Model of Lakeland's Spanish-American War Monument

Veterans Memorial Park will soon be home to a new public arts sculpture commemorating the Spanish-American War, and the often-overlooked historical role Lakeland contributed. Preparations for unveiling the monument include a series of public education events and parades, several of which take place this weekend.

The bronze monument, appropriately named Friends of Freedom, will be unveiled spring 2022. The undertaking is a joint venture between Platform Art Inc. and the Florida Veterans Council.

According to PlatformArt’s website, there are few monuments to this war anywhere in the country, and fewer still that recognize the African American Buffalo Soldiers, who camped around Lake Wire in 1898 and led the successful American campaign for the Cuban War for Independence.

“It was the first war the United States fought off its own shores,” says Cynthia Haffey, director of Platform Art. “The reason we were asked to do this as a public arts sculpture is because it is the only war that is not recognized, to date, in Veterans Park. It’s incredibly rich history — culturally rich and historically rich,” as well as a rich educational component for Lakeland’s younger generation.

Artist Becky Ault, co-founder of ART Design Group and ART Research Enterprises Inc., was commissioned to design and craft the solid-brass sculpture, which will stand seven to nine feet high from the ground to the tip of the flag.

Ault also designed and crafted the 9/11 Memorial for the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Department in Ybor City, and the Law Enforcement Honor Guard Memorial at the Lakeland Police Department.

The project also incorporates Platform Art’s educational outreach component, with a competition open to all art students in Polk County. “Many of the images on the side of the monument will be from students,” Haffey says.

Students may submit artwork for consideration. Of those chosen, Ault will sculpt the images into clay molds then cast them into bronze to create the life-size monument.

Left, members of the 9th Cavalry were stationed in Lakeland during the Spanish-American War. Right, a clay model of the monument planned for Veterans Park.

Platform has scheduled a several of events this weekend that link Veterans Day s. ceremonies with the Spanish American War project. They include:

  • PARADE: Friday, 6:15 p.m., Munn Park – A parade featuring the 9th & 10th Buffalo Soldier Cavalries re-enactors and their horses takes place during First Friday. It starts at Kentucky and Lemon and proceeds to the Munn Park parking lot, where Buffalo Soldier horsemen and motorcycles will host a meet-and-greet.
  • ANNOUNCEMENT/PARADE: Saturday, 10 a.m., Veterans Park – Lakeland’s annual Veterans Day ceremony will include a Friends of Freedom announcement. A parade follows from Veterans Park to Munn Park.
  • SPEAKERS: Saturday, 1 p.m., Lakeland Loft Cigar Bar – Historian Frank Bell Jr. and others participate in a speaker series on the Buffalo Soldiers and the Spanish American War. RSVP online.

Check the Platform Art website for details of the events.

PlatformArt has also commissioned a short film, “Those Men That Came Before,” which tells the story of the Buffalo Soldiers who camped in Lakeland during the war. The film was produced by local director Kevin O’Brien and won an award at the Gasparilla Film Festival. It will be premiered as part of the October 23 speaker series.

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