Below are images from the William Jennings Bryan Statue Garden, located on North Broadway. Billy”, as his friends knew him, was born at 408 South Broadway March 19, 1860. William Jennings Bryan was the son of Judge Silas M. and Maria E. (Jennings) Bryan. Silas was a teacher, lawyer, school superintendent, state senator and circuit court judge. As a devout Baptist, he would pray to God for assistance before he made a decision. William was a great orator, lawyer, congressman, newspaper editor, lecturer, presidential candidate nominee in 1896 and 1900 against McKinley and 1908 against Taft. William Jennings Bryan was also Secretary of State for President Woodrow Wilson.
Bryan’s birth home is on the National Register of Historical Places. It is open by appointment only. Please contact City Hall through this website, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (618) 548-2222 x.10 to set up a tour.
The Statue of William Jennings Bryan was created by Gutzon Borglum, famed sculptor of Mt. Rushmore. It originally stood in Washington, D.C., dedicated there by President Franklin Roosevelt May 3, 1934. In 1961, it was moved to its present location across from Bryan Memorial Park on North Broadway.
The Bryan statue in the Bryan Memorial Park triangle on North Broadway in Salem represents another time when Bryan did not receive the respect he deserved.
Gutzon Borglum, who sculpted the faces on Mt. Rushmore, created the statue, which originally stood in West Potomac Park in Washington, DC. President Franklin D. Roosevelt dedicated it there May 3, 1934. About 10 years before Bryan’s death, Borglum had created life masks of both Bryan and his wife, as well as a cast of Bryan’s fist. These smaller sculptures are in Salem’s Bryan museum.
Later, however, the statue in Washington, DC, was literally yanked down to clear way for a new approach to the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge. It lay in a vacant lot until Salem City Attorney Frederick Merritt and Illinois Senator Paul Douglas began a campaign to obtain the statue. They and others back in Salem agreed that “Billy” should come home where he would be appreciated.
In 1961, when Secretary of the Interior Stewart L. Udall agreed to loan the statue to Salem, the exchange was not without its complications and mishaps. The first problem was how to get a 2,700-pound bronze statue and its 29,300-pound marble base back to Salem without spending $2,000 on just the transportation. Insurance involved would also be an astronomical expense for Bryan’s hometown.
However, citizens of Salem banded together for this special project. James Johnson furnished a flatbed truck, along with the insurance for the trip. James Warfield bought the fuel. L.R. Young donated a lead truck and driver. Emmet Kane Insurance donated three years of insurance for the statue when it reached its final destination, and Paul Henley made two long truck signs stating that Bryan was returning home to Salem.
Billy left Washington on May 22, 1961. During the journey home, the truck had a flat tire, brakes on the truck caught fire in the mountains, and the load shifted so severely that Billy nearly toppled off the flatbed.
Nevertheless, the trip was successfully completed, and Billy was escorted into Salem with respectful pageantry. People from throughout the Marion County area lined Highway 50 east of Salem; the Salem Fire Department, the Salem Police Department, and the high school band paraded Billy to the Bryan park triangle.
Back in Washington, the mood was not so jubilant. Some citizens there objected to the statue’s removal. One paper erroneously reported that a “crew of Shanghai toughs” had tried to smuggle the statue out of the District only to be stopped by outraged citizens.
Washington historian Alexander M. Padro understands their concern. “Moving monuments that may no longer be politically correct to make room for tributes to persons and events now in favor might seem expedient,” he said, “but it would be terribly shortsighted, not to mention detrimental to the historical character of our city. We owe it to the people who erected the monuments of the past to safeguard them, just as we hope future generations will cherish the tributes we erect.”
Salemites point out that no one in Washington seemed too concerned about the Bryan statue while it was lying neglected in a vacant lot.
In 1973, Congressman Kenneth Gray introduced a bill to the U.S. House of Representatives giving Salem a quitclaim deed with all rights, title, and interest to the $125,000 statue of William Jennings Bryan. Congressman Paul Simon turned the title over to the City of Salem on March 31, 1975, in a ceremony at the Bryan home.