On a trip I took with my aunt last year, we went through four states and met several second and third cousins I had never met before and never knew existed.
And through one part of the trip, she wanted to stop at a location that is part of the National Parks Service that was constructed to honor a significant American figure who, according to stories passed down through family, may be a distant relative: George Rogers Clark.
My maiden name is Clark, and as a child, my dad passed on what he had heard from relatives — that we are very distant cousins of this Revolutionary War hero and his siblings, who included younger brother William Clark, half of the Lewis and Clark duo that explored the West.
So far, even with the help of some online genealogy sites, I’ve not been able to prove it’s true, but it’s fun to imagine that I may have ancestors who played such a huge part in the shaping of the country.
So, as we traveled back through Kentucky and into Indiana, we paid an afternoon visit to the George Rogers Clark National Historical Park in Vincennes. It is a massive building that was much more impressive than I had anticipated.
On May 23, 1928, President Calvin Coolidge ordered a memorial to Clark to be erected in Vincennes. It was completed in 1933 and dedicated in June 1936 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
It was placed on what is believed to be the site of Fort Sackville. The memorial is a Roman-style temple with seven interior murals of his expedition and a bronze statue. It’s a decorative and regal-looking structure sitting on 26 acres on the banks of the Wabash River with a visitor center that helps acquaint visitors with Clark’s story.
In the visitor center, we arrived just in time for a viewing of the 30-minute orientation movie,"Long Knives." The film helps the viewer understand the hardship, sacrifice and conditions of those who fought with Clark while they made their way through frigid waters to complete their secret attack mission.
Clark became the highest-ranking American military officer on the northwestern frontier during the American Revolutionary War. There is also an exhibit area and a bookstore and gift shop to view before heading on to the memorial.
After making your way up several stairs to the granite monument that stands more than 80 feet high, with the Ohio River as a backdrop, you enter the rotunda with its 12-ton marble pedestal and bronze statue of a young Clark, standing 7 1/2 feet tall.
The murals that line the walls, seven in all and measured at 28 feet tall, complete the story. It took the artist and six assistants over two years to complete them. Represented on the murals are: Kentucky, Cahokia, The Wabash, Vincennes, Fort Sackville, Marietta and St. Louis. If you look up, you'll see the bas-relief sculpture carved above the memorial’s door.
Aside from a stop at the visitors center and memorial, several events take place at the site throughout the year that celebrate and shed light on Clark's contributions. Some include park volunteers engaging in living history programs. For more information, visit nps.gov.