By Jon McGinty
Veterans Memorial Hall and the Rockford Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution will introduce a new memorial to the community in ceremonies this Friday, Veterans Day, at 10:30 a.m. Entitled “Veterans—A Memorial to Peace,” the central focus of the new construction on the Wyman Street side of the building is the installation of the newly restored Civil War statue that most recently stood at the northeast corner of Auburn and Main Streets. Construction of the new site began this past August, and was completed earlier this week.
Friday’s ceremony is intended to emulate a similar event held at the same location on Armistice (Veterans) Day in 1933. There will be a moment of silence at 11 a.m., an address from a local politician (Illinois 16th District Congressman Adam Kinzinger), a 21-gun salute by the Marine Corps League, and the playing of taps. The site will be adorned with poppies created by Easter Seal Kids, a symbol of veterans’ appreciation since World War I.
The Civil War statue, sometimes called the “Boy in Blue,” has been undergoing repair and restoration at a Forest Park studio since its removal from the Auburn and Main roundabout at the end of 2014. Andrzej Daznowski, director of Conservation of Sculpture & Objects, completed the work which restored the zinc statue to its original condition. The cost of dismantling, repairing and re-installing the statue was $34,000; the cost to prepare the site at Memorial Hall was $129,000. Both were paid for by an Illinois Public Museum Capital Grant program that was awarded in June of 2014.
The new site will include eight bronze plaques to be installed at a later date, and which will describe the history of Memorial Hall, the Civil War statue, past Armistice/Veterans Day events, and the various veterans’ organizations which have used the Hall for events and meetings since its construction in 1903.
The statue was originally purchased by the Winnebago County administration in 1900 and installed as part of a fountain adorning the north entrance to the old courthouse on West State Street. It was removed in 1967 and stored at the county highway department while a new courthouse was constructed, then returned to the northwest entrance foyer in the new building in 1969. After suffering some vandalism, it was eventually enclosed in a glass case.
In 1984, as a collaborative effort by the Winnebago County board, the Rockford Park District, Greenwood Cemetery, and the North End Businessmen’s Association, the statue was again moved to the Auburn and Main intersection, and placed on a pillar that was once part of the façade of the Carnegie Library on Wyman Street. When the Main and Auburn roundabout was completed the County Board decided to remove the statue, restore it and reinstall it at a new site at Memorial Hall, where they believe more people will have better, safer and more frequent access to see and appreciate it.