The model for the Civil War soldier who stands guard at the intersection of Main and Monument Streets posed only after his wife twisted his arm.
A statue of the Goddess of Liberty was originally intended to top the monument, according to a 1923 Dayton Daily News story, but ex- Civil War soldiers insisted on a Union private soldier.
A search went out for “some broad shouldered, military-looking private soldier who would meet the ideal of the heroic sentinel,” according to the newspaper account.
Pvt. George Washington Fair, a Dayton-born brick layer and carpenter who stood six-feet tall and weighed 200 pounds, filled the bill for the search committee, but they had a hard time convincing him.
Described as “a modest and unassuming gentleman,” Fair only agreed his likeness could be carved out of marble after “his wife’s aid was enlisted.”
Pvt. Fair was born May 22, 1834, was the youngest of 13 children. Six of the eight boys in the family served during the Civil War, and three were killed.
He posed at a photography studio on Main Street wearing “the army’s largest issue” uniform borrowed from the National Soldiers’ Home.
The newspaper account describes the photo session taking place on a steaming hot day as Fair posed in a heavy soldier’s overcoat.
“The picture gallery was like a furnace room on that sweltering day, and the ordeal undergone by the soldier thus clad in heavy clothing as if for mountain picket duty in mid-winter was almost as trying as facing death on the battlefield.”
The photographs were sent to a sculptor in Italy, and the completed statue arrived in New York on May 27, 1884 after a six-week voyage by ship. It arrived in Dayton five days later.
A crowd of 100,000 people, one of the city’s largest at a time when Dayton’s population was reported to be 40,000, crowded in for the dedication on July 31, 1884.
Pvt. Fair died Jan. 21, 1888 and is buried at Woodland Cemetery.
The original marble statue, damaged by decades of weather, now stands under cover at the entrance of the Dayton VA Medical Center.
The soldier we see looking over Main Street today was recast in bronze in 1991.