Hackley Park is an important focal point for downtown Muskegon Michigan. The park was dedicated on Memorial Day, May 30, 1892 . Charles H. Hackley, a prominent local lumber mill owner, purchased the land and paid for a Soldiers and Sailors Monument to commemorate the service of Muskegon County citizens during the American Civil War (1861-1865). The 76 foot tall granite monument includes five bronze statues and was designed by Italian-born architect Joseph Carabelli. Around the base are a sailor, cavalryman, infantryman and artilleryman. On the top of the pedestal stands a 14 foot goddess of Victory figure. The monument bears the inscription: “Not conquest, but peace – To the soldiers and sailors who fought and to all patriotic men and women who helped to preserve our nation in the war of the rebellion.”Four more statues were commissioned by Charles H. Hackley and installed on the four corners of Hackley Park on Memorial Day, 1900. They are sculptures of prominent Civil War persons. President Abraham Lincoln, Admiral Farragut were made by sculptor Charles Niehaus. General U.S. Grant and General William T. Sherman were made by J. Massey Rhind.
In 1997 -1998 the statues were conserved by McKay Lodge Fine Arts Conservation of Oberlin, Ohio. The Lakeshore Museum Center teamed with the City of Muskegon to develop a simple maintenance plan to help preserve the restored statues. Part of that teamwork is that our curatorial staff (meaning me, the Curator of Collections, and other curatorial staff as they are available) works with the City to give the statues a wash and a light coat of wax each year. We schedule this in early September of each year. It is usually mild weather with favorable relative humidity and temperature conditions. If it is too hot the wax does not set up, but if it is too cold the washing step is very uncomfortable and the wax is difficult to apply evenly.The wash removes surface grime and gives us a chance to inspect the statues for damage or deterioration. We use a mild detergent recommended by the conservator and fairly soft scrub brushes. The light coat of wax provides a thin layer of protection against the grime and makes it easier to remove it next year. We don’t attempt any more aggressive measures, since we are not metal conservators. It takes about 4 hours per statue depending on the conditions. A warm day with a slight breeze helps the statues to dry quickly. Wasp nests hidden in the folds of the sculpture is a very unpleasant surprise. I have angered a number of very large spiders as well with a soapy bath.
To access the statues, the City of Muskegon provides a tall lift – we have to get 80 feet into the air to reach the tip-top of Victory. This takes a skilled operator and nerves of steel. It can get pretty windy that high in the air – especially if there is a storm coming in across Lake Michigan. Maneuvering around the statues and the granite base also takes skill. We need to get close enough to work effectively, but not bang into the statues with the lift bucket. The bucket sways quite a bit – by the end of the week I resemble a tipsy sailor as the world sways no matter if I am on the lift or not. But the views of Muskegon Lake, the city and Lake Michigan are spectacular!
Text and pictures: Sharon McCullar