New online database shines light on Illinois World War I monuments

First World War Memorial in Garfield Park, Chicago
First World War Memorial in Garfield Park, Chicago

CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- In honor of Veterans Day, Landmarks Illinois launched a new online database featuring more than 300 World War I monuments and memorials across the state.

Sites include statues, plaques, sculptures, and public spaces dedicated to those who served in the Great War. Monuments included in the database are located in 158 different Illinois communities.

“We are proud to bring attention to the monuments that honor our fellow Illinoisans who fought or served in the First World War,” Bonnie McDonald, President & CEO of Landmarks Illinois, said in a statement. “Many of these memorials are now 100 years old or more. These historical markers, and those they honor, deserve to be recognized and celebrated.”

The unique database is the result of a years-long survey of existing WWI monuments throughout the state, made possible through generous financial support from the Pritzker Military Foundation. In 2017, in preparation for the 100th anniversary of the U.S. entry into WWI, Landmarks Illinois launched the statewide survey to better learn about the remaining WWI monuments in Illinois.

“This unique program has shined a light on the large number of remaining memorials throughout Illinois dedicated to the Great War,” said Suzanne Germann, Director of Reinvestment for Landmarks Illinois, in a statement. “We are grateful to all those who helped with the extensive survey and shared information on memorials in their communities. We hope this new database sparks curiosity and inspires people to preserve the WWI memorials in their neighborhoods so they can stand for another 100 years and more.”

In conjunction with the survey, Landmarks Illinois created and carried out a WWI Monument Preservation Grant Program during 2017 and 2018 to provide financial support to communities wanting to preserve their WWI monuments and recover their dedication-era quality and appearance. The Pritzker Military Foundation awarded a $100,000 grant to Landmarks Illinois for the creation of the WWI monument database, survey and grant program. Nearly $75,000 of the funding went toward the WWI Monument Preservation Grant Program, which successfully helped preserve 13 aging WWI monuments and memorials in the state.

Among the WWI memorials documented in the Landmarks Illinois WWI Monuments of Illinois Database is the Goldstar Memorial in Riverside’s Guthrie Park and the Spirit of the American Doughboy at Soldier Field.

The Riverside memorial was dedicated on Memorial Day in 1921. Landmarks Illinois awarded the Village of Riverside $5,000 in 2018 through the WWI Monument Preservation Grant Program to aid restoration efforts at the village-owned site. New foundations for the stones were created, landscaping was updated and the flag pole was restored. The restoration of the monument has been a joint effort through the village and American Legion Post #488 of Riverside.

“Memorials like the Gold Star Memorial in Guthrie Park are like postcards to the future,” said Joseph Baar Topinka, Commander, American Legion Post #488, in a statement. “They must be preserved and revered in the present. If they are not, the future will not have them from which to learn from the past. What a loss that would be to communities like Riverside, Illinois, that are steeped in history.”

If you know of a monument or marker in your community that is not already in the database, or if you have additional information on, or photos of, an existing monument in the database, please contact Landmarks Illinois Director of Reinvestment Suzanne Germann at Explore the Landmarks Illinois WWI Monuments of Illinois Database here.