New Deal in Mississippi: War Memorial Building

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.

War Memorial Building front

War Memorial Building front and side 2

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).

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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)

Greenville Delta Democrat Times, March 4, 1940, p. 5

Greenville Delta Democrat Times, March 4, 1940, p. 5

As indicated in the clipping, Archives and History were to be housed in the completed building.



Categories: Jackson, Mississippi Landmarks, MS Dept. of Archives and History

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10 replies

  1. Glad to see this. In 1941, E.L. Malvaney was the Architect of the Vaiden High School building in Vaiden, MS that was also known as the R.C. Weir Memorial Building W.P.A. Project # 7233. I spent 12 years in that building, as one side of the building was for the Elementary School Students. The plaque can be seen at http://vaiden.net/py250047.jpg and the story of the school is at http://vaiden.net/sacred_halls.html.

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  2. Thank you for this post. I never knew that Archives and History was housed in the building.

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  3. How interesting about the dates and how many people were involved! You caught the light at just the right time, perfect! I visited this building on my last trip to Jackson, but it creeped me out. I wondered what was inside – now I know!

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    • Thank you–I never really thought about the late evening sun when I was there, but rather about not sweltering in the Mississippi heat earlier.

      I have to confess that the words “war” and “memorial” in the same sentence tend to creep me out, too, but then, I think of what that tells us, and how we might learn from it and the history that produced both the war and the building and the architect, and I hope to see it in a different light–no pun intended.

      However, that whole thing about the wrong dates really makes me wonder what happened–hard to believe more than 12 mistakes–was it typewriter errors? Eye errors, like a 3 looked like a 5? How could the war of 1812 be fought in 1815–that makes no sense; let’s change that to a ’12!

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      • I’m not sure what creeped me about being there. Cemeteries, even at night don’t bother me, but there just seemed to be a stillness about the place. And, as you shared maybe that is the desired effect to make us consider the solemn reason for the memorial. Plus, my over active imagination was thinking that those massive doors could lead to another world portal. I have to add that I hope that someday this memorial does not come to be regarded as many monuments in our south are now being regarded.

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    • Hi Beth, John here. I ran across your post just now while researching who is in charge of the War Memorial Building as I work here daily. If you’re ever in the Jackson area during the week please stop by. Our office is the National Guard Association of Mississippi. Basically we’re the only ones here during the weekday. I’ve recently learned there is a small museum upstairs and visited it today. It could be a great part of history for our state, but seems to have been left unattended for some time now hence another reason for researching.

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  4. The story of the wrong dates is a weird one. I didn’t know about it until maybe five years ago when an article in the Journal of MS History about Dr. McCain cast some doubt on his historical career and alleged plagarism in his dissertation (if I remember correctly). The author also noted this incident and questioned the official line that Malvaney had changed the dates. That’s all I remember–need to go re-read that article.

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  5. And those memorials from the “losing side.”

    http://www.thirdreichruins.com/memorials.htm

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