Monument of States
Years ago, on a Florida trip, we made a point of wandering south off of the main drag that sucked all toward the Disney maw. An odd monument sat in downtown Kissimmee, unattended and unexplained -- a quasi-folk art offering in an area known mostly for its corporate tourist attractions. The monument was a bit bedraggled, and we didn't know its story at the time -- we were mainly hoping to compare it to the Fireplace of States ("A rock from every state!") in Bemidji, Minnesota.
Begun in 1942 after the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, the Monument of States was the vision of Dr. Charles Bressler-Pettis, a local tourism booster, who wanted a physical symbol of American unity in the dark days of early World War II. He wrote letters to every governor to send him local rocks. The donations arrived in a variety of formats: blocks of native granite, chunks of quartz, small boulders, fossils, hunks of old buildings. President Franklin D. Roosevelt sent a rock from his Hyde Park estate. One contributor sent a human skull.
By 1943 the Doctor had a complete set from the then-lower-48, and had them mortared into a 50-foot-tall pseudo-pyramid of garishly-colored concrete slabs. Each slab had a rock embedded in it, and was inscribed with the donor's name and location: "Idaho, Chase A. Clark Gov. 1941-42," "Wisconsin Dairy Land," "Harvard Medical School." The pile weighed 30 tons and was dedicated as The Monument of States on March 28, 1943. Dr. Pettis promoted it as, "The World's Most Unique Monument," and at the time it probably was.
Beyond the states' official contributions, Dr. Pettis included hundreds of rocks that he and his wife had collected over years of vacations. For the peak of the monument he sculpted the words "Tourist Paradise" beneath a concrete planet Earth topped by a concrete bald eagle over which flew an American flag. No need to explain what that meant.
Dr. Pettis eventually died, but his monument remained, and grew. More rocks appeared, and were added to the surrounding walkways, from Alaska, Hawaii, multi-tentacled corporations, and from 21 foreign countries that have nothing to do with the United States. The Monument became a big tourist attraction in pre-Disney Florida, and the easygoing residents of Kissimmee apparently felt that the more rocks, the merrier.
Monument of States Gets a Facelift
Sixty years is a long time, even for a pile of rocks, and heat and humidity took their toll. Other attractions drew off attention. People forgot about The Monument of States.
But in 2001, another year of patriotic fervor, an automobile association and a hotel chain -- noticing a classic attraction in distress and sensing a good promotional opportunity -- rallied local employees to give the Monument a facelift, complete with a new flag and a fresh coat of paint on some of the slabs.
We liked the Monument back in its weathered days, but perhaps the symbolism of 2001 was more important: this mound of multi-mineral diversity wasn't crumbling any time soon.