“Young and Littlefield’s Folly”: Fundraising, Confederate Memorialization, and the Construction of the Jefferson Davis Monument in Fairview, Kentucky, 1907–1924
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“Young and Littlefield’s Folly”:
Fundraising, Confederate Memorialization, and the Construction of the Jefferson Davis Monument in Fairview, Kentucky, 1907–1924

In the hamlet of Fairview, Kentucky, stands one of the nation’s most imposing, yet obscure, monuments—a 351-foot tall, unreinforced concrete obelisk dedicated to the memory of Confederate president Jefferson Davis. Located in the middle of the Jefferson Davis State Historic Site, the monument’s conception dates back to the September 1907 reunion of the famed Orphan Brigade, which had been the largest Confederate unit from Kentucky during the Civil War. At the meeting, Dr. C. C. Brown suggested creating an association that would purchase and preserve the Davis family homestead in Fairview. The nation was, at that time, engaged in apotheosizing Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln’s birthplace, near Hodgenville, Kentucky, became a national park in 1916, and the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., was completed in 1922. Creating a park with a central memorial monument for Jefferson Davis would be Confederate Kentuckians’ response to this phenomenon, and within a short period, several members of the Orphan Brigade formed the Jefferson Davis Home Association (JDHA) for the purpose of acquiring Davis’s birthplace and turning it into a national park, similar to the Lincoln homestead.1 [End Page 39]

The Home Association, led by United Confederate Veterans (UCV) commander-in-chief and Louisville attorney General Bennett H. Young, believed the park would serve as a testament to the state’s prominent status within the nation, having been the birthplace of both Civil War presidents. Explaining the JDHA’s motives, Young declared to the national convention of the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) in 1916, “This spirit does not come from the wish to have Mr. Lincoln honored less, but only from the desire to have Mr. Davis honored more.” In Young’s view, Fairview would become a southern mecca, like Richmond, where visitors could pay homage to the memory of the Lost Cause. Eventually completed at a cost of around $200,000, the Kentucky New Era happily reported, “The monument, tallest in the world, built of poured concrete and second only to the Washington monument of any kind, is the largest the south has yet raised to any of its heroes and its completion in seven years, despite many stoppages for various reasons, is said to be a record.” The obelisk’s completion in 1924 capped thirty years of intensive Confederate memorialization activities in Kentucky, but despite the reported enthusiasm of the ten thousand who attended the dedication ceremony—including the aged Union and Confederate veterans who arrived on the heels of the UCV reunion in Memphis—the monument would not have a lasting, transformative effect on the national consciousness, southern perceptions of Davis, or the significance of Fairview as a Lost Cause pilgrimage site. Following the monument’s dedication, it largely disappeared from the national press and sank quickly into obscurity, known mostly to locals.2 [End Page 40]

The scholarship on Civil War memory and memorialization activities is extensive, and while much has been written on the ways southern communities advanced the notion of the Lost Cause through monument-making activities, the Jefferson Davis Monument in Fairview remains conspicuously absent from these discussions.3 Further, the historians who have examined post–Civil War monument-making have primarily focused on the meaning of such monuments to their communities.4 Anne Marshall, who briefly explores the Jefferson Davis Monument in Creating a Confederate Kentucky, maintains that the obelisk, like other Confederate monuments in Kentucky, “represented the sort of history that spoke to grand possibilities lost in the [End Page 41] name of defending a beautiful world of the past.”5 The importance of monuments and memorials as representations of shared public values and interpretations of past struggles cannot be overstated. However, historians have not yet examined the significance of fundraising efforts within the monument-making process and the degree to which such efforts shaped public perceptions of the monument projects or reflected the strength (or weakness) of a given memorial movement. Even those who have examined the struggles of monument committees to raise sufficient funds have generally treated such near-failures as...