December 29, 2021

Monument to Indiana soldier, hero of 1898 fire, to be moved

This undated photograph shows a monument in Terre Haute, Ind., to Claude Herbert, a young soldier who died in December 1898 after rescuing children and workers from a fire at a Terre Haute department store where he was portraying Santa Claus. Terre Haute Mayor Duke Bennett said the granite monument will be moved next spring from its longtime location near city hall to the former site of the Havens & Geddes department store.  - (The Tribune-Star via AP)

This undated photograph shows a monument in Terre Haute, Ind., to Claude Herbert, a young soldier who died in December 1898 after rescuing children and workers from a fire at a Terre Haute department store where he was portraying Santa Claus. Terre Haute Mayor Duke Bennett said the granite monument will be moved next spring from its longtime location near city hall to the former site of the Havens & Geddes department store.

(The Tribune-Star via AP)

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (AP) — A monument to a young soldier who died in 1898 after rescuing children and workers from a fire at a western Indiana department store where he was portraying Santa Claus will be refurbished and moved next year to the site of the fire.

Terre Haute Mayor Duke Bennett said the granite monument to Claude Herbert will be moved next spring from its longtime location between Terre Haute City Hall and the Vigo County Courthouse to the former site of the Havens & Geddes department store.

He said the goal of restoring the monument and returning it to the site of the deadly fire is to “make it more reflective" of Herbert's heroic actions, the Tribune-Star reported.

Herbert, a 19-year-old U.S. Army soldier, was at home in Terre Haute after duty in the Spanish-American War when he took a job portraying Santa Claus at the store to support his newly widowed mother.

Just two days into that job, a fire started on the night of Dec. 19, 1898, in the shopper-filled store, eventually killing Herbert, two firefighters and a store clerk who jumped from a second-story ledge.

When the fire started, Herbert was in the store's basement with 30 children who had come to see Santa Claus in a winter cabin setting, with Herbert playing the lead role.

He stayed in costume and in character while leading the panicked children to safety outside. He then reentered the store and rescued a 3-year-old girl after her mother screamed that she was still inside.

Herbert also led a group of clerks to safety, but he died in the blaze after returning inside, mistakenly believing more workers were still there. They had in fact fled to safety on the building's opposite side. Some of Herbert's bones were eventually found in the building's ruins.

The current monument to Herbert was dedicated in 1928. Two earlier commemorative fountains, the first erected in 1905 at the fire's site, were destroyed over the years — first by a horse and carriage and later by a car crash.

After another car damaged the monument in February 1980, it was moved to the site between the county courthouse and city hall.

But over decades it had “lost some of its meaning” at that location, said Mary Kramer, the executive director of Wabash Valley Art Spaces, which found a stone artist to refurbish the monument.

“I think it’ll make everybody happy,” she said of the relocation.

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