When approaching Put-in-Bay, one of the most famous Lake Erie Islands, a magnificent structure captivates the eyes. 352-feet tall and hearkening back to Ancient Greece, the Put-in-Bay Monument stands as a beautiful testament to Ohio’s rich history.
The Put-in-Bay Monument, which is officially known as Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial, is one of the nation’s tallest monuments. In fact, only the Gateway Arch, San Jacinto Monument, and Washington Monument are taller. Surprisingly, Perry’s Monument is the world’s largest freestanding Doric Column (a pillar in Ancient Greek architecture used to support buildings).
The pillar is made of hollow concrete with pink, granite facing. That’s right: Although the monument appears to be white from a distance, it is actually made of pink rock. The column features twenty large grooves, with fine lines edged into each granite block. These unique details create a dazzling, gem-like appearance that onlookers notice almost immediately.
The Origins: The Battle of Lake Erie
One of the most important battles in the War of 1812 occurred on September 10, 1813. In the Battle of Lake Erie, nine American ships, under the command of Oliver Hazard Perry, captured six British ships (and 306 soldiers). [PIC – Perry] Put-in-Bay (also known as South Bass Island) was Perry’s base of operations, and from the harbor, he was able to lead the Americans to victory.
This achievement marked a turning point in the war. It not only prevented Britain from moving toward the central United States along the waterways, but it also allowed the American forces to invade Canada and defeat the British at the Battle of the Thames.
The Battle of Lake Erie featured 27 American and 41 British casualties—including three officers on each side. While the soldiers were buried at sea, the six officers were buried side-by-side on the island, in a clearing, underneath a sole willow tree. This “Lone Willow” served as the only memorial of the battle and Commodore Perry’s victory for many years.
In 1852, however, a group of passionate leaders, thinkers, and veterans recognized the significance of Perry’s triumph and began a movement to build a monument to commemorate the battle. Thus, began a long and lengthy struggle to construct Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial.
A Long Process Begins
It was on that Independence Day weekend in 1852 that A.P. Edwards, the Put-in-Bay island owner, gave control of the island to military commander Captain R. R. McMeens for a three-day celebration that would culminate with an extravagant ceremony on Monday, July 5th. Four steamboats brought 2500 people to the island, and, on the way there from Sandusky, a formal committee was born: The Battle of Lake Erie Monument Association. Although that action was a positive step forward, the Association created a constitution that called for 25 vice presidents on the board of directors. This handcuffed the decision-makers from being able to act swiftly and effectively. As expected, with that much bureaucracy, not much else was done. (Plus, the next few years featured a cholera outbreak, a presidential election, and a general lack of public interest.)
Six years later, in 1858, Put-in-Bay hosted a 45th Anniversary Celebration for the Battle of Lake Erie. 8,000 people from Sandusky, Cleveland, Toledo, Detroit, Erie, and Buffalo visited the island for a day of artillery salutes, music, and speeches from veterans, bands, mayors, and governors. Eight steamers, 24 sailing vessels, and a fleet of naval ships docked in the bay, and, amid all the fervor and fanfare, the Association was re-structured.
That day, the owner of Gilbraltar Island (which is about one mile off the coast of Put-in-Bay), Joseph de Rivera St. Jurgo, offered one-half of his island as a site for the monument.
The Cornerstone of Hope
The following year, at the celebration on Sept 10th, 1859, 15,000 people attended the ceremony to place the cornerstone for the monument. The Association had commissioned Cincinnati sculptor T.D. Jones to design a column. His plan included a 160-foot-tall pillar with an 18-foot statue of Commodore Perry at the pinnacle.
Masonic officials traveled the short distance from Put-in-Bay to Gilbraltar and sealed the following items in an airtight box within the stone: The Declaration of Independence; the United States, Ohio, and Battle of Lake Erie Monument Association Constitutions; the Bible; some coins; some newspapers. It appeared that the hope for a proper memorial would soon be realized.
The Civil War, A Sale, and A Denial
Regrettably, the monument’s construction was further postponed. The Civil War began in 1861, which diverted attention from the project, and, a few years later, in 1864, Jurgo sold Gilbraltar Island to Jay Cooke, a Sandusky-born businessman. The island deed contained a clause saying that the land was “…subject to rights…of…the Battle of Lake Erie Monument Association….”
Soon after purchasing Gilbraltar, Cooke built a small monument—a pedestal with an urn on top—on top of the cornerstone with the following inscription: “Erected by Jay Cooke—Patriotic Financier of the Civil War—to Mark the Corner Stone of a Proposed Monument Commemorating Commodore Perry’s Victory at the Battle of Lake Erie—Sept 10, 1813. ‘We have met the enemy and they are ours.’”
Although the cornerstone now featured “something,” it was hardly the memorial the Association had hoped to erect. Folklore suspects that Cooke created his shrine to satisfy the deed’s language and prevent the Association from taking the one-half of the land.
Four years passed, and, in 1868, at the 55th anniversary of the battle, the Association proposed to build the monument on Put-in-Bay instead of Gibraltar. As in previous cases, there was much fanfare with little progress.
At the following year’s celebration in 1869, the Association decided to create the monument near the “Lone Willow.” Only about 4,000 people attended the observance, and the board failed to obtain nearly enough support or fundraising.
A few decades later, after years of no tangible progress, former President Rutherford B. Hayes partnered with the Maumee Valley Monumental Association and sought congressional funds for a monument. Congress denied their request, creating yet another setback.
A “Weeping” Willow and a Pyramid
Finally, in 1899, there was a “monumental” breakthrough. The United States government began donating Civil War cannons to “memorial societies” that wanted to use them for decoration. So, the island applied for (and received) eight cannons and 88 cannon balls. Various officials argued over freight prices, bills, and transport responsibility for an entire year before the cannons were placed in the village park.
Meanwhile, the “Lone Willow” over the deceased officers had decayed and fallen. So, in 1900, the Association arranged the Civil War cannon balls over the grave. Still, the desire for a better, permanent memorial persisted….
Eight years later, the director of publicity for the Put-in-Bay board of t