The courthouse Square in downtown Denton is often referred to by Dentonites as the living room of our city.
It’s an appropriate way of describing where Denton’s heartbeat originates and the place we gather for important occasions like Fourth of July. We celebrate here with parades and events. This is where we communally kick off Christmas at the Holiday Lighting Festival.
In a typical home, the living room is where family “stuff” is kept, shared and perhaps displayed. In my house, for example, family photos adorn the walls. Antiques passed down from our parents and grandparents are meaningful decorations and, in some cases, furnishings. The favorite television, commonly loved books, the couch and comfy chairs, the encased folded flag on the mantel presented to Tim at his dad’s military funeral, fresh-snipped flowers from the backyard in a little vase on the coffee table: this room is the place where we hang out together.
Our kids are all out in the world on their own now. Still, when they come to visit, the living room is where they plop down, throw a leg over the arm of a chair and revert to the casual comfortableness of home. And on occasions when we have guests, we relax and chat in the living room. The name we ascribe to this space says it all. It is the space carved out in our homes where we live.
Denton’s living room is the same. First of all, it’s big. There’s plenty of room for a lot of people. The carpet is soft, green grass. Giant, leafy pecan trees are a canopy of cool shade. We spread a quilt and listen to music, picnic, read or just doze. Kids play. Pups lounge. The Courthouse-on-the-Square Museum’s exhibits in the center of the room tell our story and remind us of our roots. Our eponym, John B. Denton, is buried here. It is fitting that the tribute to our Denton County war veterans is also here.
The Denton County Historical Foundation first proposed the Denton County’s All-War Memorial idea on July 4, 1991.
In materials developed to promote the project, the DCHF described its vision as a permanent communal expression of gratitude to the “thousands of men and women who have left the comfort and security of their homes and families to help protect our freedom. Some have returned scarred. Many never returned at all.” The memorial would honor Denton County citizens who served the United States in times of war, from the Spanish-American War through the Persian Gulf War.
A committee appointed by the DCHF devised a nationwide competition among artists to find the unique creation that would honor our veterans for generations to come. They chose the design of Mike Cunningham of Argyle from among more than 40 submitted and set Veteran’s Day 1995 as the groundbreaking date.
Cunningham finished his creation less than a year later. The 13x7x3-foot sculpture reflects the spirit of Denton. He chose materials used to build the courthouse back in 1896 for the memorial’s granite columns and limestone blocks. The bronze relief on the front depicts preparation for war, artistically rendering a biblical tradition where plows were melted and shaped into weapons. The relief also captures soldiers departing for war by train and then returning war-weary to civilian life. A granite panel in the center of the bronze relief names the six wars the monument commemorates. The completed sculpture was unveiled May 25, 1996 — Memorial Day.
While researching for this column, I learned that Memorial Day began more than a century ago in 1868 just after the Civil War.
Known then as Decoration Day, it was officially set aside annually at the end of May to honor comrades who fought for America.
According to the U.S. Department of Public Affairs, May won out on the calendar because the full bloom of spring made flowers and greenery abundant for decorating military gravesites. After World War I, Decoration Day evolved into Memorial Day to include remembrance of the fallen in both great wars. In 1971, Congress finally declared Memorial Day an official federal holiday.
It is important that Dentonites know the story behind the monument in our living room. We gather around it with ceremony at Veterans Day, yet it is here every day in the center of our day-to-day activity.
Perhaps we see it so much we take for granted its meaning. I, for one, purpose to remember who it honors and how different our lives as Americans and Dentonites would certainly be without our heroes.
KIM PHILLIPS is vice president of the Denton Convention & Visitors Bureau at the Denton Chamber of Commerce. She loves promoting Denton’s original, independent spirit through the city’s sense of place and cast of many characters. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.