If you walk the area around the Independence Seaport Museum, you will find historical plaques, monuments, and other testaments to memory. In Spruce Street Harbor Park is the monument to Christopher Columbus which was built in 1992 to celebrate the 500th Anniversary of his 1492 voyage. The monument calls him a cartographer, mathematician, charismatic leader, and naturalist among other things. These titles then, impose on the visitor a perception of Columbus that deviates from a more objective reality of who he was.
Across the street from Spruce Street Harbor Park are larger monuments to veterans of the Vietnam and Korean Wars, and the conflict in Beirut. These were all constructed after 1980, long after the area where they now stand was razed of its homes to make room for Interstate 95. These military monuments are meant to honor those who died in service to our country, but they also seem to honor those responsible for funding its creation, as their names, too, are carved into the polished granite. This, for me, left me feeling somewhat confused. Certainly, those who donated to this cause deserve praise for their patriotism, but what does it say that we place their names adjacent to those who fought in a brutal war a world away?
Memory is an interesting and fickle thing. The title of this post is inspired by John Green’s popular novel, An Abundance of Katherines, in which Green succinctly expresses just how impressionable memory is. He writes, “And the moral of the story is that you don’t remember what happened. What you remember becomes what happened.” Green does not write this with memorials and monuments in mind, but the point does indeed transfer to mnemonic infrastructure. Penn’s Landing, Spruce Street Harbor Park, and the immediately surrounding area are packed full of memorials and monuments, which creates an environment that shapes the way visitors remember the history these monuments seek to commemorate. These monuments do not, and perhaps cannot, express the full historical reality surrounding things like the Columbian conquest or the Vietnam and Korean Wars, but the narratives they do tell by their very presence and design influence viewers own memory and understanding of those histories. Their memory, thus, crystalizes as historical fact. This becomes particularly dangerous when thinking of difficult histories, like those of slavery and racism, gender, sexual orientation, disabilities and mental illness, among others. The physical landscapes we build to enforce certain historical narratives in collective memory have real implications for the present, and given the current climate, perhaps it is time to start building an environment that challenges this status quo.
 John Green, An Abundance of Katherines (Speak, 2006): p. 207.