He stands tall and lonely, poised on a boulder and holding a rifle loosely at the ready in the heart of Lebanon City.
Anyone who walks through Fisher Veterans’ Memorial Park, located at 521 South 9th St., has likely seen “The Hiker,” although it’s also possible their attention was captured instead by the large M-60 tank that dominates the southern end of the city-owned park, which covers less than an acre.
If you have seen the statue and looked at all into its background, you might have the wrong idea about its origins.
When was it installed?
The statue was dedicated on Sept. 7, 1940, by the city and county of Lebanon and Lt. A.B. Gloninger Camp No. 91, United Spanish War Veterans to honor veterans of the Spanish-American War and two other conflicts around the turn of the 20th century.
“We actually did not have any information on file,” Lebanon Mayor Sherry Capello told LebTown. Her office looked into the statue’s history and discovered more information, which she was happy to share.
“Researching this was very interesting because I discovered that there are about 50 of the statues in our country and the model for the statue was a gentleman from Allentown, PA!” Capello said.
According to myhometown-lebanonpa.com, the statue was the “first memorial established in the park.”
A plaque on site says the statue commemorates “the valor and patriotism of those who served in the war with Spain, the Philippine Insurrection, and the China Relief Expedition.”
It lists the following individuals on the plaque: Edwin C. Blouch, Frederick W. Fuhrman, George Harpel, William H. Heberling, James L. Lewis, Reuben H. Michael, John H. Shay, and Edward A. Yeagly.
A bit of history
The Spanish-American War was a fight between the United States and Spain in 1898 that, according to history.com, “ended Spanish colonial rule in the Americas and resulted in U.S. acquisition of territories in the western Pacific and Latin America.”
The war originated in the Cuban struggle for independence from Spain and was triggered after the unexplained sinking in Havana harbor of the American battleship USS Maine on Feb. 15, 1898.
History.com notes that the war claimed the lives of 3,000 Americans, but only a few hundred died in combat; the rest were killed by yellow fever and typhoid.
The Philippine Insurrection, also known as the Philippine-American War, was a war between the U.S. and Filipino revolutionaries from 1899 to 1902.
It was, according to britannica.com, “a continuation of the Philippine Revolution against Spanish rule” after the Treaty of Paris, which ended the Spanish-American War and “transferred Philippine sovereignty from Spain to the United States but was not recognized by Filipino leaders.”
The U.S. retained possession of the islands until 1946, but the war was costly: some 20,000 Filipino combatants were killed, “and more than 200,000 civilians perished as a result of combat, hunger, or disease,” britannica.com states. “Of the 4,300 Americans lost, some 1,500 were killed in action, while nearly twice that number succumbed to disease.”
The China Relief Expedition was a multinational effort, to which the United States contributed troops in 1900-01, to rescue U.S. citizens, Europeans, and other foreign nationals during the Boxer Rebellion. According to veteranmuseum.net, 13 Americans died in the conflict.
An educational stepping stone
The statue in Lebanon could provide a stepping stone for schools teaching about that period in American history.
“I am not aware of anyone asking about the statue or any schools using it for educational purposes,” Capello said. She said some schools might be inspired to visit after reading this article.
“I know the first time I visited the park, I was drawn to the statue and wondered about its history,” she said. “I have the utmost respect for those who have served our country. To volunteer and serve your country fighting for the oppressed and delivering liberty and justice is something we should commend and never forget.”
According to research provided by the mayor, “it is not know at this time who made the acquisition” of the statue, nor is a lot of information available about the men listed on the plaque.
“At this time there is certainly no doubt that the eight men named fell during the period, however, some questions do exist,” a leaflet provided by the city explains.
“Personal research shows that 108 men from Lebanon County enrolled and were Mustered In for what appears to be a six month enlistment during 1898. All eight men on the Honor Roll appear on the list, of which two are shown to be residents of Lancaster at that time, and two that died during the period,” the leaflet continues.
“With the Hiker being located in a City-owned park, one can assume the eight men listed on the Honor Roll were residents of Lebanon City. But, did the two men from Lancaster relocate to Lebanon? When, if indeed they did, did the remaining six men re-enter the service, and when did they fall? Hopefully, further research will answer these questions and end the mystery.”
Who was the sculptor?
The statue is called “The Hiker” because “hikers” the nickname applied to U.S. infantrymen during the Spanish-American War – much like they were called “doughboys” in World War I and “GI Joes” in World War II. A “hike” in late 19th-century parlance means “a long march under the tropical sun.” However, the city’s leaflet credits the wrong artist for the work.
The leaflet says the sculptor was Allen George Newman of New York. And Newman did, in fact, create a statue called “The Hiker” to honor Spanish-American War veterans, many copies of which were made and installed around the country.
But not this one. The statue in Lebanon is by a female sculptor from Massachusetts named Theo Alice Ruggles Kitson.
The NGP History Project, which researches the history of the National Guard of Pennsylvania from 1866 to 1916, notes that the statue was “unveiled in 1906 at the University of Minnesota” by Kitson and “over the next 60 years 55 copies were produced across the country, including monuments in Pottsville, Allentown, Shamokin, and Lebanon PA.”
There’s another connection to Pennsylvania, the NGP reports. The model for the statue was Allentown resident Leonard Sefing Jr., who volunteered with the 4th Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry at age 17 and served with the unit in Puerto Rico during the war.
“Following his war service, Sefing returned to Allentown and became a successful jeweler,” the NGP project reports. “During WWI he re-entered the Army and was stationed with the Tank Corp at Camp Colt, Gettysburg, PA when the war ended. Sefing served as an active member, and later Commander of his local chapter of Spanish American War Veterans. He died in 1971, the final surviving member of the 4th Regiment’s Spanish American War Service.”
Find some more photos of LebTown’s recent visit to Fisher Veterans Park below.
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