A tiny army accomplished an overdue and appreciated victory on Merrill’s west side in about two hours one morning late last month.
Tim Caylor, a west side resident and retiring east side merchant, mobilized the small squad of enthusiastic volunteers. Their mission was to remove decades of grime from the cenotaph war memorial on the eve of its 90th anniversary.
The irregulars were armed with three pressure washers and assisted with a conscript, a City Street Department employee with the department’s bucket truck. Some were experienced veterans. Caylor has spearheaded cleaning of most grave markers in the cemeteries on the east side in recent years.
The 20-foot-high granite marker is in little-known Memorial Park, the northern portion of the triangular block between Grand Avenue and North Prospect Street in the heart of the city’s west side business district.
Few Merrill residents seem to know or acknowledge that was seemingly is one of the entire area’s largest memorials to all war veterans even exists. That is understandable. In contrast to the huge signs in most other city parks, Memorial Park doesn’t have even a street name size sign.
The park and memorial to all war veterans were given to the city in the summer of 1923, five years after the armistice was signed ending World War I (then often referred to as “the war to end all wars”) “in patriotic appreciation of their service.”
Mr. Stange, just a few months before the dedication, had went just a block north to the Merrill Marble and Granite Co., later known as the Merrill Monument Works, which was operated for about a century by three generations of the Mitbauer family. The project cost a little over $5,000, including the grey granite from Georgia, its shipment to Merrill by rail, cutting and carving and erection in the park. Some say the cost today would be $100,000 or more. The triangular cenotaph has three inscriptions: “Our war heroes,” “Their deeds are immortal,” and most fitting today, “Lest we forget.”
Memorial Park was the third given to the city in the early 20th Century by the Stanges. They first donated Stange’s Public Park east of Parkway Drive between West First and Third streets. At one time of another it included a baseball diamond, grandstand, running track, football field, band shell, swimming beach houses alongside the Prairie River, and the present outdoor swimming pool.
Later, the family’s private park, today known as Kitchenette Park, also became part of what for years was known as the “City of Parks.” Mr. Stange gave even more to the city. He was among its early mayors. Stange’s concern for war veterans undoubtedly arose from his role as one of the city’s largest employers between the late 1880s and early 1930s.
Mr. Stange purchased a defunct sawmill operation to found the A. H. Stange Lumber Co. at the south end of Prospect Street between the Wisconsin River and what today is still known as Stange Street. He later added a large sash and door manufacturing plant.
Other Stand company holdings included timber and logging operations in the Newwood area of western Lincoln County and forest lands in the Lakeland area of Wisconsin’s Northwoods, and logging and lumber operations in Washington State.
Memorial Park’s location was logical. Stange owned the block. The Larkin Hotel to the south was razed and became the site for the Badger Hotel and Opera House, later renamed Theatre after the arrival of motion pictures.
A narrow private roadway called Ellis Court separated the hotel-theatre from the park. IT was vacated after an arson fire destroyed the theatre-hotel complex in 1967 and it became the site for the present Park Place senior housing highrise.
For a time the Stanges lived in private quarters at the rear of the hotel. Their front portico overlooked the park.
The Cenotaph Memorial Park has been the setting for what today are Veterans Day programs on Nov. 11 at 11 a.m.; first to honor all area residents who served in World War I and earlier wars. Since World War II, annual programs have recognized veterans of all wars fought by this nation.
The holiday became Veterans Day in 1971 when it was observed on the fourth Monday in October until 1978.
All Merrill veterans’ organizations will take part in the annual observance starting shortly before 11 a.m. Sunday. The public is invited and encouraged to attend.