I’d learned about Elijah Lovejoy in history and about his support of the abolition movement years ago, but sometimes it takes seeing and remembering to bring home the efforts that some went to for our freedoms. This past Monday, Annie Jansen, my mom and I visited the monument in Alton, Illinois. Mom didn’t try the tricky steps, but Annie and I headed up to what is said to be the tallest monument in the state of Illinois to see this monument, learn more about Elijah Lovejoy and try out the rumor of the Whispering Wall. When we stopped at the Alton Visitor’s Center the young woman said, “If you stand on either side of the monument, you can whisper and hear each other on the other side.”
Annie and I didn’t believe a word of it, the monument is quite large and quite a distance across. However, she went to one end, and I to the other. I whispered, “My name is Cindy,” and sure enough, Annie whispered back, loud and clear, “I know!” We couldn’t believe it, but it is true!
As for Elijah Parish Lovejoy, he was born in Albion, Maine, November 9, 1802. In 1826 he came to St. Louis as a school teacher. Lovejoy was ordained as a Presbyterian minister in 1834, and went on to publish a religious newspaper, The St. Louis Observer, and began to advocate the abolition of slavery. I am amazed by the courage Lovejoy had. Even though there was much opposition, he continued to fight for the freedom of slaves and used the freedom of the press at his own risk. In 1836, he published a full account of the lynching of an African American in St. Louis and the subsequent trial that acquitted the mob leaders, his critical report angered some city residents. In July of that year his press was destroyed by a mob, and he moved across the river to Alton, Illinois.
You would hope that the story gets better and that in Alton he would be loved and admired and surrounded by supporters, but sadly that’s not the ending. Lovejoy angered Alton citizens by joining and supporting an abolition group and according to the Greatriverroad.com, “He continued writing and publishing even after three printing presses had been destroyed and thrown into the Mississippi River. On the night of November 7, 1837, a group of twenty supporters joined him at the Godfrey & Gilman warehouse to guard a new press until it could be installed at the Observer. When a pro-slavery mob assembled outside the warehouse, Alton’s mayor tried to persuade the defenders inside to abandon the press. They refused and the pro-slavery mob tried to set the warehouse on fire. As Lovejoy attempted to put out the fire, he was killed by a shotgun blast. Soon after the mob allowed the remaining defenders to leave and then proceeded to destroy the printing press. Lovejoy was buried on his 35th birthday, November 9, 1837, in an unmarked grave in the Alton City Cemetery.”
We read at the monument that they have found the press and pulled it from the river, but it did not say what happened to it.
Today, this beautiful monument stands supporting the strength of character and dedication to God’s love of all mankind that was manifest in Elijah Lovejoy. the plans for the monument began as early as the 1850’s and started in the 1890’s. The memorial centers on a 93-foot high granite column topped by a 17-foot high winged statue of Victory which is guarded by two granite sentinel columns 30 feet high and mounted by bronze eagles. The monument was dedicated November 7, 1897, the sixtieth anniversary of Lovejoy’s death. Following a renovation, the monument was rededicated in a ceremony on September 25, 1969. Today, the steps could use a bit of work and the area needs a bit of love, but the monument is lovely and the monument expresses the work of Lovejoy in a way that just reading about him in a text book never could.