who considered her husband's memory a sacred trust.
The monument was moved from Loranger Square to Riverside Park (renamed Soldier and Sailors Park) on East Front St. some 13 years later when it was judged to be a traffic hazard. Such a furor was raised, including veiled threats by Gov Alex J. Groesbeck to take the statue to Lansing, that no special services were held and sometime between June 29 and Aug. 14,1923, the act was accomplished.
Mrs. Custer, then a New York resident, expressed dismay that the memorial had been "stuck in the woods" and vowed never to return to her home town.
The Historic Trails Committee of the Monroe County Historical Society was assigned the task of relocating the memorial and on Sept. 3, 1955, rededication at the present site at N. Mornoe St. and Elm Ave. occurred.
Honored at the ceremonies were members of the Custer family including the General's grand nephew Lt. Col. Charles A. Custer. He declared "The City of Monroe (by this move) keeps faith with the devoted wife and widow of Gen. Custer - Libby Bacon Custer."
The city and society shared the cost to dismantle, transport and rebuild the statue ($8,927) equally. General discussion concerned the direction the figures should face and esthetically it was deemed wise to break with the Gettysburg tradition at this site.
The State Highway Department gave its blessing, military traditions were honored and the civic pride evident at the rededication have endured these many years.
So the magnificent statue has its proper place in this historic community.
(Monroe Evening News, March 17, 1973)
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