SIDNEY — From the time that Sidney Alive Executive Director Amy Breinich placed barricades across Ohio Avenue, crowds began forming in the street in front of the Monumental Building Saturday morning. They were waiting for the opportunity to get a glimpse of the repainted statue of Sgt. Baker. The “good soldier,” so described by retired Sidney Municipal Court Judge Donald G. Luce in his remarks, has stood guard over downtown Sidney for more than a century.
As the crowd gathered in anticipation, they collected coins specially minted by the Monumental Building’s Board of Trustees to mark the occasion. The coins, designed by Mary Beth Monnier of Creative Marketing Strategies, were minted by Osborne Coinage, the country’s oldest private mint.
The crowd in addition to the patrons of the Great Sidney Farmer’s Market, were entertained by period music played by members of the 73rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment Band. Directed by John M. Huffman, the music included such Civil War favorites as “Tenting Tonight,” “Battle Cry of Freedom,” “Marching Through Georgia” and “When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again.”
Local attorney and veteran Rich Wallace, who chairs the Monumental Building’s Board of Trustees, welcomed the crowd of more than 500 who attended the ceremony. He provided the audience with a bit of the history of the building.
Wallace reminded the audience the idea for the creation of a building, rather than a monument, to honor the fallen soldiers of the War of the Rebellion had been discussed within the community. Details were first outlined in an anonymous letter printed in the June 17, 1870, issue of the Sidney Journal. He also reminded the audience that Sidney was the first community in Ohio to erect a building to honor the war’s fallen soldiers.
Wallace also offered the invocation. He offered prayers for the country, the state and both Sidney and Shelby County.
A color guard comprised of re-enactors representing several Union units, were marched into place by Sidney native Lieutenant Douglas Slagel. In period uniform, local resident Douglas Benson carried the National colors with the color guard standing at attention as Slagel barked the orders to present arms.
As the audience stood quietly with their hands placed over their hearts, the 73rd OVI Regiment Band played The Star-Spangled Banner. Once the music faded, Wallace reminded the audience they had heard the 1860 version of the National Anthem, not necessarily the version they may have heard before the start of Friday evening’s Cincinnati Reds game.
Wallace introduced County Commissioner Bob Guillozet, who this year serves as the commission president. Guillozet read the commissioner’s proclamation, in which he extolled the “entire Civil War generation, military and civilians alike, who have provided a model of unity and community that serves as a source of inspiration for current and future generations to come together and work for the continued betterment of Shelby County, Ohio, the United States of America, and the World.”
Guillozet also noted the rededication of the statue of Sgt. Baker was an “important part of the Sidney Bicentennial Celebration.” He also called upon “all citizens to pause and reflect upon the sacrifices of those who served and died in this nation’s worst war.”
Wallace also introduced Sidney Mayor Mike Barhorst, whose proclamation recalled that “by a resolution passed on Nov. 1, 1897, the veterans of the community petitioned for the ‘placing in the front (of the building) a statue of a soldier, as originally intended, as a lesson to perpetuate memories of valor and sacrifice and to inculcate lessons of patriotism in the present and coming generations’”.
Barhorst also noted “on Dec. 11, 1900, the edifice was finally completed when ‘Sgt. Baker’ was hoisted into place, 82 feet above Ohio Avenue.” In a manner similar to that of Guillozet, Barhorst also mentioned the city’s Bicentennial.
“As the city of Sidney celebrates its 200th birthday, it is fitting to rededicate the statue of Sgt. Baker who serves as a silent, yet powerful reminder of the courageous spirit and self-sacrifice of the Civil War soldiers of Sidney and Shelby County.”
Retired Municipal Court Judge Donald G. Luce, one of those who envisioned the Monumental Building repurposed as a home for Sidney’s Municipal Court, spoke powerfully about the building, the statue of Sergeant Baker, and the troubled times in which we live.
“We must acknowledge and respect our past to better comprehend whither we are tending,” Luce stated. “This edifice was created as an everlasting testament to our people who suffered and died; as a beacon, a lighthouse, a signal to those who come after us that this was a good fight worthy of remembrance over all time; as a resolve that this nation of ours will always be safeguarded, if need be, by the ultimate sacrifice; as a lasting symbol of the continuity of life and the values we all hold dear.
“We now find ourselves in troubled times once again, a watershed moment in our nation’s history as consequential as the civil war,” Luce told the audience. The conflict in our streets – the looting, the arson, the murder – played over and over on television, is a daily reminder of the anarchy at hand.”
“I suggest to you that this is not a time to tear down our statues but to cherish them,” Luce said to sustained applause.
“I submit to you that this is not the time to forsake the ideals of our country but to embrace them,” Luce continued, again interrupted by applause.
“And in this moment, this hour, we need a sentimental, a protector, one that keeps constant watch over us as we walk and work about the courtsquare. Thankfully, we enjoy a guardian in the Heavens above, thanks to the Good Lord, and here on earth we enjoy the constant vigil of Sgt. Baker,” Luce said as he concluded his remarks to sustained applause.
Wallace then sent a text message to Paul and Lance Soliday, who were on the roof of the Monumental Building, prepared to drop the tarp that has covered the statue for the last several days. Once the statue was uncovered and the audience’s applause had died down, Wallace expressed his appreciation to Mila Hamilton and Ron Wolfe, who had collaborated “to give Sgt. Baker a new suit of clothes.”
Wallace’s remarks were a reference to earlier remarks by Luce, who noted at the outset of his remarks that Sgt. Baker would today be “newly clothed,” noting he had waited more than a century for a new set of clothes.
“Now that’s a very long time to be wearing the same set of clothes,” Luce had noted. Referring to his wife, he said “I just wish he had Ardiss by his side. I don’t mean to brag but Ardiss makes sure I get a new outfit at least every 10 years, whether I need it or not!”
The program ended with Taps and the retiring of the colors.
Originally intended to be a part of Sidney, Ohio’s Living History Weekend, the unveiling of the newly repainted statue of “Sgt. Baker” was one of just two activities from that two-day event to survive the pandemic. The other was a brief memorial service held at Graceland Cemetery following the ceremonies downtown.