Elijah P. Lovejoy Monument
Elijah Parish Lovejoy was a staunch abolitionist who owned a newspaper called the St. Louis Observer in Missouri. Missouri being a slave state, Lovejoy dealt with constant harassment and decided to move across the Mississippi River to Alton, Illinois for a fresh start. He renamed his paper the Alton Observer and vigorously began printing anti-slavery content- much to the irritation of pro-slavery supporters.
Lovejoy had three printing presses destroyed by angry mobs- some were thrown in the Mississippi River and the fourth had just been delivered to abolitionist grocer Winthrop Sargent Gilman's warehouse on November, 7, 1837. Lovejoy met Gilman and other friends of the abolitionist movement at the warehouse and was met by yet another violent mob, said to consist mostly of angry Missourians, who proceeded to gain entry into the building. During the chaos of the riot, attackers began to fire their weapons at Lovejoy and his friends. Shots were exchanged between both sides until a door was opened and Lovejoy was struck by five bullets and died on the spot.
Lovejoy's death garnered national attention as both a martyr to the cause of Freedom of Speech and the abolition of slavery. Lincoln wrote of him in an 1857 letter to a friend, "Lovejoy's tragic death for freedom in every sense marked his sad ending as the most important single event that ever happened in the new world." In June of 1858, the following year, Lincoln delivered his famous House Divided speech in Alton during his campaign for the U.S. senate seat.
Trials were held for Lovejoy's murder- likely at the circuit courthouse, The Ryder Building. Lovejoy's supporters were found not guilty but, due to bias in the jury and by the judge, Lovejoy's attackers were also found not guilty. One of the jurors was an attacker and the judge had been a witness.
Lovejoy was buried in an unmarked grave in Alton Cemetery for years to avoid vandalism. A friend, Thomas Dimmock of St. Louis, came forward in efforts to reinter him. He had placed a stone that read: "Hic jacet Lovejoy. Jam parce depulto" - "Here lies Lovejoy: Now spare his grave." Dimmock found Lovejoy's remains in the middle of a travelled road and had him moved to a proper plot with a tombstone.
In the 1890's, the Lovejoy Monument was started. Designed by R.P. Bringhurst, a St. Louis sculptor, and built by the Culver Stone Company of Springfield, Illinois, the monument stands over 300 feet above the Mississippi river and stretches to 110 feet. tall. The 93 foot central pillar is topped by a 17 foot bronze statue of victory and flanked by two smaller spires topped with bronze eagles representing freedom and valor. Two bronze lion chalices also don the monument and a stone bench "whispering wall" wraps around the central pillar. Visitors can whisper in one corner of the bench and be heard on the opposite corner- completely out of sight of the other person. The feature represents the secrecy of the abolitionist movement and the Underground Railroad.
There are four inscriptions on the monument reading:
1. Champion of Free Speech- "But gentleman, as long as I am an American citizen, and as long as American blood runs in these veins, I shall hold myself at liberty to speak, to write, to publish whatever I please on any subject - being amenable to the laws of my country for the same."
2. Salve, Victores!- This monument commemorates the valor, devotion, and sacrifice of the noble Defenders of the Press, who, in this city, on November, 7, 1837 made the first armed resistance, to the aggressions of the slave power in America.
3. Minister of the Gospel, Moderator of Alton Presbytery- "If the laws of my country fail to protect me, I appeal to God, and with him I cheerfully rest my cause. I can die at my post, but I cannot desert it."
4. Elijah P. Lovejoy, Editor Alton Observer, Albion, Maine November, 8, 1802 – Alton, Illinois November, 7, 1837 – A martyr to liberty “I have sworn eternal opposition to slavery, and by the blessing of God, I will never go back.”
Lovejoy was only 35 at the time of his death and continues to inspire the community today. His grave can be visited at the Alton Cemetery.
Click here to listen to a story about Elijah Lovejoy.