Twenty-five years after he defeated the British at the Battle of New Orleans Andrew Jackson returned to the battlefield in Chalmette, Louisiana to commemorate the last battle of the War of 1812. A few days later a cornerstone was laid and the idea of building a monument to honor the American victory was put in motion. The state of Louisiana began the construction of a marble obelisk in 1855 but financial setbacks would plague the project and delay completion for over fifty years.
In or about 1900, an engineering survey of the site concluded that the foundation would not support the originally planned 155 feet in height projected for the project. Vertical construction was arrested and the monument was completed in 1908 at its present 100-ft height. The United States Daughters of 1812 – Chalmette Chapter took over the maintenance of the memorial and the sight became the Chalmette National Historical Park in 1939. In September of 2013 a re-dedication service was held for the monument and public access to the observation deck was restored.
My visit to Chalmette was close on the heels of a very noisy and wet thunderstorm that had recently rolled through the area. Climbing the spiral staircase inside the monument was an adventure more akin to spelunking. The dark, confined stairwell was punctuated every so often by shafts of outside light slipping in through the narrow ports carved in the exterior of the monolith. After a damp sojourn up the slick iron staircase, soaked by more than a few drips from above, and a climb that seemed greater than 100 feet, I emerged into the small, humid observation platform in the top of the tower and was able to view the battlefield in four directions through barred windows.
Though not as majestic as the soaring Washington Monument in our nation’s capital, the Chalmette Monument experience was worth the claustrophobic ascent. The sight of the marbled pillar towering over an otherwise flat parcel of land along the Mississippi River is beholding enough to convey the fact that something important once happened here. Something worth remembering.
© 2014 G. Scott Brinkley. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.