Until you’ve stood in the shadow of the World’s Largest Rubber Stamp, you can’t understand its magnitude. I know because I stood there last week. The funky artwork, located in Willard Park in Cleveland, Ohio, is bright and funny and massive, plus it has an interesting backstory about the relation of the word “FREE” and the Civil War.
The 49-foot stamp was created by sculptors Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, husband and wife. The quirky sculpture was commissioned by Alton Whitehead in 1985 to brighten up the 659-foot high, 45-story building that housed Standard Oil of Ohio, or “Sohio.”
The building was located in downtown Cleveland directly across from the intricate Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument which honors the Civil War’s Union troops.
According to an article on AtlasObscura.com, “The word ‘free’ was chosen because the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument of Cleveland was located directly across the street from the Sohio Building, which honors soldiers from the Civil War and freedom from slavery.”
Then a problem arose. British Petroleum (BP) assumed control over Sohio and BP CEO Robert Horton thought the word “free” on the stamp “was intended to mock and humiliate BP for taking away the ‘corporate freedom’ of Sohio.” He refused to allow the giant stamp on the property.
Atlas Obscura said: “The giant stamp was held in a warehouse in Indiana for the next six years until 1991, when the stamp was finally released to the public. The heavy object was hauled into Cleveland’s Willard Park, just a few blocks away from its original proposed location.”
The Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument
The Cuyahoga County Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument was built in 1894 in downtown Cleveland and has been recently restored. This was one of the most impressive monuments I’ve ever seen and it includes a building, or Memorial Room, where visitors can find more information and view more artwork. The building was closed when I visited the monument but the statuary on all four sides of the exterior was amazing.
Here’s the history from SoldiersandSailors.com: It “commemorates the American Civil War; it consists of a 125-foot column surrounded at its base by a Memorial Room and esplanade. The column, topped with a statue of the Goddess of Freedom, defended by the Shield of Liberty, signifies the essence of the Nation for which Cuyahoga County veterans were willing to and did give their lives. Four bronze groupings on the esplanade depict, in battle scenes, the Navy, Artillery, Infantry and Cavalry.”
Inside the Memorial Room are four bronze relief sculptures, as well as busts of General James Barnett and Levi T. Scofield, who designed and built the monument. According to Wikipedia, Scofield “worked on the Civil War monument for seven and a half years without compensation and contributed over $57,000 to its cost.”