TAMPA — Memoria in Aeterna, the Confederate monument that for more than a century stood downtown until a contentious decision last August to move it, has had a low-key start at its new home.
Ken Brandon hopes it stays that way.
"I think it’s just going to be a pretty corner on (State Road) 60," said Brandon, whose family cemetery now houses the monument. "That’s what I would like for it to be."
Seven months after the vote to take it down from outside the old Hillsborough County courthouse, the county is putting the finishing touches on the relocated statue. All that’s left is some sod work and stump trimming, Hillsborough spokeswoman Michelle Van Dyke said.
The new location on the corner of Brandon Boulevard and Lithia Pinecrest Road satisfied critics who said public land is no place for a monument celebrating those who fought to maintain slavery. The old courthouse on Pierce Street once carried out justice for Hillsborough residents and today hosts traffic court and weddings.
"The message was sent that it was time for those (Confederate) monuments to be moved," said County Commissioner Les Miller, the catalyst for the statue’s relocation. "They shouldn’t have been put on government property to begin with."
The statue is not exactly inconspicuous at its new location. Unlike in downtown, where from certain angles the marble obelisk blended in with the white courthouse, it now stands prominently off one of the most traveled roads in Hillsborough County.
About 130,000 cars a day drive that stretch of State Road 60, according to the Florida Department of Transportation.
"There are those who say that it’s now actually being seen by many more people because of its location on a busy road," said David McAllister, spokesman for Save Southern Heritage. "I think that lends an air of less respect and dignity to the monument being sandwiched between a taco stand and a gas station."
The statue is behind a locked gate that only family members can access. Brandon recently mounted security cameras and has plans to put in a flood light.
People can view the monument from behind a new fence that the county installed on the property, but it won’t be open to the public. Brandon, the family patriarch, said they denied a request to host a Southern heritage event in the cemetery.
"If they want to come over and do something, pull weeds," Brandon joked.
The effort to remove the Tampa monument came in the wake of violent rallies in Charlottesville, Va., protesting the removal of a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee.
Commissioners initially voted last year to keep the monument in downtown Tampa. But they reversed course in July, and chose to change ownership back to the United Daughters of the Confederacy and relocate the monument 13 miles east to the small private cemetery owned by the Brandon family, the namesake of the east Hillsborough suburb.
A month later, commissioners said the community would have to pay for half the relocation cost and challenged private fundraisers to get the money in 30 days. If not, it stayed in Tampa.
The money was raised in 24-hours with help from celebrities like former Buccaneers head coach Tony Dungy and local professional sports teams and businesses.
The cost so far is $285,000. Due to the statue’s age and condition, moving it was quite involved. X-rays identified its weak points before it was split into 26 parts. The county conducted ground-penetrating radar at the Brandon cemetery to make sure the ground could hold the heavy marble and to identify any unmarked graves (several were found, including a crypt, which the family intends to mark with bricks).
The statue’s unveiling in 1911 marked the 50th anniversary of the south’s succession. It’s unique design includes two soldiers on either side of an obelisk. One is upright, heading toward battle, the other is home-bound and humbled, his clothes tattered and gun falling to his side.
The soldiers reminded Ken Brandon of his great-grandfather James Henry Brandon, who fought for the Confederate Army. The elder Brandon was captured and imprisoned, and walked home to east Hillsborough after the war.
The monument now stands feet from James Henry Brandon’s grave, marked by a Confederate flag.
"Most people didn’t know the cemetery was there," Brandon said. "But they do now."
Contact Steve Contorno at [email protected] or (813) 226-3433. Follow @scontorno.