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Four Questions with Dr. Mark Levitch on World War 1 Memorial Restoration

By Kate Lyons
Staff Writer

Dr. Mark Levitch, an art historian at the National Gallery of Art, is the founder and president of the World War I Memorial Inventory Project. The Project's mission is to identify, document, preserve, and interpret the World War I memorials in the United States. He is partnering with the U.S. World War One Centennial Commission on 100 Cities/100 Memorials.

Q: What is the best way for people to ID and find WWI memorials in their community?

levitch 300Dr. Mark Levitch, an art historian at the National Gallery of Art, is the founder and president of the World War I Memorial Inventory Project. He has partnered with the U.S. World War One Centennial Commission on 100 Cities/100 Memorials.Some memorials can be found online, but many can’t – and hunting them down is half the fun. Community memorials are frequently situated in central locations, such as town greens or squares, or along a main street or major intersection. They are often found, too, at courthouses and town or city halls. Other popular locations include parks (especially memorial or veterans parks), American Legion or VFW posts, cemeteries, and schools and colleges. Churches and synagogues also frequently erected honor rolls, as did many large businesses and institutions. World War I also ushered in “living,” or functional, memorials—memorial stadiums, libraries, bridges, etc.—virtually all of which contain memorial plaques. I’m in the process of putting online (at ww1mproject.org) information about 3,000 or so memorials that I’ve located to date; if someone wants to check whether I’ve found one in their community, he/she/they can email me at [email protected].

Q: If a group wants to do a simple cleanup or update, what are the top "do" and "don't do" things they should be aware of?

The most important thing to do is to leave any hands-on work to a professional conservator. Any attempt at “cleaning” a memorial—even a simple bronze plaque—can cause permanent damage. (The American Institute for Conservation maintains a list of qualified object conservators.) Non-professionals can focus on documenting a memorial photographically (with special attention to problem areas, such as cracks in stone, graffiti, or discolored plaques) and on cleaning up or beautifying the area around the memorial.

Q: What is the best way for people to find the history on the memorials they do find?

Many communities published memorial dedication programs, and local libraries and historical societies are the best bet for uncovering these. They are also likely to have historical newspapers, which often have important information about the memorials and how they came about. If a memorial was erected before 1923, it’s worth checking the massive online digital newspaper archive at the Library of Congress (chroniclingamerica.loc.gov). Many memorials were sponsored by local chapters of organizations, such as the American Legion or the Daughters of the American Revolution; if that’s the case, they may have records about the memorial.

Q: Why is the 100 CITIES/100 MEMORIALS a good community service project program?

Local World War I memorials are the most direct and salient link that communities have to the war. Researching their histories, uncovering the stories of those they commemorate, and working to restore them is not only fun and worthwhile, but also will enable communities to renew their connections to the memorials and the proud local history they embody.

For more info on 100 Cities/100 Memorials, visit: ww1cc.org/100Memorials.


Kate Lyons is a 2016 Summer Intern at the World War One Centennial Commission.


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