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The Monument of States was the brainchild of Charles Wesley Bressler-Pettis, M.D. (12 February 1889 - 13 May 1954) and was completed in 1943 with a two-fold purpose: to be a commemorative piece and a draw for local tourism. This should not be surprising as he was not only president and active member of the Kissimmee-All-States Tourist Club as well as a past district governor of Lions Club International, but also a veteran of World War I.
Charles Bressler-Pettis graduated from the University of Missouri in 1913 -- where he was a senior of the Medical Society and a team football player -- as well as from Harvard Medical School in 1917. He served with the military on two separate occasions. He was first commissioned a temporary honorary lieutenant, (British) Royal Army Medical Corps, Harvard Surgical Unit in June 1915, and assigned to General Hospital No. 22, British Expeditionary Forces at Camiers, France until his tour of duty was completed in October 1915. When the U.S. formally entered World War I in April of 1917, Bressler-Pettis was commissioned as a first lieutenant with the Medical Corps of the U.S. Army in September 1917. He was called to active duty on 1 March 1918 and was detailed to the Medical Officers' Training Camp at Camp Greenleaf, Georgia as an assistant instructor. On 15 December 1918, he was assigned to the Army Medical School in Washington, D.C. and was discharged eight days later. In 1924, he moved to Nice, France for about ten years to be a personal physician to his aged uncle. He then returned to the United States and married Laura L. Mead (5 December 1898 - 2 April 1991), a Chicago physical education teacher, in 1927.
Designs for an attraction monument to improve local tourism in Osceola County were conceived as early as September 1941 but the planning for a commemorative 'Monument of States' was a response to the attack of Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941. Dr. Bressler-Pettis partnered with J.C. Fisher to design a monument that would stand as a symbol of American unity in a time of international crisis. The cornerstone was laid on 11 January 1942 and the construction of this vernacular work of folk art was a massive community undertaking with the assistance of the Kissimmee-All-States Tourist Club, local organizations, businesses, churches and local residents who donated labour and materials. The monument was officially dedicated fourteen months later on 28 March 1943 by U.S. Senator Claude Pepper (8 September 1900 - 30 May 1989). As shown in the photograph, the Monument of States is an irregular quadrilateral step-pyramid that is composed of 21 varying tiers. The monument's concrete foundation is 3 feet thick and 22 square feet in size and supports the monument's estimated weight of 100,00 pounds and is reinforced with 3.5 tons of steel rails. The monument stands at 50 feet tall and is crowned with an American Bald Eagle with a wing-span of six feet perched on a three foot concrete sphere. At the outset of the planning stage, Dr. Bressler-Pettis wrote letters to state governors asking for rocks from their states. President Franklin D. Roosevelt sent a stone from his Hyde Park estate, and so did Governor Rexford Guy Tugwell from Puerto Rico and Prime Minister William Lyon MacKenzie King from Canada. Donations received also included fossils, chunks of quartz, blocks of native granite, parts of old buildings, petrified wood from Arizona, a meteorite, a palm tree, a cannonball from Michigan, bottles, buffalo horns from Montana, a human skull, a rock from the Sahara, glacier eggs, a petrified apple from Wisconsin, and much more. In all, Bressler-Pettis had collected over 23,000 stones. Beyond the states' official contributions, Bressler-Pettis included hundreds of stones he and his wife had collected from their prior travels across the United States. At the time of dedication, the monument consisted of 1,500 stones from 48 states and 21 countries. Rocks continued to arrive after the dedication, including from the later states of Alaska and Hawaii, and were attached to surrounding walkways. Over time, the monument became a prominent tourist attraction and was promoted as "The World's Most Unique Monument" but interest dwindled after the 1971 opening of Walt Disney World in Orlando.
A number of celebrations were held over the years. The first major milestone was on 26 March 1973 when members of the Kissimmee Lions Club celebrated at a dinner the monument's 30th anniversary and paid tribute to the late Dr. Bressler-Pettis as the "originator and moving force behind the landmark." Twenty years later, the town of Kissimmee rededicated the monument on 28 March 1993 and placed a time capsule behind one of the plaques that is scheduled to be reopened in March of 2043. The towering structure was first restored in March 1973, during the 30th anniversary of the monument, when artists from the Osceola Art Association restored the original colour surrounding each inlaid stone. Landscaping and site improvements were made in 2001 through the national "Save a Landmark" program to undergo cleaning, repair and repainting through a partnership between the American Automobile Association and the Hampton Inn.
Dr. Bressler-Pettis died on 13 May 1954 in Kissimmee, Florida. Part of his remains were interred in the Grant Cemetery in Worth County in his home state of Missouri. The other remains were entombed within the Monument of States in honour of his contributions. It is worth noting that Kissimmee's ordinance regarding burials and cemeteries had to be amended in order to preserve his remains within the monument. On 8 December 2015, the Monument of States was officially listed on the National Register of Historic Places and according to the National Park Service, "the Kissimmee Monument of States stands as an important example of mid-twentieth century tourism efforts before the large theme parks came to dominate the Florida landscape and attention of visitors."
On this day, 28 March 2022, we commemorate 133 years since the birth of Dr. Charles Bressler-Pettis, the 79th anniversary of the unveiling the Monument of States in Kissimmee, Florida, and mark more than six years since its official listing on the National Register of Historic Places.
André M. Levesque