For decades, troops of children marched past them on school field trips; lawmakers and lobbyists rushed by as they headed into the Colorado State Capitol. But over the past six weeks, the odd collection of monuments, statues and other memorials on the Capitol grounds have received an unprecedented amount of attention, as they became popular targets of graffiti artists during protests.
Not only was the Civil War Monument vandalized (and later toppled), but the Armenian Genocide Memorial was damaged on May 28, on the very first night of the Denver demonstrations over the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.
That act rated a mention at a press conference this week at the White House — and stirred up a quick controversy, because "genocide," while part of the memorial's official name, hasn't been mentioned at the White House in connection with the Armenians killed by Turks, today an important American ally, a century ago.
Until now. (In contrast, note this careful statement by Donald Trump on Armenian Remembrance Day in April.)
On July 6, while talking about statues and monuments across the country that had been damaged in protests, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany made a direct reference to the Colorado memorial — by its proper name:
But, look, we’ve got a real problem in this country. When you have rioters who — I have listed off some of the examples of abolitionists — there seems to be zero understanding of history when you’re defacing the statue of Matthias Baldwin and John Whittier and Ulysses S. Grant.
There seems to be a lack of understanding and historical knowledge when the Armenian Genocide Memorial, remembering victims of all crimes against humanity, including slavery, is vandalized.
Meanwhile, here in Denver on July 8, Governor Jared Polis made sure that Colorado will continue to share understanding and historical knowledge when he signed into law House Bill 1336, Holocaust And Genocide Studies in Public Schools. That measure guarantees that Colorado students will continue to learn about such horrors as the Holocaust in Europe during World War II, the Armenian Genocide...and the Sand Creek Massacre, which one day could have its own memorial on the Capitol grounds, where it is currently remembered with a plaque.
For the record, here are the other monuments at the Capitol, both directly around the building and in Lincoln Park below (which is also the home of a major encampment today), with descriptions from the official state site:
Armenian Khachkar: Armenian Genocide Memorial
This khachkar, crafted in Armenia, is a monument dedicated to the victims of genocide. It was dedicated in 2015, on the 100th anniversary of the start of the genocide.
Armenian Garden and Pine
This garden area was planted in memory of the between 1 and 1.5 million Armenian victims of the first genocide of the twentieth century, which occurred in Turkey beginning on April 24, 1915, and continued to 1923.
The 1,250-pound brass cannons were manufactured by the Revere Copper Company in 1852-’63 and 1864-’65. “No one knows for certain how the cannons arrived in Colorado.”
Colorado Symbols and Emblems Fence
This fence was placed along the sidewalk at the bottom of the west steps in 1999.
Northeast Corner of the Capitol
Members of the Grand Masonic Lodges of Colorado dedicated and laid the inscribed granite cornerstone of the Capitol on July 4, 1890. In its rough state, the cornerstone weighed twenty tons and required sixty mules to haul it into place.
Northeast Corner of the Capitol
This concrete slab with inscription is embedded in the lawn. Dedicated on August 4, 1990, the time capsule commemorates the passing of 100 years since the laying of the Capitol cornerstone.
Pearl Harbor Memorial
This stone bench and marker were dedicated in 1983 by the Colorado members of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association. The inscriptions say “Keep America Alert” and “Remember Pearl Harbor.”
This bronze statue of a Native American hunter examining his prey, a buffalo, represents the end of the traditional lifestyle of Native Americans in Colorado. At a meeting of the Capitol Building Advisory Committee, Metropolitan State University history professor Derek Everett noted that back in 1893, the initial proposal for the piece called for placing it on the west side of the Capitol, so that the future would be looking at the Rocky Mountains — and at a way of life that had passed. "There was a massive outcry from the aging pioneer community about former competitors getting the front door of the Capitol," he told the committee. The statue wound up on the east side.
USS Colorado Memorial
Dedicated in 1997, this stone bench and marker are dedicated to the men who served aboard the USS Colorado.
Volunteers of the Spanish-American War Flagpole
This flagpole is dedicated to the Colorado volunteers of the Spanish-American War of 1898. The flagpole has a red sandstone base, and it flies the American and POW-MIA flags.
This full-sized replica of the Liberty Bell was one of the 53 replicas cast in France in 1950 and donated to the U.S. government by “American industry and free enterprise.” One went to each state, plus the District of Columbia.
Colorado Tribute to Veterans Monument
Dedicated on November 10, 1990, the Colorado Tribute to Veterans Monument is both a memorial to the dead and a tribute to veterans of the past, present and future: World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Persian Gulf and peace-time.
Joseph P. Martinez Statue
This twenty-foot-tall bronze statue honors Joseph P. Martinez, who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor in 1943 for acts of conspicuous bravery in the Aleutian Islands; he was the first hispanic Coloradan to receive the Medal of Honor.
Ten Commandments Tablet
“The origin, dedication, and permission for placing this four-foot granite tablet inscribed with the Ten Commandments are somewhat unclear,” says the Capitol’s website. “Written records regarding the tablet seem to have been lost.” But the tablets themselves have not been forgotten, and periodically inspire lively discussions of the separation of church and state.
Sadie M. Likens Drinking Fountain
Unveiled on July 7, 1923, this bronze drinking fountain with plaque commemorates Sadie M. Likens for her constant care and treatment of war veterans. Upon her death on July 20, 1920, a group of veterans from the Grand Army of the Republic began raising funds for a monument to Likens. The fountain was completed and dedicated on July 7, 1923.
Memorial Pods, South: Amache Camp Plaque
The south pod is designated for plaques recognizing individuals and groups that have been influential to Colorado's heritage. The south pod contains two plaques, one commemorating former governor Ralph Carr and the other in remembrance of the Amache internment camp in southeastern Colorado, where Japanese-Americans were held during World War II.
Memorial Pods, North
The north pod is designated as the location for plaques recognizing significant events in Colorado's history, and houses one donated by the Daughters of the American Revolution to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the founding of their organization.
Space Shuttle Challenger Aspen Grove
This grove of aspen trees commemorates the seven astronauts who lost their lives when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded on January 28, 1986.
Civil War Monument (currently in storage, but the stand remains)
The statue of a Civil War cavalryman, dismounted with rifle in hand, honors the Colorado soldiers who fought and died in the Civil War. The statue was designed by Captain Jack Howland, a member of the First Colorado Cavalry; it was erected in 1907, and the names of Coloradans reportedly killed in the service were added in the ’20s (though one was actually shot escaping a brawl in Denver).
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But the big addition came in 1999:
Sand Creek Interpretive Plaque
Why did the Civil War Monument need interpreting? Because it lists Sand Creek as a “battle” — and even while the Civil War was still being waged, three investigations in Washington, D.C., determined that it was actually a massacre. By the late ’90s, some people wanted to remove the Civil War Monument altogether; the compromise was this plaque, written by historians and legislators and approved by descendants of the massacre, who preferred that the tragedy be remembered accurately rather than ignored altogether:
The controversy surrounding this Civil War Monument has become a symbol of Coloradans’ struggle to understand and take responsibility for our past. On November 29, 1864, Colorado’s First and Third Cavalry, commanded by Colonel John Chivington, attacked Chief Black Kettle’s peaceful camp of Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians on the banks of Sand Creek, about 180 miles southeast of here. In the surprise attack, soldiers killed more than 150 of the village’s 500 inhabitants. Most of the victims were elderly men, women, and children.
Though some civilians and military personnel immediately denounced the attack as a massacre, others claimed the village was a legitimate target. This Civil War Monument, paid for by funds from the Pioneers’ Association and the State, was erected on July 24, 1909, to honor all Colorado soldiers who had fought in battles of the Civil War in Colorado and elsewhere. By designating Sand Creek a battle, the monument’s designers mischaracterized the actual events. Protests led by some Sand Creek descendants and others throughout the twentieth century have since led to the widespread recognition of the tragedy as the Sand Creek Massacre.
This plaque was authorized by Senate Joint Resolution 99-017.
Read more about the memorials and monuments here.