Public art ~ The World War Monument ~ Providence

WWI Monument

Tucked between the Providence River and the County Courthouse along South Main Street is Monument Park, and the most noticeable landmark there is the World War Monument.

Erected in 1929 and designed by architect Paul Cret, the Greek Revival Doric column stands 75' high, and is surmounted by a statue of Victory, also identified as Peace. The sculptor was German-born Carl Paul Jennewin. Carved of Maine granite, the statue weighs 23 tons and is 30' tall.


At the base of the column - which is carved of Westerly marble - are friezes designed by Janet deCoux, who included her own self-portrait in one of them.

You reach the base of the monument by a small set of steps, and inlaid in the marble are plaques cast by Gorham. They depict a destroyer; a machine gun,
rifles and a trench soldier's tin hat; a cannon and tank; and an airplane, representing the Navy, Infantry, Artillery and Air Service:

WWI Monument detail

WWI Monument detail

WWI Monument detail

WWI Monument detail
Air service

On the plinth just above each plaque is carved a quote. This one shows the quote by Emerson, and the other sides have quotes by Presidents Lincoln and Wilson, and the dedication inscription:

"By this memorial the City of Providence commemorates the loyal courage and fidelity of all her citizens who served in the World War whose high example still summons us to love and serve our country."

WWI Monument detail

The base of the column shows various allegorical and symbolic scenes.

WWI Monument detail

Plans for a monument were in the works as early as 1918, and a design competition netted 94 submissions, including an arch, a pylon and an auditorium.
At the time of its unveiling, the monument sat on a landfill bridge covering the confluence of the Moshassuck and Providence rivers. Or in Rhode Island terms, "where suicide circle used to be."

The World War I Monument was dedicated on the eleventh anniversary of the Armistice on November 11, 1929. According to the supporting documents for its inclusion on the Historic Records, "Parades, speeches and ceremony took place amid throngs of people crowding Memorial Square. Although over a decade had passed since the conclusion of the "Great War" and less than two weeks had passed since "Black Tuesday", [the stock market crash -ed.] the issues represented by the World War I Monument were still imbued with a sense of immediacy."

I remember suicide circle from my first time in Rhode Island, back in 1981. I was warned away from it as too dangerous for pedestrians. One of the great pleasures of my return to Rhode Island was to find the rivers in Providence uncovered and so much great walkable space.


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