M onday is Memorial Day, and New Haven is packed with memorials year-round. Between 1887 and 1905, three separate monuments were erected to honor the Civil War, and they’re all still standing. There’s the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument atop East Rock Park, the statue honoring Connecticut’s Ninth Regiment at Sixth Street and Howard, and the Broadway Civil War Monument downtown.
Near the Broadway Civil War Monument is a smaller, rougher monument—a pile of stones arranged by the local group Reclaiming the Prophetic Voice, which marks each stone with the number of people who have died in a single month in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. “How many stones will be piled here before these wars end?” asks an explanatory card mounted on a tree near the stone pile.
Other park areas also acknowledge numerous wars at once, honoring those who suffered in those wars. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Park at New Haven Harbor includes not only two monuments dedicated to those who died in Vietnam but separate memorials to Korean War veterans, to recipients of the purple heart, and to four members of the 1st Battalion 102nd Infantry “in recognition of their service in the war against terrorism.”
The walls of Yale’s Woolsey Hall are covered with the names of those who attended or worked at the university and died in wars. Behind Woolsey, there’s a World War I memorial in Beinecke Plaza. Among the many statues of soldiers at Yale is the one of Revolutionary War hero Nathan Hale in Old Campus (where Hale lived as a Yale student).
The Holocaust Memorial, the first such memorial in the United States to be built on public land, is at the corner of Whalley and West Park avenues in Westville. It was dedicated in 1977. A related exhibit, Memory & Legacy, has travelled to colleges throughout the state.
These are statues which have become part of the fabric of the city. They adorn parks and college campuses and concert halls. They enlighten. The Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument on East Rock may seem far away, but it’s a landmark for countless highway drivers every day, and last month was the laser-light centerpiece of a public art project marking New Haven’s 375th anniversary. When the “Angel of Peace” atop the monument was in desperate need of restoration, City Hall cleverly decided to have the Angel brought down to New Haven Green so that the work could be performed publicly and the statue could be appreciated close-up.
Welcoming the Angel of Peace to New Haven Green helped remind the city that memorials can be as much about peace as they are about war. When a circular fountain was built around the old World War I flagpole monument at the center of the Green in 2003, some of the Proprietors who oversee the Green were quoted in The New York Times saying the fountain would convey feelings of tranquility and togetherness.
Even the song by ’60s rockers The Doors which namechecks the city with the lyric “Blood on the streets in the town of New Haven” counters that violent imagery with the song’s very title, “Peace Frog.”
In 1987, New Haven was chosen to be one of the first United Nations Peace Messenger Cities, a position it continues to take seriously through demonstrations and art exhibits. There’s a New Haven Peace Commission, which has held events on New Haven Green marking the International Day of Peace in September. The peace-education organization Promoting Enduring Peace has been based in New Haven since 1952. There are numerous other peace organizations in the city, too many to list.
There are weekly vigils for peace, including the one held Sundays from noon to 1 p.m. for the past 14 years by the Connecticut Peace Coalition on the island intersecting Broadway, Park and Elm street—right near the Broadway Civil War Monument. There’s another, more sedentary and prayerful one Mondays at noon on the front steps of First & Summerfield Church at the corner of Elm and College streets.
One of the newer local New Haven peace traditions is the autumntime IWagePeace Walk, a multi-faith gathering which has brought hundreds of locals together to stroll along the West Haven Boardwalk (in 2010 and ’11) and, last year, through downtown New Haven. This year’s IWagePeace Walk is scheduled for October 6.
It’s easy to stroll around New Haven and remember wars. Thankfully, it’s also easy to think of peace.
Written and photographed by Christopher Arnott.