ST. LOUIS • With contentious debates raging around the country over the purging of statues that venerate the old Confederacy, St. Louis faces a more pedestrian problem with its goal to remove a century-old Confederate Memorial from Forest Park: the price tag.
The monument — a 32-foot-tall granite column on the north side of the park, adorned with a bronze scene of a Confederate youth being sent off to war — was erected in 1914 with $23,000 raised by the Ladies’ Confederate Monument Association.
Today, it would cost many times that amount to relocate the 40-ton structure, city officials say. And that’s assuming there is a place to put it.
“The mayor wants it down,” said Koran Addo, spokesman for Mayor Lyda Krewson. “She understands it’s an emotionally charged issue. It’s hurtful to so many people.
“There are several options,” he added, “and each option costs a lot of money.”
He said Krewson is in the process of reviewing those options and putting together a proposal. Possibilities include removing the monument to a museum, or even burying it. That option doesn’t appeal to Krewson, Addo said.
Krewson’s predecessor, former Mayor Francis Slay, also was in favor of removing the monument from the park, though the city made no progress beyond that declaration in the last two years of his administration.
Critics of Confederate statues in New Orleans and other Southern cities have argued that such monuments shouldn’t be displayed in public places of honor because of their connection to slavery and white supremacy. Opponents of their removal, including white supremacists, alt-right activists and some Republican politicians, argue the movement amounts to a purge of a major aspect of American history.
While the issue in St. Louis hasn’t generated the kind of fury it has in some former Confederate cities, it has been the subject of controversy in the past few years. In 2015, vandals spray-painted the Forest Park monument with the words “Black Lives Matter.” There have been rumblings more recently from people opposed to its removal on political and preservationist grounds.
“The tragic acts of removing statues of confederate (leaders) in the South is inadvertently contributing to the rise of a politically correct America where all things must revolve around a history viewpoint that fits those who don’t want to hear it,” wrote area resident Jeff Kaine recently on the architectural preservation website Building St. Louis News. “Ms. Krewson is one of those politicians who is trying to shape the past to fit the politically correct needs of the future.”
Other critics cited pure aesthetics. “I live across the street from the Confederate monument and feel it is one of the most beautiful things in Forest Park,” Bill Hannegan, a St. Louis activist on various issues, said in an email to the Post-Dispatch. He questioned whether Krewson has the legal authority to remove the statue without an ordinance. Her office maintains it does.
The issue of what physically could be done with the massive stone-and-bronze piece looms as large as the politics. In other cities, the compromise sometimes settled upon has been to put such pieces in history museums, treating them as historical artifacts rather than venerated monuments.
The most logical choice in St. Louis would be the Missouri Civil War Museum at Jefferson Barracks. But a previous attempted agreement between that facility and Slay’s administration fell apart after the museum took the position that the city would have to provide all the moving expenses and then give up any future control over the monument once it was part of the museum’s collection.
“The bottom line,” Museum Director Mark Trout said Tuesday, “is that you don’t want it there, we are the appropriate place for it, I’m willing to end your dilemma, and you can walk away from it.” He confirmed that offer still is on the table. Krewson’s office confirmed the city still isn’t interested.
The Missouri History Museum in Forest Park hasn’t publicly expressed interest in taking over the monument. A message seeking comment from the museum wasn’t returned Tuesday.
Others, presumably those offended by the monument, have suggested simply destroying it. A St. Louis businessman offered recently to do that free of charge, according to media reports. And former Missouri state Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, suggested on Twitter Tuesday that “we could raise the $$ privately” to tear it down. “I would contribute,” Kelly tweeted.
Krewson’s office — which would undoubtedly find itself engulfed in a national ideological firestorm with such a move — hasn’t expressed interest in pursuing that approach, either.
St. Louis’ Confederate Memorial was controversial even before it was erected. In 1912, the City Council (precursor to today’s Board of Aldermen) initially refused to provide space for the monument, but officials changed their minds after a withering campaign in the Confederacy’s defense — by none other than the Post-Dispatch editorial page.
“If the Council has regard for the business welfare of St. Louis and the advantages of Southern trade to St. Louis it will promptly forestall the damage its action has invited in refusing a site in Forest Park to the Confederate Monument,” read an editorial that year that opponents later blamed for “coercing” the council into accepting the monument.
The editorial warned against “mean spirit ... towards the vanquished,” adding: “The South is better able to get along without St. Louis than St. Louis is able to get along without the South.”
Roland Klose of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.