War Stories

Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument commissioner Neil Evans shares the details of the downtown landmark's recent renovation.

Visiting the Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument used to feel like a trip to the drab, gray past. Sure, we should pay our respects to Civil War vets but man, 1894 sure seemed dank, musty and monochrome.

Turns out the past was more colorful than we thought. Thanks to a $2 million renovation, we can see what Clevelanders saw 116 years ago when Public Square's war memorial opened: brilliant rose-and-ocher-colored columns and window trim, a blue and green ceiling, multicolored military emblems on the floors.

"It's like going, in The Wizard of Oz, from black and white to Technicolor," says Neil Evans, president of the monument commission.

Two curators at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History gave the renovation a huge boost, helping to preserve the 38 marble slabs etched with the names of the 9,000 Cuyahoga County residents who served in the Civil War. An exhibit opening Aug. 7 at the museum in University Circle illustrates the science behind their contributions. Here's a look at what's different.


A century of hot-and-cold cycles had warped all of the marble tablets. Joe Hannibal of the natural history museum measured the bending and took the room's temperatures. Now, softer mortar between the tablets lets them expand. Air conditioning and dehumidifiers make the space more comfortable for people and stone alike.


Hannibal discovered an 1894 newspaper article that reported the marble tablets had a light yellow tint. "That shed new light on everything," says Evans. The renovators dappled a yellow across the faded tablets. Hints of dark red above the bronze reliefs and bits of pale rose on the columns led to the re-tinting of the other marble.


Gas and electric chandeliers illuminated the interior in 1894. Now, four replicas hang in the corners with red lights standing in for the original gaslights. "We didn't want any harsh lighting because it's a place of repose," Evans says. Fluorescent lights were replaced with softer bulbs. Spotlights draw out details on busts of wartime heroes.


This bronze relief panel depicts Abraham Lincoln removing a slave's shackles and handing him a rifle. The shackles, which disappeared decades ago, have been replaced. "Giving those free hands a full Springfield rifle and cartridge box what more could be stronger?" Evans says. "You see the emancipation taking place."

Stained Glass

Whitney Stained Glass of Cleveland cleaned or replaced every piece of leaded glass in the monument's 14 windows. The studio also reglazed the windows and installed outer panes of Florentine glass, a long-lost element of the original design that creates a sparkling effect when the sun shines through.
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