Mark Hayward's City Matters: Take a walk through Manchester's history
You can access history many ways.
• Read a book. For example, I’m reading a biography of Simon Bolivar, the 19th-century Venezuelan soldier who freed most of South America from Spanish rule and whose brilliance and daring make George Washington look like a plebe at West Point.
• Visit a museum. The Millyard Museum in Manchester is sweet because of its digestible topic — mill life during the Industrial revolution. It holds your interest for an hour, and then you can get back to your weekend chores.
• Immerse yourself. Area colleges offer courses. Or visit the archives found in libraries and historical societies.
Kristen Van Uden has another way to access history — on foot.
The St. Anselm College student has researched and written “Manchester Remembers,” a booklet that charts out a walking tour of 20 historic sites in the city, most of them monuments.
Ordered chronologically, the book starts with Amoskeag Falls and ends at the Zimmerman House, the 1950 home designed by renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright.
Most of the sites are in the core of the city, but some are on the edges, such as the Zimmerman House in the North End and the original Manchester airport terminal in south Manchester.
“If you tried, you could (walk to all). The airport might be a little far,” said Van Uden, who wrote the booklet earlier this year as part of a sophomore history project.
“Manchester Remembers” is being published by the Manchester Historic Association. The organization plans to sell it for a nominal fee at the Millyard Museum, said Jeff Barraclough, assistant director of the MHA.
“A lot of people will visit the museum and are interested in other historical sites in the city. This is a great piece to give them,” Barraclough said.
A Manchester native, Van Uden said she was drawn to the idea of commemoration when she started researching the book. A commemoration — whether a statue, a preserved birthplace or monument — shouts out to anyone listening what is important.
If you’ve lived in Manchester long enough, you know most of the sites Van Unden identifies. But she has uncovered tidbits that add some intrigue.
• “The Hiker” in Bronstein Park commemorates soldiers who served in the Spanish-American war, and such statues were donated to every state that sent soldiers to the war. The statue is somewhat anachronistic; it’s in a park named after the first New Hampshire man to die in World War II.
• The Civil War monument at Veterans Park resembles a monument at the Gettysburg National Park. When vandals destroyed the Gettysburg monument in 2006, the National Park Service used the Caspar Buberl statues in Manchester to cast molds.
• Although Frederick Smyth was both a mayor and governor, a castle-like tower named after him (which is located off the road named after him), isn’t open to the public. The reason — it’s on the Veterans Administration Medical Center property.
• The dedication of the World War I monument at Victory Park took place on Memorial Day 1929. Gold Star Mothers unveiled the monument. More than 15,000 people attended the ceremony, and planes dropped bouquets of roses after the ceremony.
Van Uden researched the booklet by spending several Saturdays at Manchester Historic Association archives. The value of her work, however, goes beyond the research.Her central message is that commemoration tells us what Manchester values most. Heck, Polish-Americans in Manchester valued their heritage so much they erected a statue to a general who never set foot in New Hampshire. (Another of her tidbits.)
Page through the book, and you start thinking about what’s missing. Van Uden has not missed a hidden statue, but our city has missed opportunities to commemorate.
Most of the monuments that Van Uden highlights memorialize our war dead, which is all well and good. But what else makes this city proud? Our immigrant heritage? The New Hampshire primary?
My predecessor John Clayton has argued the city’s legacy to the 20th century includes Peyton Place author Grace Metalious and fast-food pioneers Richard and Maurice McDonald.Why commemorate?
We live in a technological era, Van Uden warned, and history can be altered or lost with a few clicks of the keyboard.
“Just look at Wikipedia,” she said. “Credibility is lost in a lot of the ways we do history today. So public commemoration is even more important today.”
Mark Hayward’s City Matters appears Thursdays in the New Hampshire Union Leader and UnionLeader.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.