Heroes of a Revolution: Memorials Discovered by the Simmons’ May, 2011 Strategic Information Arrangement Class


(During the CE Course on Strategic Information Arrangement that I teach at Simmons College, participants have the opportunity to write about a memorial in their local area for possible inclusion in my Memorial or Veterans Day blog post.  Today we have a Revolutionary War theme, perhaps appropriate for a college located in Boston.)

The night of April 18, 1775, Paul Revere saw two lights in the Old North Church and began his famous ride, alerting colonists in the Boston area that British troops were crossing the Charles River.  Near midnight, he reached the town of Medford, where Dr. Martin Herrick joined the ride, heading toward Stoneham.  Revere continued on to Lexington.  The militia assembled at dawn on the Green and the first shots were fired.  The British then retreated back toward Boston, reaching Menotomy (now Arlington) around 4pm.  It was there the war really began.  This brutal battle caused the most casualties of April 19 on both sides, including civilians.  Two men from Medford, William Polly and Henry Putnam, were mortally injured.

Christina Anderson of ABT Associates, found a memorial to the Minute Men of Medford, located near the public library.  It was erected for the 150th anniversary of the American Revolution. The 60 names are in alphabetical order, with the exception of Henry Putnam, who appears at the bottom described as “Aged 62 Killed in Action.”  Why was Henry Putnam given this honor and not William Polly?

The Medford Historical Society has limited hours, but volunteers Jerry Hershkowitz and Mike Bradford were there when I needed them.  So I called and asked about William Polly.  The key to the mystery is the inscription at the top of the memorial which reads “Roster of the First Company of Minute Men Who Assembled in Medford at the Call of Paul Revere and Engaged in the Battle of April 19, 1775.”  According to Hershkowitz, Putnam was exempted from the militia because he was too old, but he went to the battle anyway and got killed.  On the memorial, there is no way of knowing that William Polly also died.  I learned about it accidentally in my research.

If we think about this in terms of information arrangement, we have three facets:  those on the roster (59), those not on the roster (1), and an intersection of those who died (2).  Perhaps Putnam received extra information to explain his inclusion with the roster, but it creates confusion because someone else died and there is no acknowledgement.

Dating from 1925, the Medford plaque is fairly early among memorials in listing names.  That began in earnest with the First World War.  In 1936, Medford’s Lawrence Light Guard erected a plaque in the lobby of their armory with the names of Guards who served in WWI.  Hershkowitz took a short walk to the armory, now in commercial use.  He noted some names have stars, which he believes indicates those who died, a simple solution fully honoring their sacrifice.


If Menotomy was the beginning of the Revolutionary War, Saratoga was the turning point in September and October, 1777.  A major victory for the Americans, its hero was Benedict Arnold.  Serving under Horatio Gates, he commanded the troops on September 19.  The British won this first day, but suffered major casualties.  After the battle, Arnold quarreled with Gates and was relieved of his command.  Then in the second battle on October 7, Arnold disobeyed orders and entered the battlefield, taking command and leading the troops to a decisive victory.  This win caused the French to enter the war in support of the Americans, an important factor contributing to the success of the Revolution.

Arnold was injured in the battle and unable to return to combat, which may have influenced his treason in 1780.  He also felt a lack of acknowledgment for his military achievements and thought the Continental Congress was trying to cheat him financially.  Then he married a Loyalist woman prior to the treason.  Towards the end of the war, he fought again, this time for the British.

Julie Vittengl of GlobalSpec found the Boot Monument at Saratoga National Historical Park in New York.  Erected by Civil War General and historian John Watts de Peyster, it honors Benedict Arnold as “the most brilliant soldier of the Continental Army,” yet only shows his injured leg and does not name him.  Saratoga’s victory obelisk has four places for the four generals involved.  Arnold’s space is empty.  Likewise at West Point, the site of his treason, Arnold’s place as a Revolutionary War General is empty showing only his rank and his birthday.

In the book, Shadowed Ground: America’s Landscapes of Violence and Tragedy, 2003, geographer Kenneth E. Foote identifies four responses to high profile painful events:  sanctification, designation, rectification, and obliteration.  Sanctification creates a sacred space, such as the Saratoga National Historical Park.  Designation tends to be an onsite plaque or small memorial acknowledging the event.  While the Medford war memorials are not sited where the actual events happened, they would be examples of designation.  Rectification returns the site to productive use.  The World Trade Center is undergoing rectification, with office space in new buildings available for lease.  At the same time, the sites’s National September 11 Memorial and Museum is sanctification.  Obliteration removes the location from our memory.  Buildings at crime scenes are sometimes torn down and the vacant lot neglected.

Our national feeling about Benedict Arnold wavers between designation and obliteration.  He served his country in many battles, not just Saratoga.  He commanded that decisive battle, setting the stage for our eventual victory.  Then he turned against us.  We cannot remove him from history, but we can remove his name from our places of honor.  After all, thanks to men like William Polly and Henry Putnam, we won the war and we built our new nation.

(A note on resources not mentioned in the article.  I discovered William Polly in The Minute Men: The First Fight by John Galvin, 1996, and in Paul Rever’s Ride by David Hackett Fischer, 1994.  An article by Thomas Fleming, 2010, “Battle of Menotomy: First Blood, 1775,” clearly described that event.  Jerry Hershkowitz’ primary resource, other than the town itself, was Medford in the Revolution, by Helen Tilden Wild, 1903.  I relied on Wikipedia for information about Benedict Arnold, specifically the pages for Arnold, the Battles of Saratoga, the Boot Monument, and Saratoga National Historical Park.  Saratoga and Lexington & Concord are both described in the Encyclopedia of Battles in North America:  1517-1916 by L. Edward & Sarah J. Purcell, 2000.  Photo Credits:  Medford Minute Man Memorial by Christina Anderson, 2011; Arnold-Boot by Americasroof at Wikimedia Commons, 2006.)


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May 2011

Memorials for Veterans Day, Discovered by the Simmons Strategic Information Arrangement Class, November 2010

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A lively Strategic Information Arrangement class continues this month in the Graduate School of Library and Information Science CE program at Simmons College.  The four week class looks at arrangement strategies and persuasive uses of arrangement, including a one week section about names on memorials.  For the May 2010 class, I wrote a Memorial Day blog describing memorials found by class members.  In a new tradition, today’s post honors Veterans Day with memorials found by the current class.


Harvard University provides an elegant memorial to its “associates” who died fighting for the Union in the Civil War.  We learned of this memorial from Jennifer Beauregard, the university’s Assistant Director for Alumni Affairs and Development Library Services.  Located in the Transept of Memorial Hall, the 136 names on 28 wall plaques are listed by school and by class, in alphabetical order within each class.  There is one plaque out of order, but we do not know the reason for that.

The memorial’s donor specified the exclusion of names of Harvard Confederates.  In 2006, artist Brian Tolle built his “Deep Wounds” installation on the floor of the Transept, calling attention to these Harvard soldiers who also died.  As people walked across his lit floor, their footsteps created a “blister” of light behind them, revealing information about a Harvard Confederate, everything but his name.  They were organized so Union and Confederate soldiers from the same class were near each other.

This got me wondering if there are Civil War memorials honoring both sides.  Certainly other colleges and towns, especially in border states, would have Union and Confederate losses.  I didn’t find anything in brief research.  However, I did find a Wikipedia article about the Gettysburg “Great Reunion of 1913,”, which included all participants.


Elizabeth Ryan, Director of Social Media at the start-up company, Textifer, found a war memorial on her Town Green in Longmeadow, MA.  She says names are arranged by war and then in alphabetical order.  Most of the names are from World War II.  Photos on the town website, and a personal communication from a town employee, indicate a separate memorial for World War I.

Many towns in the United States and Britain have war memorials.  There is even a British memorial honoring those who died from a single city block.  I remember visiting the World War II memorial in San Francisco to look at the names of my mother’s friends.  Before moving to Phoenix, I lived in Healdsburg in California’s wine country.  Just like Longmeadow, they have a small memorial in the town square for those lost in wars.


Jeanne Goss of the Research Department at the industrial supply company Grainger told us about the Shuttle Challenger Memorial (pictured) at Arlington National Cemetery.  This is a small memorial, a headstone really, marking the unidentified remains of the Challenger’s crew.  Identified remains were returned to their families.  This has a persuasive element in that the names are arranged in a circle, a geometric shape emphasizing equality.  Yet the names are actually in a complex ordering.

According to a personal (and very fast) communication from NASA, there is only one crew leader, the Commander, and everyone else is equal.  However, it is my observation that the Challenger crew names are frequently listed in the same order:  Commander, Pilot, Mission Specialists in alphabetical order, and civilians in alphabetical order.  This is how they are listed in the Challenger Center for Space Science Education, founded by families of the crew, and how they are listed in official NASA biographies.

However, that is not how they are arranged in the official photograph.  The Commander is in the center first row, with the Pilot at his right hand.  The first Mission Specialist sits at his left, with the remaining four in the second row but not in the above order.

The arrangement in the photograph is partially repeated on the memorial.  Commander Dick Scobee is at the top with Challenger pointing at him like an arrow.  At his right (our left) is the Pilot, Michael Smith.  As in the photo, Mission Specialist Ron McNair is at Scobee’s left.  Then below Smith, the remaining four crew members are listed counterclockwise as described above:  Mission Specialist Ellison Onizuka, Mission Specialist Judy Resnik, civilian engineer Gregory Jarvis, and civilian teacher Christa McAuliffe.  The artist used several elements to select placement for each name, yet the circle creates a primary impression of equality, which is how NASA organizes its crews.

Correction:  I originally wrote this on Veterans Day weekend, which impeded researching primary sources.  However, on Veterans Day, after I posted, I received a response from Cheri Winkler of the Challenger Center for Space Science Education.  She had asked Dick Scobee’s widow, June Scobee Rodgers, about the name arrangement.  Here is Dr. Scobee’s response:

“Fascinating question.  Commander Scobee, then pilot Mike Smith is right.  The three mission specialists are alphabetized, then the payload specialist Jarvis, the private citizen Christa.  If it were based on position of job on crew, Judy Resnik would come first of the 3 mission specialists.”


A strategy emphasizing different characteristics is taken by Boston’s Vendome Firefighters Memorial, found by Andrea Goodman, Senior Information Specialist at the economics consulting firm Cornerstone Research.  This semi-circular wall honors nine Boston firefighters who lost their lives fighting a 1972 fire in the Vendome Hotel.  It is the largest number of Boston firefighters to have died in a single incident.  The hotel can be seen above the memorial’s arc.  At that point rests a realistic sculpture of a helmet and jacket, “lying as if left there by a firefighter on the day of the fire.”

On the memorial, the nine names are listed in alphabetical order, expressing equality.  However, on the memorial’s website, the names seem to be listed in hierarchy of rank, with the two lieutenants first.  Then in the PDF program for the dedication, they are in a chronology of service, by date of entry into the Boston Fire Department.  There is honor in length of service, and there is honor in having a higher rank, just as it often appropriate to show equality.  The developers of this memorial gave us all three.


Lists of names are a relatively new development in memorials due to our increasing respect for enlisted personnel and our better record keeping.  For many centuries, memorials were statues of great military leaders.  That is the strategy of the Guilford Courthouse National Military Park in Greensboro, NC, discovered by Mary Lane, a Library Manger in that city.  The site of a Revolutionary War battle, its centerpiece is a massive statue of General Nathaniel Greene on his horse.  Persuasive use of size and location convey the impression that this is an important man and an important place.

There are many other memorial structures in the park.  The idea was to locate these on the sites of actual battle events.  Organizing information by location, whether on the land itself or on a website, is a geographic arrangement, but there’s a hitch here.  Like the Alamo, where they destroyed an historic building to make the area more beautiful, the Guilford Courthouse is a park not an accurate historic site.  For one thing, early promoters were not able to acquire all the land, so they redesigned the battle to fit the land they did have.  Current park policy is to relocate these errant memorials to their accurate locations, but some are too big for that.


The Irish Hunger Memorial in New York City, discovered by Meghan Sullivan, a Knowledge Management Information Architect with the Kaplan education company, honors the millions who died in the Great Irish Famine of the 1840’s or who emigrated from Ireland, many to the United States.  A low cantilevered roof on a half acre, it is landscaped to look like the Irish countryside, complete with an actual hut from that era.  You enter or depart the hut though a hallway with streaming illuminated quotations about hunger, both during the Famine and in our modern times.  Meghan’s observations, along with a New Yorker review, indicate these quotes appear at random.

The rooftop garden contains large stones engraved with names of Irish counties.  There seems to be an arrangement here, but we have not determined what it is.  A PDF brochure lists counties in alphabetical order and shows their locations with a numbering system.  However the numbers do not relate to the alphabet nor are they contiguous on the map.  They also don’t relate to the counties’ locations in Ireland.  I found a map showing population changes during the Famine, and that doesn’t seem to be it.

Perhaps the arrangement is explained somewhere at the memorial, but the map would be a good place for this description.  While there is a grand tradition of written reviews, we usually don’t explain art at the site of the art itself.  We expect the viewer to create their own impression from the cues given by the artist.  One’s interpretation of the piece may be quite different from what the artist intended and that’s acceptable and encouraged.

But arrangement is different from other artistic elements.  If not articulated, a structured arrangement exists only in the artist’s mind.  As part of artistic display, organizational choices contribute to our understanding.  But if there are no cues, we have a guessing game, especially when choices are complex.  (See my article about the Wittenbergplatz Holocaust Memorial for another example of an unexplained arrangement.)

At the Irish Hunger Memorial, someone made a decision about placing stones and about assigning numbers unrelated to that placement.  The reasons are not explained.  Our understanding of the memorial, and our thoughts about hunger, would be enhanced if this artistic element was made visible.

For this article, I also made arrangement decisions.  Following the example of the Shuttle Challenger Memorial, I created two categories – memorials with and without names.  Since the unit is primarily about how names are arranged on memorials, I placed that category first.  Within each category, the memorials are in alphabetical order.

It took me a paragraph to explain my strategy, one reason perhaps why artistic arrangements are not often explained.  But that could easily be shortened, especially if we assume certain organizing structures, such as the alphabet, are obvious.

Arrangement:  Memorials with names, Memorials without names

Thank you to those who served our country in war, in fighting fires, and in exploring new territory.  Thank you to the immigrants who gave so many of us a place in this great country.  Thank you to those serving us today who, with great sadness, will one day be memorialized.

Photo Credit:  Shuttle Challenger Memorial by M. R. Patterson

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Nov 2010

Names on a Memorial: Into the Earth (Memorials Discovered by the Strategic Information Arrangement Class)

Today is Memorial Day.  On Friday the American military announced its 1000th death in Afghanistan.  Yesterday, British Petroleum announced that it failed in its fourth attempt to stop the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

We study name arrangement on memorials during the final week of my online Strategic Information Arrangement class at Simmons College.  That week includes an optional forum question asking class members to describe a memorial neartheir home.

Jared Stern, a Brandeis University pre-school librarian who also works at the Boston Public Library, told us about the New England Holocaust Memorial by Stanley Saitowitz, with Polish extermination camps represented by six columns extending six feet into the earth and 54 feet into the sky.  Smoke rises from “smoldering coals” toward the columns’ glass panels filled with 6,000,000 numbers evoking the tattoos of Holocaust prisoners.

Some panels have quotations instead of numbers.  Jared included one in his remarks:  “At first the bodies were burned, they were buried.  In January 1944, we were forced to dig up the bodies so they could be burned.  When the last mass grave was opened, I recognized my whole family, my mother and sisters and their kids.  They were all in there.  (Motke Zaidt, a Holocaust survivor who was deported from Lithuania and forced to work the death detail in Chelmno.)”

Beth Toren, Web Services Librarian at West Virginia University Libraries discussed two types of memorials for the mine disasters in her state.  An April 5 explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine killed 29 miners.  The community responded by building spontaneous memorials such as one with pieces of coal painted white with the names of those who died written in black.  It sits on lace on the ground with a cross.

The Sago Mine exploded on January 2, 2006, killing twelve miners; one survived.  This has a formal memorial in Phillippi, although it is not complete.  The photo in this post shows Ross Straight’s flat 4’ x 6’ sculpture, with figures arranged as the bodies were found when rescuers finally reached them. 

Beth spoke with the project’s organizer who said the memorial is intended to honor all who died in the mines, but they will only list the names of the twelve who died at Sago.  According to Beth’s paraphrase, “they would never be able to fit all the miners’ names that died in coalmine accidents just in that county on a memorial.”  Today, as oil continues to gush into the Gulf of Mexico, we also remember eleven energy workers who died last month when the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform exploded.      

Vermont’s Sharon North Welcome Center on I-89 demonstrates green design with sustainable energy and water facilities.  That’s where Edee Edwards, taxonomy manager at a bio-pharmaceutical services company, found Vermont Vietnam Veterans Memorial.  This first state-sanctioned Vietnam memorial was dedicated two weeks prior to DC’s memorial.  It includes both the names of those who died and of every Vermonter who served. 

The memorial also has separate installations for those who died in Iraq and in Afghanistan.  These include not just names, but photos and remarks about their lives.  Since 1983, an all night vigil has been held every Memorial Day.  Edee said that even though she does not feel connected with the war in Vietnam, “this project ended up not just making me think, but making me feel.”

In the 90’s, the Sharon rest stop almost closed, but Vermont’s Vietnam vets lobbied to keep it open.  Ten years ago, the state selected it to be renovated as a green showcase, designed by Timothy D. Smith.  Using ground source heat pumps, the center keeps warm in the cold Vermont winter and cool in the summer, not by extraction, but by sending reclaimed water into 24 wells to return with the earth’s own heat.  Take a look at the worst oil spill in U.S. history.  Instead of stealing her blood, we should let the earth nurture us with geothermal energy.

Photo Credit:  West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin’s Photo Gallery.  Album:  Sago Mine Memorial Unveiling, May 21, 2009.

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May 2010