By Mel Maurer
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2011, All Rights Reserved
The historic term of our good friend and member, Neil Evans, as President of the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument Commission has come to an end – giving us this opportunity to reflect on the man and his service to our community.
There are two kinds of people in the world. Those who see a problem and say: “Someone should do something about that.” And then there are those, like Neil, who say: “I can do something about that.” – And then begin to do it.
Cuyahoga County’s Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument is a national treasure. It pays tribute to those who served our nation from this County in The Civil War – and through its majesty all those who served in any of our country’s armed conflicts. Over its 100 years, due to the natural aging process and neglect, it had become a run-down, dark and dirty place.
It needed a degree of attention it had not received since it had been built in 1894. Every feature of the monument needed serious help, including its crumbing infrastructure, statuary, stained glass, walls of names, floors, ceilings, marble, lighting, heating and plumbing.
Restoring it to its former glory would not be easy, if it could be done at all. It would require the political skills of a Lincoln, working with federal, state, county and city officials, as well as community leaders and many volunteers; the artistic talents needed to work with architects, archaeologists, artisans in marble, stained glass and colors; and the fundraising ability of Jesse James. The project would take millions, collected from many sources over several years to cover the costs of the renovations.
It also took attention to items great and small. I think Neil knows every grain in every piece of marble there, the texture of its wood, the hue and the nuance of every color, the essence of its lighting and the history of every fixture, and the story behind every depicted scene. He may even know all 10,000 plus names on its hallowed walls.
Neil – who undoubtedly worked with a vision in his head of what the monument would be again – was not only the man for this enormous job, but also the only man for it. He, in addition to the capabilities already noted, is also a nice guy, one with a great love of the community and those who served our country so well. All of that showed in his every action.
He was also, and I say this with great respect my friend, using the words of another great American man of letters (and music) – Elvis Presley: Neil – “You ain’t nothin but a Hound Dog!”
It is unlikely that there is any organization or person that Neil hasn’t hounded for money or other support for the monument over the years – in many speeches, talks, presentations and just individual conversations. It never felt right, if you talked to Neil, if you didn’t get asked for money or some service he needed.
He unashamedly brought the needs of the monument to the community – hounding it into doing the right thing – and for that, the people of Cuyahoga County and the nation owe him their gratitude.
What Neil has accomplished with his work in renewing the monument may also be seen one day as one of the impetuses for a renewal of Cuyahoga County itself – what a wonderful example Neil has set for a renewal of structure and of spirit.
And that’s not just me and our members saying that. Neil, here are the words of noted historian, and renowned Lincoln scholar, Harold Holzer:
In my 35 years of work in the Lincoln and Civil War fields, I’ve rarely met a man as dedicated, passionate, knowledgeable, and determined as Neil Evans. Fortunately for your community, and everyone interested in history, those qualities were applied with selfless energy to the gloriously renewed Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument. Not only does that landmark symbolize our appreciation for the sacrifices our uniformed heroes made to preserve the Union and end slavery–magnificently restored for a new generation of citizens it will always stand too for the commitment of Neil Evans!
What would the monument’s sculptor, Levi Scofield, and the artist, Lewis Tiffany, say? “Thank you, Neil, for preserving our work – it never looked so good.”
What would those who have their names on the walls and their families say? “Thank you, Neil, for giving life to the monument again, recognizing our sacrifices so long ago.”
And what would Abraham Lincoln, who is so well depicted within the monument, say? Well, I think he had people like Neil in mind when he said:
I like to see a man proud of the place in which he lives. I like to see a man live so that the place may be proud of him.
Neil, you are now a legend – we are very proud of you and all you’ve done – thank you, thank you, thank you! Huzzah!