By Matthew Johnson, SCSU Journalism student
Matthew Johnson, journalism student at Southern Connecticut State University, reported this story in 2017 as part of Journalism Capstone coursework on World War I.
The Soldiers & Sailors Monument in downtown Stamford honors the men and women who served in World War I.
Initially planned as a memorial building with six rooms of bronze tablets, the city’s monument committee scaled back the proposal when it realized there wouldn’t be enough money, according to Connecticut Service Records from the Office of Adjutant General Armory in Hartford, Conn.
According to Dan Burke, volunteer at the Historical Society, the monument is modeled after the Greek monument Lysicrates. Topped with a statue measuring 24 inches in diameter, the granite and concrete monument stands at 38 feet tall. It was made by sculptor, Marie Appell, and architect George A. Freeman.
The dedication ceremony on Nov. 11, 1920 included low-flying planes dropping bouquets of flowers as the monument was first unveiled. It stands in the middle of St. John’s Park, which is surrounded by East Main, Main, and Elm streets, as well as a Sheraton Hotel and Deloitte Financial Consultants.
According to the librarian at the Stamford Historical Society, Ron Marcus, there are several Stamford Hospital nurses whose role in the war is honored on the monument.
“World War I was the first time where women were officially members of the armed forces,” Marcus said. “Only one branch would have them and that’s the Army. They were almost exclusively nurses who were sometimes affiliated with the American Red Cross.”
The monument also displays the name of two veterans who became good friends after playing on a basketball team together.
According to Stamford town records, Lt. Charles H. Beehler became the manager of the famous 7th Company basketball team prior to the outbreak of war. Capt. Ralph Taylor had played basketball at Stamford High School before joining the 7th Company team and becoming close friends with Beehler. Once the war had started, the two took different paths, but both tragically died in separate plane collisions.
Neither of the men died during battle.
Beehler was killed in a midair collision between the plane he was piloting and another air machine over the aviation fields in Neuvy-Pailloux in France on Dec. 19, 1918. Taylor died when a plane he was piloting dropped 800 feet into the fields in Mineola, N.Y. on Aug. 2, 1917. A former United States military training field south of Montgomery, Ala. became known as Taylor Airfield, named after Ralph Taylor of Stamford.
The only building in proximity to the statue that still remains from the time it was built is St. John’s Episcopal Church, which opened in 1869. The monument cost the city $50,000 to build. The entire cost was funded through private donations from citizens.
The area is maintained by the city’s Parks Department. According to the Stamford Historical Society, the area went through a major $103,000 restoration in 1985. This included the addition of 20 park benches and new walkways. It also included flour-blasting of the bronze plaques and weather proofing of the statue itself.