S.S. Legacy: Visit to Sam Hill’s Stonehenge

A replica of Stonehenge was created in Washington state by Sam Hill.
A replica of Stonehenge was created in Washington state by Sam Hill.

ABOARD THE S.S. LEGACY – Such a beautifully sad place. Birds are singing in the distance. Sun is shining on glorious vistas stretching before us. We are on a shore excursion from our S.S. Legacy cruise on the Columbia and Snake rivers.

But I can’t help thinking about the young men honored here. Residents of this place went off to fight for their county. And some never returned.

When famed road builder Sam Hill created this memorial in 1918, he intended for it to be a landmark to honor the dead of World War I and to be a reminder  that war is hell and that world powers should never again engage in such terrible folly.

A Quaker and dedicated pacifist, Hill hoped that “The Great War” would be the war to end all wars. Wonder what he would think if he returned to the world today and saw that wars and rumors of wars still plague his beloved America and other countries.

Hill chose to model his war memorial after Stonehenge, the famous prehistoric site in England. One of the wonders of the world, the original Stonehenge is a ring of standing stones set within earthworks.

Sam Hill's Stonehenge monument was meant to be a message for no more wars.
Sam Hill’s Stonehenge monument was meant to be a message for no more wars.

However, Hill chose to replicate Stonehenge based on a mistaken legend about the original in England.

“At the time Sam Hill built his Stonehenge, people believed that the place in England had been used for human sacrifice,” said Ryan Downs, heritage leader on the S. S. Legacy.

Hill’s message at his Stonehenge was that humanity is still being sacrificed to the god of war. Using slabs of reinforced concrete, Hill built his Stonehenge the way he thought the Druids would have built theirs if they had access to 20th century technology. The altar stone for Hill’s Stonehenge is aligned with sunrise on the summer solstice.

At the bottom of a long steep path is Sam Hill's crypt.
At the bottom of a long steep path is Sam Hill’s crypt.

The dedication plaque on the Washington state Stonehenge is inscribed:

“In memory of the soldiers of Klickitat County who gave their lives in defense of their country. This monument is erected in the hope that others inspired by the example of their valor and their heroism may share in that love of liberty and burn with that fire of patriotism which death can alone quench.”

Located off U.S. Highway 97 about two miles from where it enters Washington from Oregon, Stonehenge was dedicated on July 4, 1918. Joining Hill’s original war memorial are nearby monuments that were later added to honor soldiers of Klickitat County who died in World War II, Korea and Vietnam.

“Stonehenge did what Sam Hill wanted it to do,” Downs said. “It makes people contemplate the high cost of war.”

Mt. Hood and the Columbia River can be seen from Sam Hill's Stonehenge.
Mt. Hood and the Columbia River can be seen from Sam Hill’s Stonehenge.

If you visit, look down the hill in the direction of picturesque Mount Hood. At the base of the bluff overlooking the Columbia River is Hill’s final resting place, a concrete crypt.

“The man loved concrete,” Downs said. “Seems appropriate for his grave.”

There is no easy path down the hill to the burial site. Some say Sam Hill intended it that way because he wished to be left alone in the countryside he loved so much.

 

May 30, 2014

Photos by Jackie Sheckler Finch

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