Plains Folk

Paulding’s Doughboy


For a long time they thought it was a Viquesney, but it turned out to be a Paulding. If that doesn’t make any sense to you, then you must not be an aficionado of doughboy monuments—that is, bronze or copper statues of American soldiers going over the top in World War I, statues erected in towns across the United States as war memorials.

The standard of the genre is a figure called The Spirit of the American Doughboy, the creation of artist Ernest Moore Viquesney of Americus, Georgia. There are hundreds of replicas of this figure across the country, formed of sheets of copper or bronze, and they vary somewhat, but they have certain trademark elements: the doughboy holds a grenade in his uplifted right hand; he carries his rifle in his lowered left arm; he wears a helmet; he wears the standard puttees, cartridge belt, and kit of an infantryman. At his feet are two stumps, and unless someone has removed it, there is barbed wire on the ground, as if to trip him up as he races across No Man’s Land.

Another common soldier monument of the era, however, is Over the Top, by the artist John Paulding. The Spirit of the American Doughboy and Over the Top are remarkably similar designs—so similar, in fact, that the companies selling them to local communities engaged in patent suits against one another. Paulding’s doughboy going over the top lacks the grenade in his hand, although the hand is upraised, as if he has just thrown the grenade. The big difference between the two monuments is that the Paulding is cast of bronze, rather than being made of sheets seamed together.

It was the people of Wahpeton, North Dakota, who were originally confused about their doughboy statue, which stands on the Richland County Courthouse grounds. I have my information on this from one my fine seminar students, Jamie Hiltner, who learned from the records that the county paid $1200 for the Paulding casting. People thought it was a Viquesney, though, until a 1930s inventory of statuary by the WPA determined it was a Paulding.

Heck, Wahpeton’s veterans of the Great War, it turns out, didn’t even want a statue. It was in the afternoon session of August 6, 1920, that the county commissioners unanimously resolved to fund a soldier’s memorial. According to the Wahpeton Globe, however, local veterans made a “general protest” and insisted it would be better to spend the money—which ran to $9700 including the marble base and the installation—on something more useful, like a swimming pool or a park.

That appears to be why the monument purchase and installation took so long. The commissioners delayed calling for bids for the monument until May 1927. The dedication took place on Armistice Day 1927, by which time the American Legion and everyone else was on board and saying nice things about the memorial. The head of the American Legion Auxiliary unveiled the monument. There was silent prayer and the playing of “Taps.” And after that a football game, free movies, and a dance at the legion hall.

It seemed like a good idea at the time to plant three spruce trees around the monument, but they grew up to overshadow and surround it, so that the memorial today is little noticed.

If you do find the doughboy monument in Wahpeton, though, you’ll notice now that it’s a good, solid Paulding, and not a Viquesney.

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