Memorial Park, Ouija Board

by Tim Gilmore, 6/17/2012

It was a good night. The summer had been long and miserably hot. The night was suitably October. A wind came off the river.

There was something innocent about the friends’ not noticing how the beautiful bronze statue standing over them had a strange rounded mound in place of genitals. There was something innocent, pure, childish about their lack of notice of such a conservatism. Something worth remembering.

The boy’s three best friends were girls. Most of the time, it was as though he were a girl, or they were boys, or neither. Most of the time.

They either believed they believed the Ouija board had powers, or for at least that night, they did believe it.

Ouija board beneath the statue of an angel. They believed in demon possession. One of them said she’d read that this crazy poet, William Blake, used to see angels up in the trees when he was walking down the street. She said he once looked out the window at night and saw God looking in at him, setting him to screaming.

The park enclosed them amply with its oak trees and its circular walk and its central green and the old apartment buildings round about the park and Five Points behind the apartments, with its boutiques and coffee shops and art galleries, and the St. Johns River languidly deep and midnight blue on the other side of the old, old stone balustrade.

None of them remembered what the Ouija board said, but they believed it said something, or they believed they believed it did.

Christmas, 1924, Jacksonville citizens were scandalized by the statue and its nakedness, never mind that the otherwise robust winged figure looked to be a eunuch. Looking up from the Ouija board 68 years later, one of the girls did say the statue had a nice ass. By contrast, the nudity of Renaissance statuary in Italy? Michelangelo’s David, Cellini’s Perseus?

It is good to be young in a secure old place. It is good to have the weight of the past holding you up. The Ouija board was only another cobblestone, for all the cobblestones were Ouija boards. It was easy then to believe there were spirits in the lambent waves of the dark river and the rucks and folds of the wind. It seemed that ghosts had far less to do with summer heat and humidity, but were natural occurrences in cool night air. It was good to be young that night with a Ouija board beneath the bronze angel in an old place.

He stands on a globe that whirls with naked bodies pulled sideways in its winds, his naked feet almost en pointe, muscles taught in his legs and his abdomen, magnificent wings spread from his back in full ascent, one arm stretched out to the side and the other upholding an olive branch, a confident and angular face, a wreath of laurel crowning his head.

It’s hard to see him as a war memorial, devoted as he seems to be to peace, but his name is Winged Victory, and Memorial Park, which centers on his naked body, is named in commemoration of the first World War. Smart enough people have noticed that memorialization is sometimes the safest way of forgetting. So light candles for John Lennon and Gandhi at the base of the statue. He offers us all an olive branch.

Strange this picture of the statue from 1925, one year after its completion and one year before the Park Lane condominium tower was built, the 16-story tower one of the tallest buildings in Jacksonville for years.

What from a Ouija board on an October night in a lovely Riverside park beneath a beautifully winged bronze statue in a circle of young best friends need not be believed? If only any of them could remember anything the Ouija board said that night so many years ago, when it might have said anything at all in the face of all the years before them.