Sculptor Gary Casteel pitched his idea to erect a National Civil War Memorial in Taneytown to the city’s mayor and City Council at their Oct. 9 meeting.
Sixteen days later he upped the ante on his home turf — his studio in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania — giving the lawmakers a taste of the sculptures they’d see if they accepted his proposal.
The mayor, acting City Manager Jim Wieprecht and four of five council members made the roughly 15-mile journey to the renowned sculptor’s showroom, which lies a stone’s throw from Gettysburg National Cemetery. Councilman Donald Frazier did not attend.
“I’ll be absolutely blunt,” Casteel told his visitors, staring in awe of the Union soldier statue before them. “There is no national Civil War memorial. If it doesn’t happen [now], it will never happen if it’s past our generation.”
The gravity of the statement resonated with Taneytown leaders, as silence first ensued.
“You know,” Mayor James McCarron said, “you’re probably right.”
The 72-year-old sculptor envisions a monument 90 feet in diameter featuring historical figures from Union and Confederate states, as well as scenes from key moments in the war.
Casteel said he deferred to 30 of the top historians in America in selecting: 16 civilians who helped to inform future generations about the war and its effect on those who did not fight by leaving behind accounts of what happened; a total of 16 military leaders (nine Union, seven Confederate); and 20 major events.
The civilians and soldiers will be memorialized via circular bronze portraits, each about 24 inches in diameter, whereas the events will be displayed on rectangular bronze panels. Casteel has finished sculpting all 32 portraits.
On Thursday, Oct. 25, he showed off many of them, as the Taneytown guests oohed and aahed.
“Who would you like to see on the military side?” Casteel asked.
The consensus was Union Gen. George Gordon Meade, who set up quarters in Taneytown before the Battle of Gettysburg.
Casteel solicited his wife Suzanne’s help to draw back the plastic curtain that covered racks of portraits, as he carefully withdrew the general’s mug like an Italian chef removing their pizza masterpiece from the brick oven.
“George Meade,” Casteel said.
“That’s amazing,” responded McCarron.
“How long does that take you?” Councilman Joe Vigliotti asked.
“To sculpt,” the lifetime sculptor said, “couple of weeks.”
Artist and lawmakers discussed potential ramifications of memorializing certain figures — like John Wilkes Booth — the timeframe and economic benefits.
“I understand the significance of Booth,” said Councilman Bradley Wantz, “but is there any concern about memorializing an assassin?”
“I see it more like a story,” Councilwoman Judith Fuller chimed, “like a storyline.”
McCarron agreed with Fuller.
“If you’re telling the story of 1861 to 1865, he’s part of the story,” the mayor said.
Casteel approached Wantz’s inquiry much like he did a question about Confederate monuments.
“This is not a memorial to John Wilkes Booth,” he said. “This is a memorial to 1861 to 1865, what made us what we are … a memorial to all of us — North, East, South, West.”
Casteel has already produced one-third of the sculpting for the project. The remaining two-thirds will take him two years, he said. If he were to be granted a site to break ground today, he’d see the project through in about five years.
But in order to get the funds, which he plans to raise via his nonprofit organization and by soliciting grants, he needs a site. His diorama, and plans, features a large brick plaza. He intends to sell each brick to those who want to recognize their veteran ancestors’ involvement in the war by having their names carved into the building blocks.
“People like to donate, but only after they see something happening,” Casteel explained. “We have people who walk in virtually everyday saying, ‘I want to buy my brick.’ … We can’t take a dime because we have no site.”
He expects the project to cost approximately $6 million, and the plaza can accommodate some 50,000 blocks. But, no site, no brick sales. No donations. No nothing.
Casteel raved about the economic boon Taneytown could experience if they erect this monument. City and sculptor could establish events for groundbreaking, the first wall to go up.
Besides, he said, he’s already approached his friend, a Gettysburg tour bus owner, with the question: If we build this, would you bring people?
His answer, Casteel said: “How soon you gonna do it?”
With his evidence-based pitch in the bag, Casteel turned to pathos.
“You all are on council for a reason,” he urged. “You are there because you have something you wish to see accomplished … that’s what we’re doing tonight.
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“This is a project that could take Taneytown — she’s already on the map, now we can take Taneytown and do it in bold letters.”