Aging World War I monument in Towson receiving needed repairs

A group seeking to repair a 97-year-old monument in downtown Towson that honors the lives of Baltimore Countians who served in the armed forces during World War I has exceeded its fundraising goal of $50,000.

The Baltimore Monuments Commission, a nonprofit composed of volunteer representatives from veterans groups, residents and local government, will repair the monument, The Wayside Cross, and hopes to repair other monuments in Baltimore County with the money it has collected, according to Mike Lawlor, the commission’s chairman.

The cross, which was erected in 1920 and is located near the intersection of York Road and Shealey Avenue, is the site of annual Memorial Day and Veterans Day ceremonies in Towson.

In September, the group used part of the money it raised to shore up the granite monument’s pedestal and base against water seeping into cracks, then freezing, expanding and damaging the monument. Additional work, including repairs to light fixtures and the replacement of rusted bollards, chains and flagpoles surrounding the cross will be completed in the coming months, Lawlor said, adding that the commission is on track to complete all of its hoped-for repairs by 2018.

The Wayside Cross is important to Towson because it stands as a memorial to lives lost in war, said Lawlor, a local attorney who served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. The monument bears the names of 204 Baltimore County residents who died in World War I on three bronze plaques, along with a fourth plaque that bears an inscription.

“We should not forget the first World War and the terrible number of people that were killed in that war,” Lawlor said. “Hopefully if we remember these things we can try to repeat them as infrequently as possible.”

On Saturday, the Towson Elks and the members of Towson American Legion Post 22 will conduct the annual Veterans Day ceremony at the Wayside Cross at 11 a.m., marking the centennial anniversary of America's entrance into what was then called “The Great War."

The ceremony will then move a few blocks west to a memorial honoring 26 Baltimore County service members who died during Operations Desert Storm, Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, which was dedicated in November 2016.

The Baltimore Monuments Commission advocated for and funded the latter monument, which sits on the Pennsylvania Avenue side of the Historic Courthouse in Towson.

After more than a year of seeking donations for monument projects, the group met its goal through restaurant fundraisers, private donors, club contributions and $75,000 in funding from Maryland, Lawlor said, adding that most of the state money was used to erect the memorial to veterans of wars in the Middle East.

This month the group received an additional $3,500 toward its efforts, including $1,500 from American Legion Post 22, $1,000 from the Kiwanis Club of Loch Raven and $1,000 from the German Society of Maryland.

The group is hoping to use whatever is left over from its fundraising effort to maintain the cross and other monuments in Baltimore County, Lawlor said.

The land the cross sits on is owned by Baltimore County and maintained by the Maryland Historical Trust, though the Governor’s Commission on Maryland Military Monuments, according to Baltimore County spokeswoman Ellen Kobler.

Last month, a three-judge panel from the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a lower court ruling on whether another Maryland World War I monument— the Bladenburg Peace Cross, in Prince George's County— violated the constitutional separation of church and state. The 40-foot-tall cross, which sits on public land, has been maintained with $117,000 in taxpayer money.

In a 2-1 ruling, the judges wrote that the cross, which sits at a busy intersection, “aggrandizes the Latin cross” and “excessively entangles the government in religion.”

Despite the ruling, Lawlor said he is not worried that similar church-and-state issues will befall Towson’s Celtic-inspired cross.

According to research by the Maryland Historical Trust, the Wayside Cross was built by American Legion Post 22 and presented to Baltimore County commissioners at a dedication ceremony on Defenders Day 1921.

The cross was deliberately placed at the most prominent intersection in Towson at the time—what was then York and Joppa roads— in keeping with the European traditional of locating war memorials at major intersections.

“It clearly indicates the reason for the cross is because of the intersection,” Lawlor said.

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