Sunday Prayers- Thomas Taggart Memorial, Riverside Park
Sticking to this month’s “Political” theme, I had to play this one again, Sam. There are plenty of buildings in our fair metropolis that are prayer-worthy, but at least a name isn’t typically emblazoned on that which is being bled of life. Would you want to have generations that didn’t know of you first-hand associating your name in this way?
Imagine this: you arrive to this country as a 5-year old from Ireland in 1861 and move to Ohio. You start your working life as a teenager in a railroad restaurant and move to Indianapolis in 1877 to manage the eating room at Union Depot. You work, scrimp and save for years, and manage to buy that Union Depot eating room from your employers. In the meantime, you have been elected county auditor. You start a life-long habit of filling political roles: democratic chairman, state chairman and eventually, mayor. During your first term as mayor, you acquire approximately 1,000 acres of parklands for the citizenry of Indianapolis (Riverside Park, Brookside Park, Highland Square, Indiana Square).
After three terms as mayor (1895-1901), you serve in a slew of other political positions (member and eventually chair of Democratic national committee and state Senator) all while concurrently managing a string of successful hotels (Grand Hotel, New-Denison and French Lick Springs). Your tireless efforts to help shape Indianapolis into a place worthy of devotion are posthumously recognized with a spectacular monument (erected in 1931, two years after you passed). This regal limestone colonnade boasts a cascading fountain flanked by manicured landscaping and winding drives amongst acreage you secured for the city. Your name will live on for generations and your story will be inextricably associated with an inviting and classy monument in a landscaped picnicker’s paradise.
Fast forward to 2011, and this is what the city knows of you: “To Thomas Taggart lover of mankind whose foresight made possible this park,” and “Erected by the city and by his friends as a tribute to his vision and service,” words appearing unharmed (so far) on the bookends of a dying monument. The remainder of what was once a tribute befitting of you, indefatigable leader of Indianapolis, continues to crumble. Partially boarded and long defunct fountain, mostly missing balustrade and generally deteriorating remainder, sit sadly behind a chain-link fence, amidst a sea of dead grass and goose droppings. You are now rolling over in your grave at such a speed that wind turbines would envy, and would fire your P.R. person if you had one. You want to say: “Hey, I’m still here! Help me!”
Some of us know who you were, Mayor Taggart, and not because your name is on the front of a crumbling monument. “If not for the brilliant vision of this mayor, many of the parkways and park systems of Indianapolis would not exist,” says Marsh Davis, President of Indiana Landmarks. The public improvements and fiscal efficiency that characterized his administration are equally impressive to me. (Mr. Mayor, can you please come back and get someone to attend to my Beirut-like alleys?)
Echoing Indiana Landmarks’ sentiments, “Thomas Taggart’s legacy… deserves the honor of a fountain that works and a graceful, safe colonnade.” With that in mind, Mr. Taggart’s memorial landed on Indiana Landmarks’ 10 Most Endangered List this year. Endeavoring to find private contributors willing to take on this behemoth is going to require some creative problem solving; some creative cash flow; and some prayers—and probably not just on Sundays.
What are your thoughts? What should be done? What mayor would want this to be their legacy?
2013 update: there is a Thomas Taggart Memorial Committee in place, working to restore this monument and collecting money for that purpose.
A few more views can be found at the end of this video where we visit the homes of three former politicians, including Thomas Taggart.