Doughboy Statue at Veterans’ Memorial Statue
The exciting unveiling of this once-controversial statue literally shattered windows!
In 1921, famous Seattle sculptor, Alonzo Victor Lewis, was commissioned to do a temporary plaster figure to commemorate the Seattle reunion of the 91st Division. Known for his flamboyant personality and passion for large, he crafted a figure, now called the “Doughboy,” that was originally over 14 feet high. Working mainly from his modest studio on Eastlake Avenue, Lewis used three soldiers from Fort Lawton as models and cast his plaster soldier to portray American patriotism, later stating that he envisioned the young soldier as “just returning from a victory — mud-covered and with a grim smile on his face.”
During the summer of 1928, Seattle Mayor Frank Edwards wanted the plaster statue cast in bronze for use as a World War memorial. Lewis was to be paid $50,000, but the City Council agreed to pay only $5,000 with the balance to come from public subscription. By 1931, Lewis had collected $4,000 in public funds, but it took a lawsuit by Lewis for the City Council to finally, in 1932, pay the $5,000 as agreed.
During the three years that the statue sat in storage after casting, other controversies came to the fore. Veterans complained that the statue, which portrayed an Army soldier, left sailors and marines feeling disenfranchised. Mayor Edwards promised that the statue was only part of a “vast memorial plan” that would eventually include the other branches of service, but that promise was never fulfilled.
Famous Seattle architect, Carl F. Gould, objected to the soldier carrying German helmets (presumably taken from the dead bodies of his victims), but this issue would become moot soon after the bronze version of the statue was unveiled. Placed in front of the Civic Auditorium (which would later be converted to the Seattle Opera House for the 1962 World’s Fair), it was unveiled on May 30, 1932. To celebrate the new statue’s unveiling, a loud twenty-one gun salute was issued, which shattered eleven windows in an apartment across the street! Thankfully, no injuries were reported. By the time the statue was dedicated on November 11, less than six months later, the controversial helmets had gone AWOL.
Since a military statue would probably seem out of place in front of the newly converted opera house, there was an attempt in 1962 to “surplus” the memorial, but a group of veterans and businessmen managed to wisely negotiate its placement in front of the old Veteran’s Hall immediately behind the Opera House, where it remained for more than three decades. In the 1970’s the soldier’s bayonet was removed from his rifle, reducing the statue’s size to 12’8″ high.
In 1998, the City of Seattle gave the “Doughboy” statue as a gift to the Veterans’ Memorial Cemetery at Washelli. It was re-dedicated on Nov 11, 1998, which was the eightieth anniversary of the Armistice. The base of the statue is a columbarium, which holds the cremated remains of veterans and their spouses.
The statue we now call “Doughboy” actually had several names. It was originally called, “Bringing Home the Bacon,” and then changed to, “Bringing Home Victory.” It later became, “Armistice,” and finally, “Doughboy.”
The term “doughboy” is used to identify the infantryman of the First World War. One reason for this was the infantryman’s diet in the mid-1800’s, which consisted largely of boiled oil and flour dumplings called doughboys. The other reason was that the large globular buttons on the infantryman’s uniform of the time closely resembled the doughboys that they ate. The nickname made perfect sense, and therefore the name stuck.
It is interesting to note that the statue’s original site (what is now Seattle Center) was once the original land claim of Seattle pioneer David Denny, who lived with his family in a cabin near that very location as early as 1857. As coincidence would have it, David and Louisa Denny also owned the land where the “Doughboy” stands now. They indeed founded Oak Lake Cemetery, which was later renamed Washelli.