The Spirit of the Wheeling Doughboy
(text by Sean Duffy. See the Archiving Wheeling Post.)
He’s a familiar figure to most Wheeling residents.
After all, he has stood guard vigilantly at Wheeling Park for more than eighty years — grenade in one hand, [part of a] rifle in the other. He even inspired a 2011 motion picture featuring a lot of local sets and actors.
He’s made of pressed copper forged at McCurdy’s Monument Works on Chapline Street, and his faded green patina and missing bits and pieces evince the passage of time.
But most people don’t realize he’s actually one of many essentially identical monuments collectively known as “Spirit of the American Doughboy,” dedicated to the American soldiers of the Great War and designed by sculptor Ernest Moore “E. M.” Viquesney. The Doughboys were mass produced during the 1920s and 1930s. At the peak of the fervor, Viquesney boasted that there were more than 300 of his statues, and at least one in every state in the Union.
That may have been an exaggerated claim, and many have been lost to time and attrition — acts of God and man. Our own statue has suffered from vandalism—the rifle is long gone (evidently, before 1950) as is the barbed wire.
The estimated number of extant doughboys is thought to be about 140 in 38 states. West Virginia has four: pressed copper versions at Logan, Philippi, and Wheeling, and a stone version at Madison.
It is said to be the most-viewed example of outdoor statuary in the United States (after the Statue of Liberty) although many people don’t even realize they’ve seen it. There is even an extensive online database dedicated to the Spirit of the American Doughboy.
An Old Mistake Corrected
Exactly when was the Wheeling Doughboy dedicated?
Online sources identify the date as Armistice Day (aka Veteran’s Day), November 11, 1931. But a closer examination of the Wheeling newspapers of the period reveals that the statue was actually dedicated months earlier, onMemorial Day, May 30, 1931.
[Note: Many thanks to the E.M. Viquesney Doughboy Database for promptly correcting this error on their Wheeling page.]
The park was tidied up in preparation. “The birds and animals have been moved to their summer quarters,” the Wheeling Intelligencer reported on May 29, “and are now on exhibition. Everything has been newly painted and benches and tables to accommodate 3000 people have been set up…The pool has been repaired and newly painted, and new, clean white sand has been placed on the beach…One hundred forty two Austrian pines have been planted…” The program for the day was to include tennis, Tom Thumb golf, picnics, and the dedication itself, followed by a dance with Billy Copol’s Orchestra.
Nor did the people of Wheeling disappoint. “Several thousands thronged the main entrance to Wheeling municipal park Saturday afternoon to witness the formal dedication and unveiling,” theWheeling Register reported. The ceremony was led by the Service Star Legion, a group founded by the mothers of Great War veterans shortly after the Armistice was signed in 1918. A 16-piece band played patriotic songs as World War I veteran Raymond J. Falland served as master of ceremonies. Service Star member Mrs. H. E. McConkey unveiled the statue while Mrs. Virginia Hall Donnelly (also a prominent member of the West Virginia chapter of the Ladies of the G.A.R.) sang the “Star Spangled Banner,” and Hon. Otto Schenk of the Wheeling Park Commission accepted the monument on behalf of the city. Speakers included William J. Gompers and C.B. Montgomery of Post No. 1, American Legion (thought to be the first in the nation).
The Wheeling Doughboy, poised as he is, for battle, was dedicated 13 years after the “War to End all Wars” ended, and 10 years before the U.S. was drawn into an even bigger war. Despite their new monument’s aggressive pose, the people of Wheeling, like most Americans, were hoping for peace.
Despite the disarmament movement, Viquesney’s statues were a hit. The design was so popular that Viquesney manufactured replica pot metalstatuettes by the thousands. Also available were doughboy lamps, which were made from the 11 inch statuettes (the doughboy held a light bulb and lampshade in his raised hand).
The miniatures make regular appearances on Ebay, but usually demand exorbitantly high bids. Through luck and persistant searching, one finally became available recently at a reasonable price. A quick trip to Wheeling Park provided evidence of how strikingly accurate the detail is on the miniature, and one can see why these statuettes, miniature memorials to loved ones who bravely fought, were — and continue to be — so popular.
Wheeling’s Real Doughboys: A Tribute
Many if not most of Wheeling’s “doughboys” served in the U.S. Army’s 80th Division, known as the Blue Ridge in honor of the mountains. Most were trained at Camp Lee Virginia near Petersburg under the command of Colonel Robert S. Welsh. A large number from our area served in the 314th Field Artillery.
In keeping with the Spirit of the American Doughboy monument at Wheeling Park, we present a sample photo gallery of some of the brave people from the Wheeling area who served in the Great War.
“In Honor of All Who Served”