The Story Behind the Bronze

By Keli Ganey

The Harrisburg monument, “A Gathering at the Crossroads,” commemorates the passing of the 15th and 19th amendments and the multi-cultural community of the Old 8th Ward in Harrisburg. The sculpture represents four orators, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, William Howard Day, Jacob Compton, and Thomas Morris Chester.

These four were powerful forces of change in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and the United States. If the monument had the ability to come alive as curious guests stepped up to it, intrigued to learn more, what would it say?

Over the course of the fall semester my goal is to answer that question with the creation of a short video that guests can access both on-site at the Commonwealth Monument and online at Digital Harrisburg, explaining the history and road to creation of the monument. This story will be told by the community partners who came together to build the monument in the first place.

My job as a storyteller is to weave together the many narratives this project represents. There is the narrative of the physical history being represented at the monument. The monument itself represents a lot of intricate moments in past and present history. The monument was dedicated on August 26th 2020, on the official 150-year anniversary of the ratification of the 15th amendment and the 100-year anniversary of the ratification of the 19th amendment. There is the narrative of physical creation and all the hidden details an untrained eye would not notice. Each person’s stature, their clothes, their face has an important story, and represents an aspect of the message of the monument. There is the unknown narrative of collaboration and the tireless efforts between community partners and legislative leaders that came together to make this monument possible. The creation of “A Gathering at the Crossroads” is unique in the fact that there are not many monuments in the United States that are dedicated to specifically African American abolitionists and political activists. For context, there are about 45 monuments across America dedicated to African American abolitionist and freedom fighters, while there are more than 2,000 confederate monuments and memorials to the confederacy. Our monument in Harrisburg is a trailblazer in the field of public history. So why is it important for people to know about all of this? The monument itself is the conversation starter about citizenship, the right to vote, and remembering what has been lost. The Commonwealth monument is not concerned just with abolitionism but also justice and suffrage among others. However, a physical monument can only go so far. I hope to use digital media to expand this conversation both locally and further afield.

The project will be completed by filming various interviews over October and November. The video will also feature images of the monument and its surrounding historic elements in Harrisburg. Once the video project is edited, I will script the video in order to do voiceovers and will then send the script to the (yet to be selected) voice actor. In the finished product, I hope to connect a QR code that, when scanned at the monument, will take guests straight to the video on the Digital Harrisburg website.

I am very excited and honored to be able to build the vessel to tell this story. I hope that it reaches far beyond Harrisburg and encourages individuals to learn more about the abolitionism, freedom seeking, and the quest for the vote, not only in Harrisburg, but also their hometowns as well. I cannot wait to get to work!

Images from A Gathering at the Crossroads and Pennsylvania Heritage

Keli Ganey is a Junior History major at Messiah University with a concentration in Public History and minor in Digital Public Humanities. She holds the position of Humanities scholarship program leadership council co-chair, President of the Messiah History Club, works for Yellow Breeches Television as the station’s historian and serves on the editorial staff. Keli also is the exhibit designer at York County History Center. You see her many works in various forms on her personal website.

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