One of America’s best war monuments

I’ve visited Indianapolis various times in the past few years for business  and can’t seem to drive through town without passing by Monument Circle, the huge public space in the center of town, just a block or two from the state Capitol building.  European-like in its design, the Circle was named one of America’s 10 Great Public Spaces last year by the American Planning Association and has been the heart of the city for the past century. The area was originally designated the site for the governor’s mansion, but no governor ever occupied the spot and it became Circle Park. In 1887  the Indiana General Assembly formed a monument commission to finally act on an idea that had been suggested many times over the years.

File:Old rendering of the Soldiers and Sailors Monument in Indianapolis, IN, USA.jpg

The mammoth Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument towers in the middle of the circle, a stunning memorial to Indiana’s war dead. Designed by German (or Prussian, to be exact) architect Bruno Schmitz, the memorial rises 284 feet above the circle (only 15 or so feet less than the Statue of Liberty). Made of Indiana limestone, it took more than twelve years to build and is crowned by a 38-foot high bronze statue of Victory. It features several statuary groups and statues at the corners represent the Artillery, Infantry, Cavalry, and Navy. The sculptures, by an Austrian sculptor, are detailed and lifelike. But, the young Civil War soldiers they portray originally had beards until a veteran observed that infantrymen were beardless – some said they looked “too German.” The sculptor apparently took the order to remove the beards in stride and remarked that he would become a barber and use a chisel instead of a razor to shave the hair.

File:Detroit Photographic Company (0339).jpg

The grand dedication ceremony in 1902 included a parade of veterans and a special march written by John Philip Sousa. The final cost for the monument totaled about $600,000 (estimated today at more than $500,000,000). From bottom to top the monument’s interior space is put to good use.  In 1918 a museum focused on Indiana’s involvement in the Civil War opened in the monument’s basement. Still open today, the museum offers a pretty decent summary of the topic. Those desiring a grand view can climb stairs or take an elevator up to an observation deck at the top, something I want to do someday.

A walk around the monument reveals many interesting components, including a series of elaborate bronze candelabras featuring symbols of America – the shafts represent stalks of corn and bison heads and whimsical (to me at least) bears encircle the shaft.  In warm weather, two large fountains and pools on either side provide a soothing effect. At Christmas, the monument becomes a giant Christmas tree with lights strung from top to bottom, a tradition called the Circle of Lights started in 1962.

After undergoing a major facelift in 2011, the monument and circle  are ready to face many more decades as one of America’s great public spaces and memorial to the honored dead of this great midwestern state .

About Tim

Author, public historian, and consultant. Author site: - My fifth book, Star Spangled: The Story of a Flag, a Battle, and the American Anthem, was published in May 2020. Consulting site: I specialize in exhibition development, interpretive planning, education strategy, and history relevance. I'm passionate about helping history organizations of all sizes and kinds make history more relevant for their communities and the people they engage with. I'm happy to consider many types of writing projects for informal learning organizations. Reach me at or
This entry was posted in 20th century, city/town, Civil War, military and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to One of America’s best war monuments

  1. Jay Blossom says:

    The book “Suburban Nation” explains how in traditional town planning, a plaza or square is often at the heart of a town. Public institutions (like churches, a courthouse, a town hall) often line the plaza, and major streets radiate from it. Seems as if the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument serves as the central plaza of Indianapolis. It really is spectacular. Indianapolis has some remarkable architecture overall, including its Capitol and its Masonic temple.

  2. Tim,
    Having lived here in Indianapolis now for well over a decade, I found your blog on our famous monument to be quite interesting and informative. I have driven that very circle so many times without grasping the full understanding of its origin and significance. While most Hoosiers know it represents our military who have served, some of your more detailed facts will be fascinating to share. Thank you for such a well written and interesting piece! And may I add….GO IU!!!!

  3. Pingback: Stepping into history | historyplaces

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