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By Linda Emley
I had several people ask me if the courthouse dedication was the largest crowd ever on the Richmond square. That is a good question because how does someone actually count the number of people in a big crowd?
When Rep. Ike Skelton spoke to our DAR group Wednesday, I was reminded of another big day on the courthouse lawn, the day that the WWI doughboy statue was unveiled.
Ike told us about his appointment to serve on the World War I Centennial Commission. This 12-member commission was created by the 112th Congress to plan and execute projects to commemorate World War I. The Richmond doughboy World War I statue dedication was also a very big event in Ray County history. .
The Richmond Missourian told the story about the end of the WWI and the dedication of the doughboy statue. Oct. 24, 1918: “War News Good and Improving. Great Victory in Sight.” Then this, Oct. 31,1918: “Are Wiping Them From The Earth.”
On the 11th day of the 11th month at 11 o’clock an armistice was declared and World War I was over. The Richmond Missourian headlines Nov. 14, 1918 read, “Glory! Hallelujah! The World War Has Ended! Let Everyone Stand and Sing the Doxology. The greatest day in the history of all the world since the Creator spoke after six days of labor and the world sprung into existence on Monday. It was indeed the greatest of all days. It is not necessary to state why. Every child knows the reason.
“Bulletin boards in the windows of this office quickly told what had transpired: crowds hundreds strong gathered and the news spread like the waves of the ocean. By 2 p.m., Richmond was filled by the most enthusiastic crowds that ever visited the capital of Ray. Judge Goalder promised us that the Henrietta brass band would be here to help dispense melody. Then word was received that the Hardin band would get into the game. All came and such music from such a combination of talented musicians never was heard before in Richmond. A procession of cars started a parade around town and finally stopped at the courthouse. The bands played patriotic songs and the crowd sang ‘About Our Boys of Company G.’
“Tom Swafford brought his four coon hounds to the courthouse and they joined in on all the excitement. Tom pulled off a great stunt with his four hounds; they yelled in such a manner in trying to get hold of that coon that with the mind’s eye we could hear and see the American boys in their eagerness to get at the enemies of humanity away over yonder beyond the deep blue sea in bloody Europe before the Kaiser skipped out.
“The celebration lasted ‘till 6 p.m. and then everyone got in their cars and took the party to Henrietta. The band played, the hounds barked and the people sang. After Henrietta, the crowd headed to Hardin and started the party all over again.
“When Hardin was reached the band played, Tom Swafford’s ‘choir’ performed, everyone sang and then the homeward-bound band of enthusiasts headed for Richmond. By the time it was all over, they estimated 3,000 people had heard the band play and Tom’s fine hounds bark.”
It was Nov. 28, 1918 when the Missourian published a letter from Harry Vance urging Ray County to build a memorial in honor of our solider boys. He donated $25. Harry was not a local boy, but he had married Miss Helen Littman of Richmond. Jewell Mayes called Harry a “son-in-law” of Richmond. In the same issue, Elmer Odell suggested that a fountain be erected in the courthouse yard that would send forth hundreds of streams of crystal water in memory of the dear boys who are sleeping in France.
It took a few years, but Sunday, April 17, 1930 the Memorial committee met to finalize the plans for the dedication on Decoration Day, May 30. All eight Ray County townships had a person chosen by the chairman to assist because they wanted this to be a countywide event. The nine-man team only had 43 days to get all the details worked out.
The groundbreaking started April 19. The monument was carved from John Swenson Granite in Concord, N.H. and arrived May 1. The height of the monument was 14 feet, while the figure of the doughboy was 6 feet, 3 inches. It rests on a five-and-a-half-foot shaft, which in turn is a 14-inch base of sparkle concrete.
A copper box was filled with items to be placed in the base of the monument. The Allen-Morton-Watkins chapter of the DAR and the Brown-Rives chapter of the UDC were in charge of this project. Some of the items placed in the box were Ray County newspapers, a history of Ray County’s part in the World War, a history of the local DAR and the UDC, a list of World War veterans and World War mothers, a roster of all school children in the county and the names of everyone that belongs to the organizations helping with the ceremony.
The American Legion Post, the Kiwanis, the Rotary and the Women’s Club were a few of the organizations that assisted. Robert Lyons of the Richmond Conservator wrote the story about Ray County’s war connections. On May 8 a ceremony was held and the copper box was placed in the base of the monument. I would love to look over the contents of this copper box.
It was decided that an ex-serviceman’s daughter would have the honor of pulling the cord to unveil the statute. Names were submitted of girls between the ages of 5 and 7. On May 17, all six names were placed on gun wads and placed in a hat. The drawing was held at the south door of the courthouse and Mary Belle McFee, 5, of Camden was chosen. I am sure Miss Mary Belle’s mother had to make peace at home that night because her 7-year-old daughter Luella Edith McFee was one of the girls that was not chosen.
Contact Linda at firstname.lastname@example.org