Cape’s Conflicted Past

This statue of a member of the United States Colored Troop regiments will be unveiled officially on June 8, 2019. It’s located on Ivers Square on the Common Pleas Courthouse grounds. Ironically, the statue is located in front of the old Carnegie Library, which is close to where slaves were auctioned off in Cape Girardeau.

The square is named for James Ivers, who was owned by E.W. Harris for 25 years, then was sold for $800 to a young up-and-comer John Ivers, Jr. John Ivers eventually bought James’ wife, Harriet, and the couple’s three children, Washington, Stella and Fanny.

In the spring of 1863, when official enlistment for men of color opened, James joined up and was sent to Helena, Arkansas. Before he saw action, he died of consumption in the fall of that year.

You can read more about James’ life in Denise Lincoln’s column in The Southeast Missourian.

A snapshot of Cape during the Civil War

This photo contains monuments to the Confederate States of America, a Union soldier, and the new statue recognizing the sacrifices made by troops of color.

The Common Pleas Courthouse served as the Union headquarters when the city was under martial law. A guerrilla who was being held in the dungeon basement of the building was lynched and hung.

Not the original soldier

This isn’t the Union soldier I photographed in 1967. A tree fell on it, and smashed it to more than 200 pieces in 2003. The pieces were painstakingly put back together and a new statue molded from them.

Here is a bit of the history of the statue.

Vietnam veterans recognized

This monument is in honor of service personnel who served in Vietnam. You can see some our classmates who didn’t return listed on the Freedom Corner in Capaha Park, along with servicemen from earlier World Wars.

Brookside War Memorial

If you are in Jackson, it’s worth stopping by the Brookside War Memorial.

Common Pleas from Dome to Dungeon

Eric McGowen and Don McQuay led Friend Shari and me on a tour of the Common Pleas Courthouse. Like everyone else, we had heard the stories of the dungeon in the basement and the secret tunnels leading to the river. So, let’s get to the bottom of this, if you’ll pardon the pun.

The basement is semi-finished in one area and used for record storage, phone and networks equipment, Christmas decorations, miscellaneous junk and three framed aerial photographs, one of which was of Pfisters and Central High School in the early 1950s.

“Dungeon” has dirt floor

I’m still trying to figure out this room, which is located north of the storage room. It contains a heavy steel door and an iron lattice opening that must have been for ventilation.The dirt floor is just as it was during the Civil War.

Which side is the lockup?

The passageway through the door doesn’t lead anywhere today.

The locking mechanism had to be on the “outside”, making this room the secured area. The only problem is, we couldn’t figure out how you would get to it unless it once opened to the outside.

Forget about the tunnels

Let’s get rid of the tunnel theory first off: The Common Pleas Courthouse is located on one of the tallest hills in Cape. If you tunneled out from the basement, you’d come out in thin air. Digging straight down would take more work than anyone would have undertaken.

An excellent resource for history buffs interested in the courthouse is the National Register of Historic Places registration form. It’s an interesting read, but it doesn’t mention tunnels. (It’s a large file, so it might take awhile to download.)

Rebel guerrilla lynched

It does have the background of a grave marker I spotted at the Bloomfield’s Stoddard County Confederate Memorial.:

An infamous case centering on the Court of Common Pleas occurred in February of 1864 when a notorious guerilla, John Fugate Bolin, was captured by Union forces near Bloomfield, Missouri. He was brought back to Cape Girardeau and according to local tradition was kept in the basement of the courthouse. Army telegraph messages back and forth to St. Louis discuss whether to hold Bolin for trial or to just kill him outright. General Clinton Fisk in St. Louis advised Colonel J. B. Rogers, the regimental commander stationed in Cape Girardeau, to hold him for trial. However, on the night of February 5th a large crowd of citizens and soldiers took Bolin from the courthouse, placed him on a wagon, rode him to a tollgate on the Bloomfield Road south of Cape Girardeau and hung him. Fisk afterwards commented that it would “hardly be necessary” to give Bolin a trial. Suggesting Fisk’s reply might be seen as “winking” at the illicit act and to allow him to “better be able to restrain my men” in the future, Rogers requested, and received, a reprimand for allowing mob rule to govern the day. This is one of the few situations in Missouri where the impromptu execution of a guerilla leader was discussed in official correspondence.

Stairway gets narrow, twisty

The stairway to the dome felt solid, but it got narrower and more twisty the higher I walked. This is the level where I shot photos of the courthouse grounds and surrounding neighborhood.

I’m glad I hadn’t read up on bird droppings and histoplasmosis when I made this journey.

County seeking grant

The Missourian had a story July 24, 2012, reporting that the county commission will seek a historic preservation grant from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources to support repairs to the building. I don’t know if the money will go for replacing charred timbers in the dome.

Iconic landmark

I’d have to say that the courthouse, Mississippi River bridge (old and new) and Academic Hall are Cape’s most iconic landmarks.

Common Pleas Courthouse photo gallery

Click on any photo to make it larger, then click on the left or right side of the image to move through the gallery.

 

Civil War Soldier

When IT director Eric McGowen, Friend Shari and I were on our way up to the Jackson County Courthouse’s bell tower, public works director Don McQuay mentioned something about a figure standing in a dark corner. To be honest, I was more interested in getting up to the dome where the neat stuff was before it got too hot, so I didn’t stop to look at it. (I’ll show you the neat stuff later.)

On the way back down, Don pointed him out again, prompting me to take a closer look. “Know who he is?” Don asked.

Sounded like a trick question to me, so I said, “Not a clue.”

“He’s the Union soldier who used to on the fountain at the Common Pleas Courthouse.” Don said.

A tree limb hit the statue May 12,2003, and broke it into more than 200 pieces. “I picked up most of them in a five-gallon bucket, he said.” At first it looked like the old soldier, erected by the Women’s Relief Corps, and dedicated on Memorial Day 1911, was a goner.

Alan Gibson to the rescue

Alan Gibson, a Dexter sculptor, said he’d try to put the martial Humpty Dumpty back together. Once he did that, he made a mold of the original and recast it with polyester resin and bronze.

Here is a Fred Lynch gallery of photos of the soldier being lifted back up on the fountain.

Shari and I were amazed at the job Gibson did. We couldn’t feel a single joint or seam where the pieces had been put back together.

Tree shadowed statue

When I shot the statue as part of a story on Common Pleas memorials in October 2011, there was a large tree behind the statue. It might have even been the Killer Tree itself (not to be confused with Jackson’s Hanging Tree).

Grounds look naked

When I shot this photo July 13, 2012, the tree was gone, leaving a gap like a missing tooth. You wouldn’t think a missing tree would cause the grounds to feel out of balance, but it did. I guess I just got used to seeing it there even if I never really noticed it until it was gone.

 

High in the Common Pleas Courthouse

When you look at the Common Pleas Courthouse from Spanish Street, you hardly notice the windows in the dome. (You can click the photos to make them larger.)

Looking east from the courthouse

If you’re lucky enough to hook up with guys like IT director Eric McGowen and public works director Don McQuay, folks who have the right keys and know where the hidden passageways are, you can see some impressive sights. I’m glad Friend Shari and I picked a day when it wasn’t 107 outside for our tour. Even on a relatively cool (sub-100) day, it was hot and dusty. The tiny and winding staircases were made for smaller people than me.

Here’s a view down Themis Street. The greenish building on the left side of Spanish and Themis was Doyle’s Hat Shop. One of the Teen Age Clubs was in the building across the street from it. The tall, red brick building that was the Sturdivant Bank may not be with us for long. It’s on the Endangered Building List. A steel cable is keeping bricks from the top floor from raining down on Main Street.

View to the west

This is the view in the opposite direction. The Civil War fountain and statue is to the right of the roof. Don shared an interesting story about it when we were at the Jackson Courthouse. We’ll save it for another day.

DR. C.E. Schuchert’s bandstand

The bandstand dedicated to Dr. C.E. Schuchert and the KFVS tower can be seen to the northwest. The view from the 11th floor of the KFVS building is pretty spectacular, too. There’s a photo looking back toward the courthouse that provides an interesting counterpoint to this one.

 

Copyright © Ken Steinhoff. All rights reserved.