It’s a fitting tribute to Veterans Day: A bronze World War I doughboy retakes his ground today in the revamped green space at Tulane Avenue and South Galvez Street.
Once known in the lower Mid-City neighborhood as Billy Goat Park, the space was renamed Pershing Park and dedicated as a World War I memorial in 1966. Today it’s surrounded by the looming buildings of the new University Medical Center.
The statue, installed and dedicated in 1970 by Friends Barracks No. 640, Veterans of WWI of the USA, depicts a World War I soldier clutching a rifle in one hand and a grenade in the other. Sixteen million people died in World War I, including 116,000 Americans.
The doughboy has been placed within the shadow of where it originally stood, bordering the campuses of the new University Medical Center & Veterans Hospital. It will be rededicated in a ceremony shortly after 11 a.m. today.
For nearly two years, the soldier, along with his plaque and podium, disappeared from public view. Initially there was concern that the monument would be scrapped, like dozens of buildings in the lower Mid-City neighborhood, to make way for the new medical complex.
“We first became aware of the situation when there were plans by the city to roll the park into the hospital’s footprint,” said John Brink of the monumental task committee, the volunteer group that spearheaded the restoration. “We got involved because we felt the statue could wind up anywhere.”
While there were no objections to saving the statue, there were bureaucratic hurdles in the way.
The main issue was the ownership and future care of the park. So the City Council approved an ordinance that allowed the city to sell the park to the state, which in turn allowed medical center contractors to work directly with the preservation team.
Using methods approved by the U.S. Park Service, the monumental task committee cleaned and restored the iconic bronze statue, said Pierre McGraw, president of the MTC board.
The process took several months.
Working in a makeshift conservation studio near the site, volunteers who are professional conservators removed deterioration and revived the statue’s original patina.
Other projects taken up by the monumental task committee have included the Benjamin Franklin and Henry Clay monuments in Lafayette Square, and the Ninth Ward Victory Arch in the Bywater.
“We hope that this preservation work draws attention to the bigger issue of reacquainting the public with our city’s monuments,” said Linda Stubbs, a consulting museum registrar currently charged with the transportation and care of all artwork included in the Prospect 3 biennial.
“In the case of the ‘doughboy,’ many American soldiers made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. The least we can do is preserve the monuments dedicated to their service.”
The public is invited to attend the rededication ceremony Tuesday at 11:11 a.m., the time the armistice ended the Great War on Nov. 11, 1918.
The rededication will include a military color guard and a historical presentation by members of the monumental task committee.