On a hilltop overlooking the Ohio River, a Blue-GrayTM granite memorial has imparted Western Pennsylvania’s Civil War heroes with a measure of fame that will endure the ages.
The Sewickley Cemetery Civil War monument’s signature feature is a sculpture of Pheme (or Fame), Greek mythology’s personification of renown and storytelling. The winged figure is perched roughly 15 feet above ground holding a horn, ready to sound the soldiers’ praises to the world. The monument was carved by a renowned Rock of Ages master sculptor in 2005, but its history goes far deeper.
When peace prevailed in 1865, the overjoyed citizens of the Pittsburgh suburb of Sewickley were eager to show their gratitude for the many native sons who would never return home. Cemetery Superintendent D.N. White was the first to propose the memorial, asking, “Do not the patriotic citizens of this valley owe something to their dead heroes? Shall their names be suffered to perish? Shall no record, imperishable as marble, be kept of their deeds and sacrifices?”
Fundraising was brisk and a committee would soon entertain proposals for the project, but they weren’t enamored with what they heard. Again and again, sculptors pitched the same types of designs that you could see in war memorials around the country – an obelisk with a patriotic symbol like an eagle carved into it, perhaps with an armed soldier standing guard. All were declined.
But as fate would have it, one of America’s most celebrated ceramic and tile artists, Isaac Broome, was in Pittsburgh at the time and taking on sculpture projects. The committee met with Broome, and upon hearing his idea, offered him a commission on the spot.
Broome got to work sculpting Sewickley’s original Civil War monument out of Italian marble. Pheme was held aloft on a platform supported by four ionic columns with a horn resting at her side. On the front of the monument’s base, a laurel wreath encircles an inscription reading, “Erected By The Citizens of Sewickley In Memory of Their Volunteer Soldiers Who Sacrificed Their Lives For The Unity of the Republic In the War of the Great Rebellion 1861 – 1865.” Matching wreaths on the rear, left and right sides of the base framed the names of soldiers lost on battlefields such as Gettysburg, Antietam and Chancellorsville.
Unfortunately, the marble Broome chose was not “imperishable” at all, but poorly suited to withstand the region’s harsh environmental conditions. Western Pennsylvania in that era was a beating industrial heart, home to booming steel foundries, coal plants and oil refineries. The smoke pouring into the skies from these factories came back to earth in the form of acid rain, which gradually eroded the structure.
Photos from the mid-1900s show Pheme missing her trumpet and hand; the features of her face had become dulled and the inscription text was so worn down it was difficult to read. Restoration experts were contracted in the 1980s to touch it up, but there was only so much they could do. A new committee formed in the early 2000s to fundraise for a total replacement using granite.
Rock of Ages’ statue largely replicated the base of Broome’s design and made some stylistic changes to Pheme. It was dedicated on July 12, 2005 – 139 years to the day after the Broome monument. Today, the original statue is on display in the cemetery chapel, where it will remain safe from the elements.
As a small way to contribute to their fame, Rock of Ages is proud to share the names of the heroes honored on the monument: Andrew J. Gray, James L. Grady, James Grimes, Thomas A. Hill, Robert Johnson, Patrick Malone, James Moore, William Painter, Henry M. Rhodes, William C. Richey, Moses Sherman, William C. Shields, Thomas Smith, John D. Tracy, John C. Travelli and William Wharton.