I can’t fuss too much with a recent letter to the editor [“Asheville’s Obelisk, Take Two,” July 19, Xpress], in which the author argued that the city of Asheville should not have torn down the Vance Monument but rather could have saved the obelisk, stripped the infamous Zebulon Vance from the dedication and replaced the old racist with a more respectable honoree. Six years ago, I half-seriously proposed something similar [“A Modest Proposal: Giving Zeb Vance What He Deserves,” Oct. 25, 2017, Xpress]. I’m just grateful someone else volunteered to take the flak this time.
But what’s the point of arguing about the past? What’s done is done. How about we put aside old beefs and move on to some new ones?
The city now is in the midst of an ambitious plan to reimagine Pack Square Plaza, including the area on which the Vance Scar currently sits — alone, abandoned and in desperate need of the spiritual healing only a place like Asheville can provide.
When the state courts finally get out of the way and allow what’s left of the Vance Monument to be hauled off, there’s no reason (beyond good taste and common sense) why the plans can’t include construction of a like-new obelisk on the old site. One that can be rededicated to Vance. Or to someone who actually deserves the honor. Or maybe space can be used for something else entirely. Or for nothing else. It can just be open. The possibilities are endless.
The city is accepting public comments on the renovation plans until Sept. 8, so obelisk enthusiasts will have plenty of time to take advantage of those two most precious rights enjoyed by citizens in this greatest of all democracies — the chance to pitch for their ideas in fair competition on a level playing field and the opportunity to pout endlessly when they don’t get their way again.
But query: Is a rebuilt obelisk really the best way forward? At the time of its demise, the Vance Monument no longer dominated the downtown, dwarfed as it was by the much larger structures that had grown around it since 1897. The monument looked less like a stately landmark than a stubbly chawbacon from the backwoods who had gotten lost in the big city and was wandering around gawking at the tall buildings.
And let’s be honest. As artwork goes, it was never all that and a bag of chips to begin with. Derivative kitsch, if you ask me. In fact, the demolition had to be delayed briefly when the wrecking crew discovered that the obelisk, like the man, was hollow inside and full of dirt.
Before we rush headlong into anything we may have to tear down again in a few years, shouldn’t we at least give creative minds a chance to come up with some fresh concepts? Even as we speak, something a million times better than a gangly beanpole may be on some young blood’s drawing board, just waiting to come to life.
It’s one thing to preserve history; it’s another to make it.
— Peter Robbins