Beginning in June 1923, Edward Ivinson, long time Laramie banker, mayor, trustee of the University of Wyoming and major community philanthropist, undertook a project to honor veterans of World War I. A series of letters and notes were exchanged between noted historian Grace R. Hebard of the University of Wyoming and Edward Ivinson concerning such a memorial. Hebard began by asking Ivinson to consider donating money for a plaque at the University commemorating the 11 U.W. students who lost their lives in WW I.
Eventually, by early October 1923 the project expanded to include all Albany County veterans who served in WW I. From reading the letters it is not clear at whose suggestion the project expanded, Ivinson’s or Hebard’s. But the inference is that it was Ivinson. By November of that year, the city council accepted Ivinson's offer to build the memorial and place it downtown. A contract was signed in early Feb 1924 with the sculptor for the large eagle that would top the memorial and the bronze plaques that would bear the names of those who served. Later that month Ivinson turned down an apparent offer extended by A.C. Jones of the First National Bank to help with costs. Ivinson replied on 27 Feb 1924, "I am with the matter alone."
At one point, Hebard also suggested that the memorial be placed on the grounds of the University as she felt it would likely get damaged at the downtown location which was in the middle of an intersection of two busy streets. Ivinson rejected the suggestion. Of note, there were several letters or notes back and forth between Hebard and Ivinson where he expresses his concern about delays in construction, and total cost, which would be about $110,000 in 2013 dollars. Overall, however, Ivinson wrote that he was very happy with Hebard's sheparding the project to completion.
The sculptor selected for the project was quite famous at the time. He was Giuseppe Moretti who had been born in Italy but achieved his fame while working in New York, Pittsburgh and later Alabama. The eagle that tops the statue on the Albany County courthouse is a very good example of his noted work in war memorials. The monument was previously located at the intersection of 2nd and Thornburgh Streets, which was later renamed Ivinson Avenue. Ivinson personally chose the earlier spot because of its significance to his Laramie history. He noted that the intersection was special to him, he had built brick buildings on the three corners of the intersection and for many years was the president of the First National Bank, which stood on the fourth corner. Eventually the monument was moved to this location on the courthouse lawn out of concern for safety.
It is also evident that by late 1923 the project’s scope expanded yet again. It was decided to also include all students who had attended the university and had served in the war. Ms. Hebard communicated with the War Department and the Wyoming Adjutant General to initiate the list. She further wrote hundreds of letters to individuals seeking additional information and clarification of who had served and even the correct spelling of their names. In February 1924 a list of 1006 names was published in the Laramie paper. Ms. Hebard asked all citizens to help her complete the list and 57 additional names were added for a total of 1063. The number of students and residents placed on the panel of those who died while in the service grew to 32. Despite her extensive efforts, not all names of those who served are listed. Hebard received several letters after the panels were cast from families who belatedly found out about the project. Hebard wrote each of the families a letter of apology.
Finally, after many months of preparation by Hebard and A.C. Jones, the dedication was held on the 7 October 1924. The Republican-Boomerang of that day placed the story of the dedication at the top of page one displacing the big news of the week, the World Series between the Washington Senators and the New York Giants. The event was opened with a prayer by Reverend Richmond of the Laramie Baptist Church who was a veteran of WW I and a member of the American Legion. It was reported that hundreds were in attendance. Speeches were given by Laramie Mayor Thurman Arnold and past University of Wyoming President Aven Nelson who were introduced by longtime Ivinson friend Stephen Downey.
Representatives of the Daughters of the American Revolution, the Grand Army of the Republic who were Union veterans of the Civil War, Veterans of the Spanish American War and the American Legion were given honored places at the venue. The ceremony closed with the reading of the names of those who died, followed by a volley fired by the ROTC rifle squad, taps and the national anthem. U.S. Army Major Beverly C. Daly, the husband of Ivinson’s granddaughter Frances, was the commander of the University of Wyoming ROTC unit at the time and they were given the honor of performing the military ceremonies at the dedication.
A later letter from Hebard expressed sadness that Ivinson was not able to attend the formalities as she said the ceremony was very moving, with numerous wives and mothers there with children who reached up to touch the names on the bronze plaques. The 94 year old Ivinson was in the Connor Hotel in Laramie but was ill on that day, so A.C. Jones read his speech to the assembled crowd. It contains perhaps the best words Ivinson ever wrote and shows his recognition of the sacrifices of those who went off to the War to End All Wars. It read in part,
When, therefore, the opportunity to honor and perpetuate the memory of the students of the University of Wyoming, and the young men of Albany County who answered their Country’s Call and willingly risked their lives in defense of her honor and human liberty, no place seemed to me so suitable as the spot on which we now stand and I am here today for the purpose of presenting to the City of Laramie and through it the citizens of Albany County, the Memorial Monument on which is inscribed the names of those who made the great sacrifice – the Gold Star men whose memory we honor – let us pause and reverently bow our heads when their names are called.
On it are also inscribed the names of the courageous young men who enlisted under the flag of our country and were willing to surrender their lives if need be, in her behalf. ….May we see in the Eagle whose gaze is directed towards the rising sun, which gives light and life, a symbol of that for which our Country stands and may its outstretched wings symbolize and remind us of the blessings we enjoy under the protecting care of our beloved United States – a land that is dear to the hearts of all true, Americans.
I would note that Ivinson did make a mistake, he should have spoken of men and women who served and are listed on the panels of the monument.
It is fitting that when the memorial was moved in the late 1920’s it was placed on the corner of the courthouse grounds that is opposite the Ivinson Mansion. The eagle gazes directly at the mansion and the panel bearing the list of the 32 gold star men (those who were killed in the war) is directly below the eagle’s intense visage.
By Kim Viner
Caption: World War I Memorial Monument on the Albany County Courthouse Grounds. Photo Courtesy Kim Viner