Editor's note: We employed ample due diligence in trying to track down what happened to the weapons that the military statues on the College Green monument were holding when the monument was erected in 1893. Alas, we failed to learn the answer, despite talking to a number of local historians and perusing historical accounts and records. That being said, we fully expect that this story will shake the bushes sufficiently to produce the answer. If you know what happened to the weapons on the College Green's Civil War Monument, please email news@athensnews.com.

In the news game, finding a satisfactory answer is always tricky business. When the answer you seek has been flayed by the winds and whims of fickle time, obtaining an exact truth can be even more difficult.

A mystery has been brewing on Ohio University's College Green for some time now. A Civil War memorial stands prominent on the green's northwest side. Statues of soldiers and sailors surround the monument. But look closer and the soldiers standing prepared for battle are missing a key component. Faces stoic, in their hands they grasp only air. These soldiers are unarmed, weaponless. So what happened?

Over the past two weeks, The Athens NEWS has contacted a number of local historians and old-timers to ask about the monument, and no one can say what happened to the weapons that the monument's military figures once held. Neither OU archivists nor long-time local historians nor classic books about Athens County history could say definitively what happened to the weapons.

Our search began somewhat prosaically in late August when Dave Smart, a local barber, mentioned the missing weapons to Athens NEWS Editor Terry Smith while giving him a haircut. Smart noted that he had asked a number of people about the monument weapons, including some members of the OU Board of Trustees, and nobody had an answer. That's when Smith decided to assign the story in the newsroom.

A FEW SHORT YEARS BEFORE OU obtained what were at the time the city hitching grounds — where local residents left their horses to conduct business in town, circuses performed, Indian hunting parties rested, and rubbish was dumped — a memorial was erected.

The Soldiers and Sailors Civil War Memorial effort was spearheaded by Gen. Charles Grosvenor, a Civil War general who served as a state representative and a U.S. congressman representing this area. His name graces a residential street on the near east side and an OU medical school building.

On July 4, 1893, a crowd of more than 7,000 gathered to watch the unveiling of the monument. The monument stands 45 feet high and measures 18 feet across. It features bronze statues of a Union sailor, infantryman, cavalryman, and on top an artilleryman. It stands in honor of the 2,610 men from Athens County who fought in the Civil War. Some 1,000 of them died in that war according to one account, though that mortality rate seems startlingly high.

But when the monument was erected, as is clearly depicted in photographs throughout the early 20th century, those soldiers were armed with rifles and the sailor with a sword or cutlass.

Also clear in those pictures are a number of cannons and cannonballs that went missing as well. Fortunately, the fate of those pieces has been documented. An Athens Messenger article dated April 19, 1907, recalls the arrival of the cannons and cannonballs to the College Green. That article lists four brass cannons and two iron cannons, along with about 100 cannonballs.

Another article, dated Feb. 28, 1917, tells of one of the cannons being "fired off again last night," causing "great damage" to adjoining buildings, including the shattering of 10 large windows in the Masonic Temple that at the time was located across the street. The story recalls at least two prior times the cannons were fired.

An article from the OU Post dated Oct. 7, 1942, states that the "Spanish-American War cannons and cannonballs, which have lent a historic touch to the campus for the last 35 years, are now occupying a more important role than that of background for snapshots.

"In accordance with President (Franklin) Roosevelt's request, the former landmarks were turned over in the nationwide scrap-metal campaign. Two cannons and approximately 50 cannonballs were sold to a local scrap dealer for $120.41. The money was turned over to the USO."

One theory persisted for a while that the guns and swords also might have been removed from the monument during the scrap drive. But a picture in the 1952 Ohio University Athena yearbook dispelled that notion because the rifles were still clearly in the soldiers' hands.

ALSO IN THE 1950S, THE first of two known efforts to move the monument came about. An Athens Messenger article from 1984, when the brick plaza was added around the monument (and when pictures show the weapons were gone), states that townspeople in the early '50s showed an interest in moving the memorial to the West State Street cemetery.

On Oct. 14, 1968, the OU Post ran an article headlined, "Legality of Memorial-Sitting Argued by Athens Police." The article reports that Athens Police Capt. Charles Cochran told students at the memorial that they would no longer be allowed to sit on it after vandals the previous night removed one of the military figures from the monument and placed it under a nearby tree. In the photo accompanying the story, a student had taken the statue's place. The caption stated that one statue is being repaired after "midnight skulking bandits ripped it loose from its moorings."

Cochran, according to the story, repeatedly removed anti-Vietnam war signs placed in the soldiers' hands by students. One photo seems to show a shadow of a sword or cutlass in the sailor's left hand, though closer inspection suggests that it's actually a reflection of the sign in the figure's right hand. Since this is the hand that would have been holding a weapon, this suggests that the rifles and sword were indeed gone by 1968.

By April 29, 1970, Cochran had clearly had enough. Cochran was also post commander of the local chapter of the American Legion. In a Post article from the date above, Cochran, speaking on behalf of the legion, advocated moving the monument to the city's community center area, which was being opened at that time near the site of the present Community Center.

"Cochran said over WOUB radio that he initiated the move to relocate the monument because of the litter that daily collects around the monument and also because of defacing (of the monument)," the article states.

The article goes on to state that the monument had been the site of various political altercations around that time. In the picture accompanying the story, however, it's difficult to tell if the weapons were still in the figures' hands because of a large number of people sitting and standing around the monument.

Also unclear is why the American Legion was unsuccessful in moving the monument, but another picture from The Post dated May 23, 1972 shows that the sword that once was in the sailor's grip by that time was clearly gone.

The Athens Police Department was contacted last week and said they do not have any historical records for the time period. An Athens Messenger obituary shows that Capt. Cochran, a U.S. Army vet who served in the Korean War, passed away April 3, 2009. His family could not be reached for comment by press time.

But what is clear is that the weapons disappeared from the soldiers and sailors' hands between 1968 and 1972, a time of tumult over the Vietnam War at universities across the country, OU included.

So the mystery remains unsolved... unless one of our dear readers can enlighten us.

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