American Legion Cenotaph

A commemoration of veterans who served the country.

The American Legion Cenotaph reflects the development of Armistice Day and the honoring of WWI veterans.

This cenotaph was created in order to memorialize and honor the Americans who gave their lives fighting in WWI. It was officially unveiled on Armistice Day, a national holiday commemorating the end of WWI on November 11th, 1919. Armistice Day was enshrined by Congress as a national holiday on May 13, 1938. Later on June 1, 1954, Congress officially renamed it Veterans Day to commemorate American veterans of all wars. The creation of the cenotaph is thus representative of the wider history of Armistice Day and the Veterans Day movement. Cenotaphs are monuments that commemorate fallen veterans that are buried elsewhere. In this case, the cenotaph memorializes American soldiers whose remains were still interred in Europe. The cenotaph was designed by architect Henry Bertelsen and carved by stonecutter J.M. Simonson. The construction of the Cenotaph cost $6,700 which was raised by Post 9 of the American Legion. The American Legion’s physical influence on Spokane’s architecture can also be found in their funding of the American Legion Building on Washington and Riverside by acclaimed architect F. Lewis Clark.

The American Legion was founded in Paris by veterans of the American Expeditionary Force in 1919 and soon developed into an influential national non-profit organization. Since its inception, the American Legion has advocated for Veterans' rights, promoted patriotism in the youth, and faithfully served the financial and educational needs of veterans. The organization’s founding came directly after the end of WWI which demonstrates the significance of WWI to the organization and the nation. Membership was initially restricted to those who had served in the First World War. The American Legion now boasts a national membership of two million, a membership that has included eleven US presidents and numerous other US politicians. The American Legion played an important role in pushing for the passing of the GI Bill in 1944 which greatly expanded education opportunities for veterans nationwide. In fact, a former Commander of the American Legion, Harry W. Colmery, was the primary drafter of the GI Bill.

The occasion of the cenotaph’s unveiling on November 11, 1930, was said by the Spokesman-Review to be “the largest celebration of Armistice Day in Spokane History”. The unveiling of the cenotaph corresponded with the simultaneous unveiling of the Abraham Lincoln Statue, located on Main Avenue and Monroe Street. President Hoover himself was involved in the festivities through telegram. The accompanying parade was said to include more military units than any previous parade in Spokane’s history. This touching dedication is indicative of the solemn reflection and honoring of Veterans that characterized Armistice Day celebrations. The crowd for the Armistice Day celebration as a whole was expected to be over 20,000 strong, with a crowd of approximately 500 said to be present for the unveiling of the Cenotaph.