A Pilgrimage to the Ohio Memorial Shrine: 1947

In 1945 the end of the World War II was in sight, and forward-looking folks were pondering the massive task before them of coming to terms with the tremendous burden of grief that overshadowed the country after 400,000 military deaths.  Quick fixes and short-sighted measures might get the US through the immediate aftermath of such a society-altering war era, but the long-term effects and years of mourning that American faced required a new long-term approach to healing.

It was a large networked community of 60,000 women in Ohio who came up with a method for approaching the challenge—and theirs was an answer that would last as long as stone.

The Ohio Federation of Women’s Clubs conceived a plan that would take nearly two years to fund and build: an Ohio Memorial Shrine situated inside a living Memorial Forest Park: the first of its kind in the nation.

Effective Mourning

Grief is what you feel: mourning is what you do about it.  With womanly wisdom they intuitively knew that the most effective form of mourning—the one that would be most universally available to all their grieving Ohio neighbors—was the rite of pilgrimage. 

So they drew plans to locate the healing place far from the everyday world, in a serene and beautiful location where even the pilgrimage journey might be a healing process.  The site they chose was in Mohican Memorial Forest, high atop an ancient ridge, in a park setting that had recently been reclaimed from ruined farmland.

All of the materials—the stone, the wooden beams, the tiles and glass were made in Ohio.  It was to be a solid piece of architecture, with craftsmanship built to last centuries in order to remember in perpetuity the soldiers from Ohio who gave their lives in the cause of freedom.

The names of the fallen were inscribed by hand into an epic book of remembrance, and on April 27, 1947 two thousand people from every corner of the state converged on the Mohican shrine to pay tribute to the lost.  In solemn ceremony they dedicated the stone chapel, along with 270 acres of surrounding young woodland, as a state landmark.

Speakers at the dedication of the Shrine in 1947 included the Governor of Ohio, an Admiral and a Major General from Ohio, and two Medal of Honor soldiers from Ohio.

Plans for the area immediately surrounding the Shrine included the planting of 88 trees in the park: buckeyes, maples, oaks, tulips, gums and hemlocks representing Ohio’s 88 counties.

The Pilgrimage

In the years following WWII there were countless thousands of visitors to the forested park, and an untold powerful weight of personal pain that arrived at the doorstep of the Memorial Shrine.  Most poignant of all this grief could be seen in the annual pilgrimage every September of thousands of mothers who met in Mohican.

During the years of WWII, families with sons, daughters, husbands, wives away from home in the war were recognized in the community by the display in the windows or doors of their home of a particular patriotic symbol: a blue star for each family member in the service, seen on a field of white surrounded by a band of red.  If the family suffered a loss to the war, the blue star was replaced by one that was gold.  Those women who lost their sons and daughters came to be known as Gold Star Mothers.

Every year this gathering of Gold Star Mothers met on the lawn at the Memorial Shrine for services, ceremonies and mutual consolation.  Nothing could be more stirring than the soul of tenderness that attended these women; every year more gray, less upright, and fewer in number until they finally became too frail to travel in the 1960s.

The approxiamtely 20,000 names enshrined in the Memorial are indexed for visitors in a series of notebooks among the exhibits.

In Memory & Immemorial

It isn’t only the Shrine or the flags or the books that are dedicated to the sacred fallen, but the very forest as well.  The Mohican Memorial Forest Park is kept as a sanctuary where one’s soul is calmed amid the quiet leaves; where loss and grief are stilled in the abiding presence of the enduring earth.

Flags and books and patriotic paraphernalia—these are all valiant devices to assuage the mind with symbolism: expressing the deep inexpressible stirring of loss.  But words and symbols can salve only the mind.  It is the deep, wordless wisdom of the eternal spirit in the living forest that tempers the soul, quells the emotions.

As the years pass and fewer of the people who visit Mohican actually remember those particular individuals whose names are inscribed in the book, yet the Shrine remains.  It serves to recall for us the sacrifice of former generations whose selfless dedication to our nation’s greater good can be numbered only as a countless tally, like leaves fallen from the forest that blanket the earth.

Though the connotation of a shrine in America generally infers some religious context, the Ohio Memorial Shrine pays tribute to a tremendous cross-section of Ohioans from every race and creed, so its archetectural iconography is purely secular. The chapel-like sanctury depicts Ohio’s seal, it’s state tree and state bird.

Then & Now: Ohio Memorial Shrine 1947

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