Remembering Glory

One of the highlights of my time in Boston was meeting 54th Massachusetts reenactor, Gerard Grimes. The monument to the 54th by Augustus Saint-Gaudens is by far my favorite Civil War monument and no trip to Boston can conclude without a quick stop.  The site is a wonderful case study of just how far removed the memory of black Union soldiers is from our national memory of the war.  On the one hand, the monument is in the most prominent location, just across from the state house, but for many people it seems to have little significance beyond a bus stop. Michaela and I chatted with Mr. Grimes for quite some time. He’s been reenacting for a number of years and spends his summers camped out in front of the monument to talk with visitors. During the rest of the year, Mr. Grimes works as a grade school teacher. Not surprisingly, Mr. Grimes knew nothing about this monument as a child growing up in the Boston area. In fact, he chuckled when suggesting the number of times he must have walked by it without understanding its significance.

Mr. Grimes clearly feels a moral obligation to educate the public about what is still a little known topic in American history.  And the best part is watching his face light up when discussing the history or perhaps I should say his history.

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6 comments… add one
  • Dick Stanley Aug 14, 2010

    Camping out in the urban heat island of a Boston summer is real dedication. I hope he gets to go off for a regular meal and a shower now and then.

    • Kevin Levin Aug 14, 2010

      I agree. He’s definitely dedicated to spreading the word.

  • John Buchanan Aug 16, 2010

    My family has a little personal history with that statue.

    After World War II, my dad was a puiblic school teacher in Boston. He was helping to get a new techers union going, the Boston Teachers Alliance.

    At one point he was doing, in his words, rabble rousing on the steps of the State House. He noticed several State Police officers heading his way….you were not allowed to make such speeches on the steps there. Dad knew it but he was a trouble maker from waaay back!

    He quickly moved across the street to the 54th Monument and begin to ad lib about how just like the soldiers of the 54th had fought for the liberty of all the BTA would fight for all teachers, etc, etc.

    H eknew he could say anything because he was on Boston Commons….where everyone has the right to sound off about anything at all.

    I am proud to say that as a young kid the 54th Monument was a mandatory stop for us whenever we took visitors to town…a tradition I keep up whenever I now visit.

    • Kevin Levin Aug 16, 2010

      Thanks for sharing, John. I love trouble makers. 😀

  • Ben Edwards Oct 17, 2010

    Thanks for the excellent post Remembering Glory. Thought you’d enjoy a collection of original press coverage on the 54th from my blog:

    • Kevin Levin Oct 17, 2010

      Hi Ben,

      Thanks for the link. I interviewed three Glory reenactors for my book on the battle of the Crater and historical memory. I am about to teach Glory and the broader this week in my Civil War course.

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