E. L. Malvaney’s War Memorial building has been featured a number of times on MissPres, generally on Memorial Day (at least 2009, 2011, 2012, 2014, 2015), but also Veteran’s Day, and once in a stupendous-as-only-the-other-E L Malvaney-can-do post, we got to go inside. In my never-ending quest to document all New Deal buildings in the state of Mississippi and its adjacent states, I made a visit to the War Building. It was nearing the end of the day, and evening light waning and shadows quietly entering the recess of the courtyard engendered a reflective mood and feel to the visit.
I have only visited the Mississippi Department of Archives and History once, and as I entered what appeared to me to be the huge William Winter MDAH building (to the left of the Memorial in the above photograph), I never noticed the far grander building next door to it. I was struck by the juxtaposition the two buildings created as I realized this visit where I was and where I had been on the first–evidencing once again that what we see (and thus believe) often depends on the standpoint. How fitting for a building memorializing the sacrifice and loss connected with World War I and other wars related to Mississippians.
The building was begun in 1939 by the Public Works Administration (PWA) Project Miss. 1279. Along with principal architect E. L. Malvaney, there were 8 architects, the builder/contractor, foundation contractor, and a sculptor who worked on the project (Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Historic Resources Inventory).
History also does not come without its errors, and according to the Greenville Delta Democrat Times, “War Memorial Gets Our History All Balled Up” (December 1, 1940, p. 18).
One of the most unusual series of mistakes in the recording of American history was discovered when members of the Mississippi War Memorial commission unwittingly accepted a new $250,000 building from a contractor, then learned ruefully that more than half the twelve dates on one marble inscription were incorrect.
The mistakes were discovered by newspapermen “a few days before July 4, 1940” when the memorial was to be dedicated. Dr. William D. McCain, then MDAH director, provided a carbon copy of his text for the inscriptions to prove “someone” deviated from the correct dates provided by Dr. McCain. Mistakes included incorrect date of De Soto’s exploration (aka “discovery”) of the Mississippi River, incorrect date for the campaign of Andrew Jackson against New Orleans, and incorrect date on the ending of the War Between the States (Civil War).
After Dr. McCain was cleared of suspicion, the architect who planned the building was questioned. He denied making many of the errors, but admitted that he had put Andrew Jackson in New Orleans in 1812 “because it looked better than the 1815 date.” He explained that since most folks think of the War of 1812 as a short war, it would look funny in his opinion to state that Jackson fought in New Orleans in 1815. (War Memorial gets our history all balled up)
As indicated in the clipping, Archives and History were to be housed in the completed building.