Madison commission rejects request to remove Confederate monument in Forest Hill Cemetery
Madison’s Landmarks Commission on Monday denied an application to remove a Confederate monument in Forest Hill Cemetery, arguing that doing so would not conform to the city’s historic preservation ordinance.
Commissioners voted 3-1 against removing the large, stone monument that lists the names of the 140 Confederate soldiers buried in a section of the Near West Side cemetery known as Confederate Rest.
The monument was installed in 1906 by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, an organization some have argued attempts to romanticize the Confederate cause as part of a “Lost Cause” movement.
“We can move it, but personally to me as someone who is interested in telling history on the basis of physical things, that changes what histories people can tell in the future,” said commission member Anna Andrzejewski, adding that she views the stone as a “historic communal marker” and not a monument.
The decision, though, will likely be appealed to the City Council, said Landmarks Commission chairman Stu Levitan.
City Attorney Michael May said any one of several applicants, in this case the city’s Parks Division; the area’s council representative, newly appointed Ald. Allen Arntsen; or neighboring property owners can ask for an appeal.
Commission members Richard Arnesen, David McLean and Andrzejewski supported the monument’s retention, while Ald. Marsha Rummel advocated for its removal. As chairman, Levitan votes only if there is a tie.
“While this isn’t the same kind of monument of a Confederate general on a horse in a town square — I acknowledge that — it is an emblem of the whitewashing of history that the United Daughters of the Confederacy engaged in,” said Rummel, 6th District.
As part of the Landmarks Commission’s rejection, members also called on the city to install an interpretative sign outside Confederate Rest to explain the history of the graveyard and Native American effigy mounds in the cemetery.
In April, the City Council took a voice vote to approve the removal of the stone monument, sometimes referred to as a cenotaph, while also rejecting the idea of an interpretative sign.
The following month, a motion by Ald. Paul Skidmore to reopen discussion on the fate of the monument was rejected by the council on a 14-4 vote.
But since Forest Hill Cemetery is a designated landmark, the Landmarks Commission needs to approve major alterations or changes to the site, known as a certificate of appropriateness.
May said the City Council would need a simple majority of 11 of the 20 members to overturn the decision if it is appealed.
Three council members have resigned since the body took its last vote on the issue and have been replaced by interim representatives.
Last August, Mayor Paul Soglin asked city officials to consider the future of the stone monument after he had ordered the removal of a smaller plaque installed outside the graveyard in 1981 that described the buried as “valiant Confederate soldiers” and “unsung heroes.”