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Tuscania memorial site

Baraboo Parks and Recreation Director Mike Hardy uses a map of Mary Rountree Evans Park to point out the proposed site for a World War I memorial. It lies along the Baraboo Riverwalk, far beyond the baseball field’s outfield fence.

Baraboo parks leaders have approved placing a World War I memorial at Mary Rountree Evans Park.

This spring, local teacher Steve Argo approached the Parks Commission about establishing a bronze memorial to honor the “Baraboo 21,” soldiers who survived the worst naval disaster of the war. On Monday, the commission unanimously approved Argo’s preferred location for the veterans memorial, along the Baraboo Riverwalk at Mary Rountree.

Commissioners said the shaded, secluded spot is ideal. Its proximity to water and atmosphere of solitude befit a memorial honoring soldiers who found salvation at sea.

“It’s a very charming spot,” Commissioner Roy Franzen said.

The “Baraboo 21” were part of the 32nd Red Arrow Division, which in February 1918 was being transported to the French front line. Their ship, the Tuscania, was attacked by a German U-boat off the coast of Ireland. Despite help from the British navy, 166 of the 2,000 Americans on board died.

Upon their return, the local veterans became civic leaders in the 1920s. They formed a club, with the last survivor dying in 2001.

Argo’s plan calls for 5-by-8 bronze relief depicting a U.S. soldier being helped by civilians, with a ship sinking in the background. It would be created by Baraboo artist Homer Daehn, and encapsulated by a stone structure featuring a plaque telling the Tuscania’s story.

Commissioners expressed two concerns about the site. One is logistical: Getting the boulder that would support the bronze sculpture to its resting place via a walking path that’s 8-10 feet wide. They said the boulder should be transported in winter, when the ground is frozen.

“Getting it down there would be the toughest thing,” Parks and Recreation Director Mike Hardy said.

Vandalism is another potential problem. Putting the memorial in a secluded spot out of plain sight could make it a target.

Commissioners said they can’t control vandalism. They noted riverside benches and a rock wall near the memorial site have gone unmolested.

Commissioner Craig Schlender said the Riverwalk’s steady traffic should discourage vandals. “There’s constant travel on the Riverwalk,” he said.

Argo hopes to have the memorial built in time for the centennial of the attack on the Tuscania in February 2018. The boulder could be put in place as soon as this fall.

A longtime Baraboo history teacher, Argo has estimated the memorial could cost upwards of $100,000. He has created the National Tuscania Remembrance Association through the Sauk County Historical Society and designed a brochure to entice prospective donors.