By Drew Crooks
A number of memorials on Olympia’s State Capital Campus honor those who have served in the armed forces of the United States. They include the “Winged Victory” Memorial, POW/MIA Memorial, Medal of Honor Memorial, Korean War Veterans Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and World War II Memorial. There is also a Washington State Law Enforcement Memorial on the Campus.
Yet, there is another local war memorial that is perhaps less remembered. That is the Soldiers’ Monument in Tumwater’s Masonic Memorial Park. This memorial, located in the cemetery’s north section close to Cleveland Ave. SE, was erected in 1902 to honor the Washington State soldiers who fought in the Spanish-American/Philippine-American War.
The Soldiers’ Monument, as described in a Morning Olympian newspaper article of February 15, 1902, “consists of a granite pedestal twelve feet high, upon which rests the [bronze] figure of a soldier in campaign uniform in the position of parade rest.” There is a simple inscription on the pedestal: “The State of Washington Erects This Monument In Memory Of Her Valiant Sons.” To the northeast of the memorial are buried ten soldiers who died in the turn of the century conflict. More recent graves surround the monument on its other sides.
What is the story behind the Soldiers’ Monument? The Spanish-American/Philippine-American War (1898-1902) brought the United States onto the world stage. Some residents of Washington State participated in the conflict as members of the First Washington Regiment, United States Volunteers. This unit fought in the Philippine Islands for six months, suffering causalities from both battle and disease. The regiment returned to America, and on October 31, 1899 was mustered out of federal service.
As early as May 1899 planning and fund raising efforts started in Olympia for a memorial for the First Washington Regiment soldiers who perished in the war. These efforts had stalled by 1900.
Then on February 16, 1900 the local Masonic group, Olympia Lodge #1 F&AM, decided to present to the Washington State government a section of land in their Tumwater cemetery for the burial of First Washington Regiment dead. This generous offer was promptly accepted by the state.
Olympia witnessed an event on March 18, 1900 that brought together both local people and visitors. Elaborate memorial services were held on that date in the Olympia Opera House on 4th Avenue for nine unclaimed dead from the First Washington Regiment. Afterwards, their bodies were brought in a procession to the Masonic Cemetery and buried in the land donated by the lodge. An estimated 3,000 people attended the ceremony at the cemetery. Later a tenth soldier was interned next to his comrades.
A growing number of people now felt that a monument was needed to honor the Washington State soldiers who fought and died in the Spanish-American/Philippine-American War. In December 1900, Adjutant General Edward Fox of the Washington National Guard suggested in a report to Governor John Rogers that part of the money appropriated by the state legislature for the burial of soldiers could be used to erect a monument at the Masonic cemetery.
The suggestion met with general public approval. On February 16, 1901 the Washington House of Representatives approved the creation of a monument at the cemetery. Three days later, however, the Senate voted for a monument that would be placed at Sylvester Park in downtown Olympia. This difference in opinion might reflect a nation-wide debate at the time on whether memorials should be located in cemeteries or parks.
Negotiations led to an agreement by both houses on March 11: $2500 would be appropriated for a soldier’s monument overlooking the graves at the Masonic Cemetery. Governor Rogers signed the bill later in March, and a committee was set up to choose a builder for the monument. Members included the Governor, Adjutant General Fox, and Colonel J. J. Weisenburger. After several delays, the committee picked William C. Crosbie of Seattle on June 6, 1901 to do the project.
By January 25, 1902 the memorial’s bronze statue arrived in Olympia. Soon the work of erecting the monument at the Masonic Cemetery began. The Morning Olympian newspaper on February 15 reported that the Soldiers’ Monument had been completed, and added that the memorial “has the appearance of permanence which would indicate that it could stand for ages.” Henry McBride, who became Governor of Washington after the death of John Rogers on December 26, 1901, officially inspected the monument on the first day of March in 1902.
Ground beautification work would come later (in 1903), but the Soldiers’ Monument now stood near the ten graves of those who died in the Spanish-American/Philippine-American War. This statute became the center point of local Memorial Day ceremonies on May 30, 1902. Many people attended what was in a sense the dedication of the memorial.
For a time the Soldiers’ Monument was a center of Memorial Day activities in Thurston County. Later the holiday’s local focus switched to the State Capital Campus with the construction of memorials honoring individuals from more recent wars. However, the Soldiers’ Monument has remained part of Memorial Day observations. Just recently a Boy Scout Eagle project added next to the memorial two flag poles flying the United States and POW-MIA flags. Thoughtful visitors to the cemetery, now known as Masonic Memorial Park, can still see the stature and remember the sacrifices of those who gave their lives for their country over a century ago.
Note: The First Washington Regiment dead buried near the Soldiers’ Monument in Tumwater’s Masonic Cemetery include Corporal Henry Leinbacher, Company G; Privates F. C. Bushman, Company K; Daniel Campbell, Company M; Damian Grossman, Company C; Frank A. Lovejoy, Company C; Nickolas C. Polley, Company D; Edward H. Perry, Company I; Albert J. Ruppert, Company H; Frank Smith, Company E; and John Smith, Company K. Also Rev. John R. Thompson, Chaplain for the First Washington Regiment, is interred elsewhere in the cemetery.