Grand Rapids debates Spanish-American War statue site: Should ‘The Hiker’ stay put in Heritage Hill?

The Hiker.JPGShould this Spanish-American War monument remain in Foster Park, or be moved to Veterans Memorial Park?  

GRAND RAPIDS, MI – A military historian wants the city to move a Spanish-American War monument to Veterans Memorial Park. But the neighborhood where “The Hiker” has stood for the past 55 years might not want to let the statue go.

Where do you think the landmark pictured at right should be?

Bruce Butgereit, executive director of History Remembered, has written a letter to Mayor George Heartwell asking that the Spanish-American War statue known as “The Hiker” be moved from its current site in Foster Park, at the corner of Cherry and State streets, to Veterans Memorial Park along East Fulton Street, where several memorials of other U.S. wars stand. Here is his letter.

The Grand Rapids Historical Commission is opposed to a move, however, and a staffer from the Heritage Hill Association last week told the city’s Historic Preservation Commission that “The Hiker” should stay where it’s at.

But Butgereit sees that as a disservice to the 475 Kent County men who fought in the Spanish-American War – and 60 who died. They deserve the same recognition as veterans of other U.S. wars, he said.


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This postcard of Lookout Park on Belknap Hill shows ‘The Hiker’ statue overlooking the Grand Rapids skyline and river valley. The monument to Spanish-American War veterans in 1957 was moved to its current site in Foster Park.


“It just makes sense that the memorial should be with the rest,” Butgereit said. “With the rehabilitation of Veterans Park, there will be no better place in the city of Grand Rapids for ‘The Hiker’ to be than there.”

RELATED: Purple Heart Monument to be moved, but not out of Grand Rapids’ Veterans Park

The statue originally was placed in Lookout Park in 1928. Later, due to vandalism, local veterans sought to have it moved into Veterans Memorial Park. Instead, the city OK’d a move to Foster Park in 1957.

Butgereit thinks Grand Rapids made a mistake back then by not putting “The Hiker” in Veterans Memorial Park. The estimated cost to restore and move the statue now: $15,000.

“We can speculate that because it’s a statue and not a gray column it didn’t fit artistically (with the other memorials in Veterans Memorial Park,” he said. “All the other memorials have the names of the dead on them. This one does not. So they may have seen it as a monument versus a memorial.”

Now, having been in Foster Park for 55 years, “The Hiker” has become an integral part of the nationally-renown Heritage Hill neighborhood, said Barb Lester, a community organizer who addressed the city’s Historic Preservation Commission last week.

“The entire park has grown up around that monument,” she said. “It is the epicenter of the action, so to speak.

Where should ‘The Hiker’ stand?

“The (current) location for that memorial is perfect. Many people see it every day.”

More on the Spanish-American War and ‘The Hiker,’ courtesy of Bruce Butgereit

Grand Rapids is in the process of remodeling Veterans Memorial Park and the adjacent Monument Park. The chairman of the task force guiding that process, Christopher Reader, said he supports moving “The Hiker” to Veterans Park as part of a Spanish-American War memorial, but the task force decided that re-locating the statue was beyond its purview.

Draft designs of a remodeled park do designate space for memorials not already present. But moving “The Hiker” there would “deprive the existing Heritage Hill neighborhood of a focal point within Foster Park that has been part of their established environment for more than 50 years,” said Tom Dilley, vice chairman of the city’s Historical Commission.

“Is the idea of all war-related monuments being in the same place valid? I must say no, on its own it is not. Any feeling that leaving the monument in Foster Park is in some way disrespectful to the (Spanish-American War) veterans is ridiculous, particularly when one considers the passion of those in the Foster Park neighborhood.”

Butgereit maintains that the city should comply with what Spanish-American War veterans sought back in the 1950s, placing the statue in a place of “prominence” rather than in the “obscure” Foster Park. Grand Rapids could place another statue, or perhaps an ArtPrize piece, in Foster Park instead, he said.

“They don’t understand that (‘The Hiker’) is a memorial that represents service and sacrifice. They see it more as a statue or piece of public art,” Butgereit said.

“Let’s look beyond ourselves and let’s reflect on what the veterans wanted.”

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