Jamie McGuire, a North Kingstown filmmaker, recently completed a short film that has been released by the Downtown Providence Parks Conservancy, which is raising funds to restore the Soldiers and Sailors Monument. The monument, completed in 1871, honors the Rhode Island veterans who died in the Civil War and is located at Kennedy Plaza near Providence City Hall.
The $300,000 renovation will unfold in two phases, including a restoration of the stone and bronze in the statue, and then landscaping and a viewing area for the statue itself. The documentary includes interviews with several descendants of the veterans, as well as policymakers, and can be viewed at provparksconservancy.org/soldiers. McGuire spoke to the Providence Business News about the film and the effort.
PBN: What is the purpose of the film?
MCGUIRE: The purpose of my film is twofold. Ultimately, it’s to raise public awareness about the renovation project, but also to raise awareness of the existence of the monument. It’s a funny situation here, where Rhode Island has a ton of these monuments and people drive by them every day. This is in Kennedy Plaza, which is in the center of the capital of the state of Rhode Island. They don’t ever think about what it is. This is a significant monument.
PBN: What does the monument need? What will the renovation involve?
MCGUIRE: You almost have to look at the footprint of this monument space when it was originally installed. … Over the years, the monument has been moved a couple of times. The original idea was there would be a public garden around it. It needs to be cleaned and there are pieces that need to be replaced. Originally, there were more cannonballs and actual artifacts that the Grand Army of the Republic had given to the monument. There are fabrications that need to be made from the original specs of the monument.
PBN: Is it going to be cleaned and restored and landscaped? Right now, it’s a part of the plaza with no greenery.
MCGUIRE: The idea is to have landscaping done around it and flowerbeds, separated with posts with the drop chains. So, it’s going to be set apart. It’s not something people will be climbing on anymore. It was intended to be a place where people can sit around it. Originally, it would be a place where people could gather to celebrate Rhode Island. The Downtown Parks Conservancy is trying to recapture that, for a modern era.
PBN: In your film, how did you find the descendants?
MCGUIRE: It’s hard to find the descendants, just because the people who know aren’t out there and active. The two individuals in the film, one is a genealogist who discovered her ancestry and decided to share it and got involved. The other is a member of a lineal society of descendants of union soldiers. His great-great-great-grandfather died in the Civil War and he has perpetuated the memory of his ancestor. It is a really neat coming together. You look at the names on that monument and they are Rhode Island names.
PBN: One of the interesting aspects of the short film is the acknowledgment that the names of the black soldiers who fought in the Civil War from Rhode Island were included on the monument.
MCGUIRE: Every Rhode Island soldier who died in the war is listed on that monument. That is historically significant. I cannot name another monument in the United States that shows all of the names of every Civil War soldier that died who were from that state. Even though we only had 1,700 soldiers who died, of our adult male population at the time, we gave the highest percentage of fighting soldiers per capita.
Mary MacDonald is a staff writer for the PBN. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.