Jefferson Davis Monument
Even as we bade farewell to a beloved United States President in 2004, we were comforted knowing that the memory of beloved Presidents lives on forever. As folk congregated from Tampico, Illinois to Simi Valley, California to honor Ronald Reagan, 40th President of the United States, others gathered to revere the First (and only) President of The Confederate States, Jefferson Davis. President Reagan died on June 5th. President Davis was born on June 3rd.
The memory of Jefferson Davis is still powerful in many places. His birthday is celebrated as an official holiday in four states (Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, South Carolina) and several others hold Confederate Memorial Day (as opposed to National Memorial Day) on June 3rd, even though it is really the last Monday is April. The Jefferson Davis Highway snakes around the corridors of power in suburban Washington, DC, and sculptures and statues of the man adorn various places from Stone Mountain, Georgia to the University of Texas in Austin.
Just this week, someone remembered Davis by setting fire to the Jefferson Davis Shrine, historic Beauvoir, in Biloxi, Mississippi. Fortunately, an alert fire fighter noticed the smoke and saved the shrine from more extensive damage (Aug 2005: Beauvoir was pretty much destroyed in Hurrican Katrina).
Elsewhere in Jeff Davis country, at the First White House of The Confederacy in Montgomery, Alabama, where Davis lived in 1861, three days of final tribute to the last widow of a Civil War veteran just came to an end. A line of mourners (first in line was Alabama governor, Bob Riley) filed past the casket of Alberta Martin, which was draped by a Confederate battle flag, as civil-war reenactors in gray uniforms stood guard. As Riley said, "It's almost the end of an era." Said one United Daughter of The Confederacy, comparing Parsons with Reagan, "It's almost like we have a unity of our nation as a whole with these two people passing together. Each of these people is important in history in their own way."
Every year Jeff Davis's birthday is celebrated at the Jefferson Davis Monument in the quiet, isolated Western Kentucky town of Fairview. He was born in a log cabin in a spot currently occupied by Fairview's Post Office. But the festivities were especially joyful in 2004, when the monument was reopened after five years of renovation. Continuing a long and valiant tradition, festivities included Night Artillery firing, a Celebration Ball, the annual Miss Confederacy Pageant(and its sister pageants, Wee Miss Confederacy, Little Miss Confederacy, and Junior Miss Confederacy), rifle and artillery salutes to President Davis, a keynote address by Gary Rope, portraying Robert E Lee, who said that the monument was "the symbol of a great God-fearing culture." Then, after the monument was officially reopened, there was a battle.
During the closure, more than $3mm was spent to repair the elevator, install a backup generator and make the monument handicapped accessible.
At 351 feet tall, it is the largest [unreinforced] concrete obelisk in the world, and the fifth tallest monument in the United States. The top four are St. Louis's Gateway Arch, 630 feet tall; San Jacinto (Texas) Monument, 570 feet (built to the peoples who created an independent country -- just like the Confederates); the Washington Monument, 555 feet; and the Perry's Victory and International Peace Memorial at Put in Bay, Ohio, which, at 352 feet, nudges its way past the Davis obelisk by a mere extra 12 inches.
The Davis monument was conceived in 1907, at a reunion of the Orphan's Brigade of the Confederate Army. In 1917, construction began. After a halt during World War I, the obelisk was finally completed in 1924.
The walls are seven feet thick at the base, two feet thick at the top. The monument features an elevator to an observation room.
The monument also has an updated visitors center, which opened in 2001, which "enlightens visitors on the unique history that caused its preservation." The center includes a gift shop featuring Kentucky handcrafts, souvenirs, books and Civil War memorabilia. The controversial Confederate battle flag, "the stars and bars," does not fly over the monument (less incendiary Confederate government flags do), but Stars and Bars souvenir desk sets can be purchased at the gift shop.
When we last visited, the monument was closed, but the gift store was open, and did sell humorous "Forget, Hell" type souvenirs, as well as a book called "Presidents Birthplaces" which included a chapter on Davis (between Lincoln and Andrew Johnson). Our overwhelming memory of the place is the surprise at how big the monument looks as you come upon it, driving down a quiet two-lane road through the middle of nowhere.
Fairview is also home to a "zero mile" marker for the Jefferson Davis Highway. While never officially sanctioned by the US Department of Transportation, and not listed on many maps, the United Daughters of the Confederacy conceived the JDH back in 1913 (one year after the Lincoln Highway was proposed) as a coast-to-coast road through the Southern capitals. Since then, daughters and granddaughters of the Confederacy have created and erected monuments and markers along many parts of the highway. The Fairview route is actually one of several extensions of the highway, running from Kentucky south to Biloxi, Mississippi.
According to some Confederate nationalists, the Jefferson Davis Highway is "the largest monument to an American," covering 3,417 miles and traversing 13 states.