"Can you keep a secret?" Josephine McGinnis wrote her son, Frank, in the spring of 1888. "I am having a surprise for your father." Josephine was the grieving mother of Mary Ella, a curly-headed five-year-old who had died thirteen years before. "Am having a monument done," she wrote. To honor her daughter's memory and surprise her husband, George, a Civil War general, Josephine had commissioned a life-size statue to mark the girl's grave in Indianapolis's Crown Hill Cemetery. She asked her son to check out the model of the statue carved by a Chicago sculptor Lorado Taft, later celebrated as the Dean of American Sculptors. "I want you to go to his place," she wrote. "And see the statue he has."
More than a century after its commission, the statue endures as poignant testimony to maternal love and has become the symbol of Crown Hill, one of America's most-celebrated cemeteries. But the exact details of who carved the statue and when have been lost in the mists of history. While questions still wisp around Mary Ella's beautiful young visage, recent investigations into family and academic archives have shed new light on Crown Hill's iconic statue.
The McGinnis family was prominent in Indianapolis. Brigadier General George F. McGinnis was born in Boston on March 19, 1826, and served in the Mexican War as a captain in the Second Ohio Volunteers, perhaps as the youngest captain in the war, as he celebrated his twenty-first birthday while in command. After the Mexican War, McGinnis located first in Chillicothe, Ohio, where he wooed his wife, Josephine. In 1850 they moved to Indianapolis, where George utilized the trade he had learned from his father to open hat shops on Ohio and West Washington Streets. But the Panic of 1856-57 ruined him, and he moved to Pike's Peak, Colorado, where he remained for a year.
When the Civil War started, McGinnis quickly enlisted as a private in General Lew Wallace's Zouaves--the Eleventh Indiana Infantry. By September 1861 McGinnis had risen to the rank of colonel, leading his troops through battles at Fort Donelson, Shiloh, Corinth, Vicksburg, Port Hudson, Mobile, and along the Red River. In May 1863 he achieved the rank of brigadier general and commanded infantry, cavalry, and artillery units along the White River in restive Arkansas. After the war, McGinnis returned to Indianapolis, where voters elected him Marion County auditor in 1867, and then for two terms as a county commissioner.
His wife, Josephine Raper, was born on September 26, 1829, in Chillicothe, Ohio. She gave birth to five children, two of whom, Eddie and Horace, died in infancy. A later portrait of her captured a handsome, respectable woman with dark brown hair pulled into a bun, and large kindly eyes looking oft" into the distance. Mary Ella was her fourth child, the only girl.
Mary Ella McGinnis died at 8:30 p.m. on Friday, August 6, 1875. The death announcement a few days later noted she was five years, seven months, and twenty-one days...