The Alamo Cenotaph Controversy

You may or may not have heard about the controversy over the Alamo cenotaph. It’s hard to tell what’s public knowledge and what isn’t these days.

In case you don’t know, the Alamo cenotaph is the monument to the Alamo defenders that since 1940 has stood on the traffic median at the intersection of E. Houston Street and N. Alamo Street on Alamo Plaza.

The Alamo Master Plan, which attempts to reclaim as much as possible of the historic Alamo footprint, calls for closing those streets in order to recreate the open plaza that existed behind the walls of the Alamo during the siege and battle in 1836.

The historic Alamo footprint was over four acres.

Part of that plan calls for moving the cenotaph 500 feet south on the plaza to a spot a little SW of the church of the Alamo.

The Texas Historical Commission will meet on Tuesday in order to decide whether to issue a permit to allow that move.

For a long time I was indifferent as to whether the cenotaph would be moved to the proposed spot, or remain where it is. Either was fine with me as long as it was repaired and restored, as its current condition is an embarrassment to Texas.

Passions are inflamed on both sides of this debate. There’s a lot of name calling. Each side misconstrues the other side’s motivations and point of view. I wish such immaturity were not on display, but it probably isn’t going away. 

After much soul searching, I came to my own conclusion as to what should be done, and I will lay it out here. You don’t have to agree with me. We will still be friends.

First, let me lay out the arguments made by those who say the cenotaph should remain where it currently stands.

1) – People against moving the cenotaph say its creator, sculptor Pompeo Coppini, intended it to be in that spot, and therefore it should not be moved.

Mr. Coppini was quite a character. He sincerely wished to honor the Alamo defenders, but his push for that location was more about his feud with the Daughters of the Republic of Texas. The Daughters were against placing the cenotaph there because they wished the Church of the Alamo to be the focus of Alamo Plaza. Coppini wanted the focus to be his creation, as evidenced in this quote from his autobiography:

Pompeo Coppini – From Dawn to Sunset, page 339

In securing that location for his creation, Coppini was giving the middle finger to the Daughters.

2) – People against moving the cenotaph say that’s where most of the Alamo defenders shed their blood.

As you can see from the quote above, Coppini thought that as well. He was filled with passion for the Alamo, but was not very knowledgeable about the battle. In his defense, that information was not readily available in his day.

We now know that the spot where the cenotaph sits is where Mexican soldiers came under heavy fire from defenders within the long barrack. It is not a piece of ground covered with the blood of martyrs, contrary to what Coppini believed.

Fall of the Alamo by Theodore Gentilz – painted in 1844 based on eye-witness accounts –  highlight shows Mexican soldiers attacking the long barrack

3) – People against moving the cenotaph say it should remain where it is because that is where the bodies of the defenders were burned. 

No bodies were burned within the Alamo compound. We know from the statements of witnesses, and evidence dug up in the early 20th century, that the defenders were burned in two large pyres on the old Alameda, now Commerce Street, about two blocks away.

Detail of Alamo siege map by Col. Andrew Jackson Houston

4) – People against moving the cenotaph say it cannot be safely moved.

Museum professionals move large stone sculptures all the time. If they were to frequently damage the objects they move, they would be neither insurable or employable.

The object above is known as Cleopatra’s needle. It was created in 1450 BC. It was moved from Egypt to New York City in the 1870s. Can we really not move a New Deal era sculpture a few hundred feet in the 21st century?

5) – People against moving the cenotaph say it cannot be protected in the new location.

In its current location it has been notably accosted twice in 80 years. In 1982 by Ozzy Osbourne and in 2020 when the north face was spray painted with racist graffiti. Trees to the north and south obscure the view of the monument. It’s something of a wonder this has not happened more.

In the new location the cenotaph will be completely in the open, visible from all sides in an area of greater foot traffic. It will also be dramatically lit at night. There will be no place for potential vandals to hide. The eyes of Texas, and the Alamo Rangers, will be upon them.

6) – People against moving the cenotaph say moving it dishonors the Alamo defenders.

I know that is a belief sincerely held. All I can say is that I disagree.

I believe moving it to the new location does the exact opposite. It gives greater honor to the defenders. Let me explain why.

In a newly reclaimed Alamo Plaza, free from traffic medians and tourist shops, the cenotaph in its current location, due to its size, would be the focus of everything.

In short, if the cenotaph is left in place, the Alamo becomes about the cenotaph. It draws attention into the center of the plaza and to itself.

To understand the battle, and what the defenders endured, requires attention be drawn outward to the walls, taking in the enormity of the compound, and how the men on those walls knew they would die.

In the proposed location, the restored cenotaph is about the Alamo and its defenders. It will be the first thing visitors see entering the plaza, and put them on notice they are on sacred ground.

BUT…

But supporters of the Alamo Master Plan don’t escape criticism.

They say the plan will RESTORE reverence to the plaza. I disagree.

There has NEVER been reverence on Alamo Plaza.

Not in the years after the battle:

Not during the US Army’s occupancy:

Not during its mercantile era:

Not during the days of cattle drives and chili queens:

Not during political rallies:

And not during the last half century of tourist commercialism and kook protests:

Our generation can be the FIRST to bring reverence for the defenders and their sacrifice to Alamo Plaza.

​​​​​​​We all have cherished memories of visiting the Alamo. Most of us with our parents or grandparents. For many of us it was the dawn of our reckoning of what being Texan really meant.

But none of us has ever seen the plaza as the defenders saw it, or even in a way they could squint their eyes and recognize.

This is your chance to leave to your children and grandchildren something far better than the decades of neglect and indifference left to you.

Future generations of Texans will be able to walk those grounds as the defenders did, understand what happened, know why it matters and will always matter.

If you think that is something worth doing, please click the button below. It will take you to the Texas Historical Commission’s public comment page.

​​​​​​​You will click “Next” then fill in your name and register your vote. It takes about one minute.

God & Texas,

Mark Pusateri – Copano Bay Press

PS – If you have a little more time, please send an email to the Texas Historical Commission and tell the commissioners you support the Alamo Master Plan.

Send it to esther.brickley@thc.texas.gov. She will make sure every commissioner receives your message.

5 replies »

  1. Moving the cenotaph is a waste of funds which could be better
    used for better restoration & preservation of the Alamo complex & the cenotaph

  2. I have no problem with moving the cenotaph as long as it stays on the Alamo grounds. What I do have a problem with is the overall re-imagination, that proposes to turn it into some sort of entertainment complex, like a Disney theme park. Protect it for history, keep it reverent and keep it TEXAS!

    • Maybe you can explain to me, George, what is meant by your Disney remark. I’ve asked in good faith on Facebook and nobody can seem to tell me what they think is Disney or theme park about it. Appreciate your input.

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