A neighborhood symbol in need

The vet­er­ans’ me­mori­al statue of a World War I “dough­boy,” which stands in Madis­on Me­mori­al Park in NoLibs, cur­rently has no one tend­ing to its needs, like up­keep and clean­ing.

North­ern Liber­ties res­id­ent Mary Dankanis be­side the neigh­bor­hood’s me­mori­al to World War I “dough­boys,” which she says is fall­ing in­to a state of neg­lect. SAM NE­W­HOUSE / STAR PHOTO

For nearly a cen­tury, a monu­ment to the sol­diers of North­ern Liber­ties who died in World War I has stood at the corner of the neigh­bor­hood, at 2nd and Spring Garden streets. 

But as so of­ten hap­pens, Madis­on Me­mori­al Park, the park with this statue of a “dough­boy” – as U.S. Army sol­diers and Mar­ines in World War I were com­monly known – has gradu­ally slipped from be­ing a pleas­ant me­mori­al and park to­wards be­ing just an eye­sore.

“For a very long time, it was one of the sym­bols of the neigh­bor­hood. It was something that people knew about,” said Janet Fin­eg­ar, a North­ern Liber­ties res­id­ent and co-chair of Liberty Lands Park. “At this mo­ment, what it doesn’t have is a friend.”

The park is cur­rently filled with high weeds and strewn with garbage. 

Al­though the en­tire park was ex­pan­ded and re­modeled with a grant from the Delaware River Wa­ter­front Cor­por­a­tion’s “Take Me to the River” cam­paign just a few years ago, there is cur­rently no in­di­vidu­al or or­gan­iz­a­tion who takes care of the park, and it has fallen in­to dis­ar­ray.

“It’s aban­doned, my dough­boy,” said Mary Dankanis, 76, the former dir­ect­or of the North­ern Liber­ties Neigh­bors As­so­ci­ation.

Dankanis per­son­ally kept up the area around the statue for years. She also fought to re­turn the statue to the neigh­bor­hood in the 1970s after it was moved to a dif­fer­ent neigh­bor­hood.

The monu­ment, cre­ated by John Pauld­ing, is known as “Over the Top.” It is ad­orned with a plaque that states: “In memory of our boys of the Sixth, El­ev­enth and Twelfth Wards who served in the Great War of na­tions, 1914-18.” 

These vet­er­ans all came from the area between Front and Sixth streets and Spring Garden Street and Gir­ard Av­en­ue.

“Even if people don’t have a per­son­al con­nec­tion to it, I think people know it’s there and feel that it’s ‘our dough­boy,’” Fin­eg­ar said. “It just doesn’t really have some­body who is able to take care of it on a reg­u­lar basis.”

The dough­boy monu­ment was built in 1920 with dona­tions from the res­id­ents of North­ern Liber­ties.

“People went door to door to col­lect con­tri­bu­tions to pay for the statue,” Dankanis said. “It was paid for by the or­din­ary people in the neigh­bor­hood.”

The statue was ori­gin­ally sited at 5th and Spring Garden streets un­til 1975, when the ex­pan­sion of 5th Street led the city to re­lo­cate the statue to 17th and Spring Garden streets. Neigh­bors felt like their her­it­age had been stolen, Dankanis re­called.

“My old friend, Clara Braun, sat on the statue and wouldn’t let them move it. She tried to stop them,” Dankanis said. “‘Let’s get the dough­boy back’ be­came a ral­ly­ing cry for the neigh­bor­hood.”

Dankanis, who had moved to North­ern Liber­ties with her hus­band in 1960 and re­fused to leave dur­ing wide­spread ‘white flight,’ be­came deeply in­volved with fight­ing for the me­mori­al. While she nev­er knew any World War I vet­er­ans, she just felt that the statue was a test­a­ment to North­ern Liber­ties.

“I’m just com­mit­ted to the neigh­bor­hood. I love this neigh­bor­hood,” Dankanis said.

After sev­er­al years of lob­by­ing by Dankanis and neigh­bors, the city’s Of­fice of Hous­ing and Urb­an De­vel­op­ment kicked in $5,000 to move the statue back. Dankanis got ap­prov­al from the Art Com­mis­sion, and the statue was re­turned in Ju­ly of 1981.

That same night, the neigh­bor­hood came to­geth­er for a cel­eb­ra­tion un­der the dough­boy, Dankanis said. Weeks later, a re-ded­ic­a­tion ce­re­mony was held, with a parade down 2nd Street and the same sing­er who per­formed “God Bless Amer­ica” at the dough­boy’s ori­gin­al ded­ic­a­tion in 1920 re­turn­ing to per­form the same song again.

When the dough­boy was re-ded­ic­ated, the mem­bers of the NLNA made a com­mit­ment to­geth­er – “That we would nev­er aban­don our dough­boy,” Dankanis said.

“The NLNA did all this – and now all of a sud­den nobody cares any­more,” she said. 

While Dankanis ten­ded the dough­boy’s park and kept it clean for years, she is no longer able to per­form that work reg­u­larly. The Penn Herb Com­pany, formerly loc­ated on 2nd Street, used to tend to the park, but re­cently closed its store. A neigh­bor took over Dankanis’s du­ties, but then moved out of the neigh­bor­hood. 

ldquo;Our only chal­lenge is to keep it clean, which is not easy,” said Larry Freed­man, chair of the NLNA’s zon­ing com­mit­tee. “It’s on our radar … it needs to be more on our radar.”

Ori­gin­ally with 1,200 names lis­ted, one of the three plaques with vet­er­ans’ names was stolen off the monu­ment back when the statue was loc­ated at 5th and Spring Garden streets. The statue also lost its bay­on­et at some point.

Over the years, Dankanis has heard from pre­ser­va­tion­ists seek­ing aid in find­ing the miss­ing names so they can re­place the plaque and re­fur­bish the statue, as well as from people whose re­l­at­ives are me­mori­al­ized on the monu­ment.

“I think people care about it,” Dankanis said. “I hope things get bet­ter.”

You can reach at snewhouse@bsmphilly.com.

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