Monument Circle – Colonel Eli Lilly Civil War Museum

Monument Circle was originally designated in the city planning of 1822 as a square or plaza for the Governor’s residence. However, no Governor actually lived there; there was no monument at the time, and the mansion was subsequently demolished in 1857.

Today, the Circle of brick cobblestone, 342 feet in diameter, symbolizes Indianapolis and serves as a point of interest and gathering place for the entire city. Traffic moves around the Circle with White River State Park and the Capitol to the west, the theater district and Massachusetts Avenue to the northeast, and south to Meridian Street, where the majority of the bars and restaurants can be found. Although some of the original architecture remains, modern retail shops surround the center of the Circle including the South Bend Chocolate Factory, several radio stations, banks, a social club, an Episcopal Cathedral, and the Circle Building, a 12-story skyscraper of office space. One of the oldest structures on Monument Circle is The Hilbert Circle Theater, constructed in 1916, one of the first and grandest theaters to present silent films with accompanying orchestra music and featuring famous entertainers such as Jack Benny, Glenn Miller, and Rudy Vallee. Many of the musicians who played for these early performances later joined to form the Indianapolis Symphony under Ferdinand Schaefer in 1930. When the Theater began to deteriorate in the 1970’s, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, and complete restoration of the exterior and the interior began in1982. It reopened at 45 Monument Circle as the official home of the Symphony in 1984, and is recognized as one of the earliest and greatest movie palaces of the 20th century.

The main attraction, however, at the Circle is the impressive 284-foot Soldiers and Sailors Monument, built 1887 — 1901. This obelisk of limestone and bronze was constructed at a cost of approximately half a million dollars, most of it financed by public funds. Designed by Bruno Schmitz of Berlin, Germany, the Monument was dedicated on May 15, 2002 to the 24,000 Hoosier casualties of the Civil War. At the top is an additional 38-foot statue of “Victory,” designed by George Brewster, and fondly called “Miss Indiana” by most Hoosiers. The eagle on her head stands for freedom, the torch in her left hand symbolizes the “light of civilization,” and the sword in the right hand rests upon a globe. As “Miss Indiana” faces the defeated battlefields of the South, she represents victory for the Army. Over time, the Monument has evolved from a Civil War landmark to a time-honored tribute to all the men and women of Indiana who served in the wars prior to WWI.

Four sculptors, including Rudolph Schwarz, Frederick William MacMonnies, George Thomas Brewster, and Nicolaus Geiger, contributed statuary to the Monument. Schwarz designed all four sides, and each presents a different scenario. The south side, the Infantry and Cavalry, has a plaque to the various companies and regiments from the Spanish American and Civil Wars. The east side of the Monument is entitled “War,” and features a sculpture of the Dying Soldier amid cannons, horses, and flags of the battle scene. The north side represents the Artillery and the Navy, with a plaque commemorating the wars preceding the Civil War. The west side has a sculpture “Peace,” and a smaller one “Return Home,” depicting the soldiers returning home from war. While Liberty holds a flag and a slave is freed from his chains, the Winged Victory in the background of the scene wears a laurel wreath and bears an olive branch of peace. Candelabra rise above the stone fountains at the base of the Monument, supported by stems resembling stalks of corn and surrounded by bears, eagles, and bronze bison-head foundations, spouting water into tiered basins below. A bronze band with the words “E Pluribus Unum” rests just below the sunburst at the top.

Four separate statues honoring notable figures in Indiana history stand at each street intersection on Monument Circle. The statue at the southeast corner, designed by Franklin Simmons, is of Oliver P. Morton, the Governor of Indiana during the Civil War and staunch supporter of the Soldiers and Sailors Monument. John Mahoney designed the other three statues: General George Rogers Clark of the American Revolution at the northwest corner, on the southwest is James Whitcomb, Governor during the Mexican War period, and on the northeast is William Henry Harrison, the general of Tippecanoe fame and later U.S. president.

Public events and concerts are held year round at Monument Circle including an art display of the Indy 500, the starting point for the Indiana Mini-Marathon, the Chrysler Grand Prix, a part of the Ferrari celebration, and the Strawberry Festival. During the holiday season, the Soldiers and Sailors Monument becomes a Christmas tree adorned with thousands of lights as a part of the Circle of Lights. Tourists visit the glass-enclosed observation tower at the top of the Monument, accessible by stairs or elevator, while others take horse and buggy rides around the Circle, viewing the brightly illuminated fountains, statues, and the historic significance they represent.

The base or lower level of the Soldiers and Sailors Monument houses the Colonel Eli Lilly Civil War Museum, housing a collection of Indiana history during the Civil War. Through letters, diaries, speeches, and artifacts, the realities of the war are brought to life, and we can somehow hear the cries of the wounded, the victorious, and the defeated. As visitors follow the long corridor between the two galleries, they can imagine, perhaps, the dirt path the soldiers marched on, carrying weapons across the bridge on tired feet in worn out boots into the midst of battle. With disease and lack of proper equipment and medical supplies, many died and survival was at best a sometime thing. Perhaps, a fate worse than death in many cases was to be captured by enemy troops, both sides being ill equipped to care for their own, let alone prisoners of war. At the end of the journey through the Museum, we’re left to contemplate the inevitable physical and psychological damage that is left behind from such a war.

(Note: Indiana had the highest percentage of soldiers who served in this war, other than the state of Delaware.)

Hours: Wednesday — Sunday, 10:00 a.m. — 6:00 p.m. Closed Monday, Tuesday, and some national holidays.
Admission: Free. Wheelchair accessible.

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