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The History Behind the Doughboy

Karen Gardner

(Originally published in the Frederick Post, 1991)

They stand prominently in nearly every American community, including this one, these statues honoring soldiers who fought in foreign wars. But many passerby simply ignore them as part of the background.

T. Perry Wesley, retired editor of the Evening World in Spencer, Ind., wants to remind people of the importance of these statues, especially of a World War I doughboy created by E. M. Viquesney, a Spencer native.

It turns out that Emmitsburg has one of these doughboys, one of 110 that Mr. Wesley has managed to locate around the nation in a 40-year quest to find all the statues. He's still looking for more. One source, an old newsletter on the statues, says "several hundred' exist.

Emmitsburg's doughboy, the popular name for a WWI foot soldier, stands at the end of West Main Street in its own little grassy park about 10 feet square. Other than a refurbishing the town gave it a decade ago, the statue gets in the limelight only on Memorial Day when a wreath is placed at its base.

But Its six-foot concrete pedestal and seven-foot figure makes it a good place to climb, acknowledged 10-year-old Elizabeth King, who lives down the street. Asked if she knew the purpose of the statue, she responded, "It's for those who were in Vietnam, or some war."

Mr. Wesley, a began his personal mission to compile information on the statue and its creator in 1950, two years after he moved to the town that now has 2,700 residents and is 55 miles southwest of Indianapolis. He took a real personal interest in the project, because of his admiration for the man and his work. "It took me a year or so to become aware of the statue on the courthouse lawn here, but when I did, I noticed It was perfect in detail and rather unusual in design," Mr. Wesley said

The statue mimics the detail on the uniform from the gas mask down to the hobnails in the boots. It took two years for the sculptor to be completed.

Called the Spirit of the American Doughboy, the statue was copyrighted in 1920 and again in 1934. It sold for $1,000 from the Sencer factory, plus the base. Bases ranged from simple mounds of dirt to granite or marble.

As near as Mr. Wesley can determine, all the statues were erected between 1920 and the late I930's. The first statue, however, was not in Spencer. The town didn't buy the creation of its native son until 1927.

"Contrary to most statues that are cast in (solid) bronze, it's like the Statue of Liberty in that it was created out of sheets," Mr. Wesley said. Sheets of bronze, in a copper base, formed the figure.

Joseph Boyle, who published an article about the Emmitsburg statue In 1981, said, "There's one in practically every small town."

The statue stands on the lawn of the Emmit House, once a hotel that frequently hosted Maryland governors, but now an apartment house. It was erected in 1927.

The Emmitsburg monument was in its heydey before World War II. Since then, monuments at the town's American Legion have gotten considerably more attention, Mr. Boyle said.

Mr. Boyle wasn't quite accurate in his statement that there's a doughboy statue similar to Emmitsburg's in every small town. The only other town in Maryland with a Viquesney doughboy that Mr. Wesley has been able to document is in Crisfield, on the Eastern Shore. Nearby communities that Mr. Wesley documented as having Viquesney statues are Chambersburg, Pa.. and Hillsville, Va.

With statue after statue produced at Viquesney's factory near spencer, Mr. Wesley thought some documentation ought to be made on how many statues were Produce, and where they are.

Viquesney who lived from l876 to 1946, was not much of a Businessman despite his prolific creativity, Mr. Wesley said. He left no records of his statues and sculptures, which included a World War II Soldier and a Civil War Confederate soldier and smaller figures.

"There seemed to be no recorded Information about the man and his, works, and this was a situation that needed some kind of reference work Mr. Wesley said.

Mr. Wesley moved to the small Indiana town two years after Viquesney died. Once he began his quest to locate all Viquesney doughboy statues, he realized he undertook a task that required checking and rechecking information supplied by faint pictures and handwritten reports. Earlier this summer, he hit Upon an idea that may be his most successful tool at locating the statues. He wrote a letter to Hozne and Away, a magazine for the American Automobile Association, and the magazine published a postcard he sent in of the Spencer statue. Readers all over the United States have sent him photos, postcards and written accounts of would-be Viquesney statues.

He's not sure how he came about the Emmitsburg information, other than that it surfaced since the AAA magazine was published. "I get so many of these, you know," be said. But the town Librarian, Katie Warthen, remembered a man from Pennsylvania who recently asked for in. formation on Emmitsburg's statue.

The doughboy is walking between tree stumps, left boot firmly on the ground, right toe touching the ground, and the rest of the boot upraised in a marching pose. The right arm is raised, holding a hand grenade, and the left hand clutches a rifle with bayonet pointed horizontally.

Other doughboy statues are missing the tree stumps, and often have the right foot in the air, held aloft by a bar. Letters come to Mr. Wesley detailing these statues, and if there is no photo, or an unclear photo, he’ll write to the town hall to document the statues existence. At the time of this article, he's gotten 191 cards and letters from 24 states.

"It's just turned out to be a monumental undertaking, and I don't mean to pun," Mr. Wesley said. The local Chamber of Commerce is helping him answer the letters, and he hasn't been able to personally answer all correspondence. To keep letter writers from being miffed, he's personally responding to all who've included specific information.

His letterhead is adorned by a miniature replica of the doughboy, with "Spencer, Ind., Home of the Famed Doughboy Statue," printed underneath. He's documented Viquesney statues in nearly 30 states, including California, Washington, Florida and Maine, "from coast to coast and border to border," as he puts it.

Mr. Wesley has stories of people dedicated to getting information to him. There is the man who lived 150 miles from his former hometown of Muskogee, Okla., and who offered to drive there just to photograph the statue. The folks in Marion, Ohio, were so excited about their statue, the focal point of a memorial park, that more than a dozen photos found their way into Mr. Wesley's scrapbook.

The sculptor, Ernest Moore Viquesney, was born in Spencer to French immigrant parents. Also sculptors, his parents settled in Spencer because the area's limestone gave them material for their stonecarving. He lived all his life in Spencer, minus a couple of years spent in Americus, Ga., making a Confederate soldier statue.

In Spencer, he supervised factory productions of his various sculpture molds. He published a newsletter about the statue that said several hundred of his memorials had been erected. "I do not urge the building of War Memorials to perpetuate WAR but to impress on American Youth the desirability of PEACE."

Besides statues, Viquesney carved busts of famous people of his day, including Knute Rockne and Charles Lindbergh, and figurines. One of his biggest sellers was an Imp-O-Luck, a tiny leprechaun that adorned pendants, rings, Pi-Zs and other trinkets,

"He was quite a promoted and an extremely gifted creator," Mr. Wesley said. Most of his profits went back into his creations, and when he died, there was little money left.

Of all the works he created, his most famous work was the doughboy, Mr. Wesley said. "This is one of the most seen single pieces of outdoor statuary in the nation."

Emmitsburg's World War I Honor Roll

Henry T. Huff's: The Real Doughboys

Ed Houcks': Remembering Some of Emmitsburg's Honored Veterans

Learn more about E. M. Viquesney and the history of his doughboy statue

Read the obituary of a man who posed for a non-Viquesney Doughboy statue

Do you have your own memories of the Doughboy,
or of the individuals who's names are listed on it?
If so, send them to us at: history@emmitsburg.net