By Gerry Fischer
I want to bring everyone back to the time and explain how and why the decision to relocate the Confederate monument to Brandenburg was made. And why we were chosen over the larger, and some would argue, more prestigious city of Bardstown. That decision in and of itself is a matter of which to be proud. I guess as reported, Mayor Fischer of Louisville, bowed to the threat of some disaffected group in Louisville to disrupt the city with demonstrations if the Confederate monument was not removed. In Louisville June 21st 2016, Judge Judith Burkhead ruled, the only evidence presented at trial showing ownership was by the city of Louisville. She ruled that Louisville could take down the Confederate monument but the City of Louisville and the Louisville Foundation must pay for the entire cost of removal and re-erection at another suitable location. It came out in trial that Louisville wanted to place the disassembled monument in a storage facility, which was exposed by Thomas McAdams, as a landfill. Items are not stored in a dump, they are discarded.
I had been working with a Florida man named Art Rogers, retired from the Kentucky State Attorney General’s office in Frankfort, Ky. He called me well before the trial and asked me to find alternate locations for the monument. Only one place out of some six or seven could accept it, but didn’t want due to its size. None refused due to reasons other than technical, deed restrictions or its size. One night, sitting at my desk I thought about Brandenburg. Morgan fought one infantry and one cavalry battle here and two artillery duels. Morgan’s second in command, Basil Duke, was married to John Hunt Morgan’s sister, Mrs. Henrietta Hunt Morgan Duke. Duke and his wife lived in Louisville after the war and she and a Mrs. Hepburn with four other women formed the Confederate Women’s Monument Association Inc. about 1888, and collected the money for the monument. On Memorial Day in 1895, now author, Basil Duke wrote and delivered a very short dedication address, almost prophetic. It read:
“A people who can forget, or regard with indifference, its patriotic dead, is on the verge of national decadence and disgrace, from which no patriotic effort can save it, even if among a people any remnant of patriotic spirit can survive. There may come a time, but woe to the world if it shall come, when men will cease to feel this sentiment. When that time comes all that makes life worth living will have been banished from the earth.”
I thought, why not here? At the time we were trying to get the museum started, the city and county were struggling with down town renewal, and starting the new R.V. Park. The, city was cleaning up the old sewage treatment plant and Carole Logsdon and Deb Pike were working to increase tourism. As a historian, I first approached the MCHAPS Board for their opinion. It was unanimously approved. I then met with Ronnie Joyner and Gerry Lynn and they approved. Deb was already on board as an MCHAP member, and Carole threw the tourism hat in the ring and we began to see what we could do. It first had to go before the City Council and the Magistrates for their unanimous approval.
At the same time, MCHAPS President, Beverly Furnival created an online poll to see who was in favor. Paper petitions were placed around town, Steve Robbins did an informal Radio poll on WMMG, and letters to the “Messenger” editor were very much in favor as were the other polls and petitions. At the same time, WHAS Radio did a poll that showed 12,000 Louisville citizens wanted to keep it, with about 3000 against. There was overwhelming support for the move. Still, Ronnie Joyner and Gerry Lynn wanted to ensure there was public support and input. To leave no stone unturned, Jennifer Bridge stepped in and a trained facilitator from Frankfort was contracted. A huge tent was erected at the site. Some 80 people showed up and broke into groups and expressed any concerns or suggestions. From memory there were two against the monument, and five generally in favor but expressed concerns. The five were teachers, active and retired, who wanted it used as a teaching tool with lots of signage to explain the Civil War factually. The remainder of the people were in favor of going forward. The results of the public meeting were published on the Radio and newspaper. Then and only then did we move ahead and formally applied to Louisville for consideration. The town and county wanted this monument. They said so in many ways over weeks and perhaps months. We were awarded it due to our historic connection with Morgan, Duke, and Morgan’s Raid.
There were various meetings at U of L, and I attended one or two with Gerry when Ronnie couldn’t get away. Unaware that we had been sent the Judge’s ruling before we attended this meeting, and knew we did not have to pay a cent of the $182,000 dollar relocation cost, the U of L Foundation and the City of Louisville with all of their attorneys and associates, perhaps a dozen or more people sat around a huge luxurious conference table with Gerry Lynn and little me, and twice attempted to get Gerry Lynn to pay, one third of the cost, or make monthly payments. That became one of the proudest moments I have experienced being a Meade County citizen. Gerry cordially and coolly, glancing all around the table, looked them all in the eye and said no! The meeting ended without resolution, and it was a quiet ride home. The next morning, they called Judge Lynn and said they would cover the entire cost. They had to! I still wonder if that was a ruse to circumvent the ruling and take our citizen’s tax money. I felt like telling them, “As simple as we are down here, we can read, write, count and everything else, and our change better be right!” Our county got a 1.5 million-dollar historic monument, tourism increased, the museum was funded, the R.V. Park completed, the Daily Grind opened, Rena Singleton renovated the Hotel and shops opened. In the midst of all this activity the LST-325 and The American Queen put us on their schedule, our amphitheater stage was roofed over, our sidewalk grant will soon enhance Main Street, and NUCOR decided to open a steel mill. In about three years and a few weeks, our City is revitalizing for the first time after a devastating 1974 tornado decimated downtown. The addition of the monument, in spite of being controversial has been a blessing in jump-starting our own homegrown, urban-renewal project. History sells!! Incidentally a riverboat captain told me the boats now use the monument as a landmark. Who knew?
Now it seems that same disaffected group comes here to protest. They have that right, as we enjoy the same right, but no one group has the right to deprive another its history. The monument, helped this community and is part of our history, heritage and lore.