Mysterious Ames Monument will be topic of state's 125th celebration

 


Wyoming is full of unusual and mysterious places. The Medicine Wheel between Lovell and Sheridan is one such place.  The birthing rock north of Rock Springs is another.  And one of the oddest of all is the Ames Monument, known as the  “pyramid of the plains” located between Cheyenne and Laramie.

That monument will be a primary focus of the Laramie event in June to celebrate the 125th anniversary of Wyoming.

It is a unique structure that can barely be seen from Interstate 80 at the top of the Sherman Hill summit between Laramie and Cheyenne.  It marks the highest point of the Union Pacific Railroad, which crossed the USA over two decades before Wyoming became a state.

The pyramid is a unique edifice and seems like it is located in an almost sacred place, there on a high ridge blowing in the wind.

The monument is a tribute to two brothers, Oliver and Oakes Ames, who were instrumental in getting the railroad built.

Oakes’ great-great-great granddaughter Anna Lee Ames-Frohlich has been corresponding with me about this unique place.

She, along with some state officials, are hoping to get the monument listed as a National Monument during the 125th celebration. That application is being made in May in Washington, D. C. by Sarah Allaback and Ethan Carr.

The 60-foot high pyramid has quite a history. It was designed by Henry Hobson Richardson, the pre-eminent architect of the 19th century.  It has bas-relief medallions showing the faces of the two Ames brothers. They were created by the famous sculptor Augustin Saint-Gaudens.


Like a lot of pyramids, it is not totally solid but has passageways inside. Until the 1980s, it was not uncommon for local young people to crawl inside and create mischief. The openings were sealed around that time.

Dave Simpson of Cheyenne recalls going inside in 1974 when he was working for the Laramie Boomerang. “The passages were narrow and I could not see the ceiling. It was kind of wet and the bats made me nervous.”  He said the 1973 UW yearbook showed a pitch black photo listed as “the interior of the Ames Monument.”

It was later sealed by a blast that was thought to have permanently prevented further entry.

In 2010, a group including Ames-Frohlich unsealed it and ventured inside. The following is from a report of that adventure by the late writer Lawrence Ostresh:

“Over the years the monument has been allowed to deteriorate.  Saint-Gaudens’ wonderful bas-reliefs had their noses shot off, lichen has been eating the granite, mortar has crumbled from the joints and hundreds of tons of soil have eroded from its base, threatening the integrity of the entire megalith. 


“Wyoming State Parks planning coordinator Todd Thibodeau began corrective action, hiring Harold F. Johnson Masonry of Cheyenne to strip the lichen, re-mortar the joints, and re-contour the ground surrounding the base.

“As Todd was planning his repairs, other events were taking place.  At the Preserve Wyoming conference in Evanston, Mary Hopkins (Director of Wyoming State Historic Preservation Office), Ames-Frohlich, Jerry Hansen, and others discussed how to make the monument into a National Historic Landmark.  It is currently listed on the National Register of Historic Places. 

“As a result of that meeting, Anna Lee re-doubled her on-going research into the history and importance of the monument.  In the process, she met Mark Wright, an architectural historian knowledgeable about the monument.  It was Mark’s belief that if at all possible we should be allowed to enter the monument.

“While Todd was initially reluctant to permit access to the interior, a bizarre series of events – including casual conversations on a ferry boat in San Francisco Bay – brought John Newcomb into the picture.  He is an architect and principal with Newcomb-Anderson-McCormick, an SF-based energy engineering and consulting firm.  He was able to convince Todd of the importance of examining the inside of the monument, and the group was allowed in so as to provide a service to the state.  Anna Lee provided the funding to hire Jim Johnson of HFJ Masonry to open it.

“On Tuesday, October 26, 2010, at 8:30 a.m., Jake Johnson of HFJ Masonry began opening the long-sealed access hole to the Monument.  It was a very cold day and the winds screamed by at over 60 mph.”

So what did they find inside the monument?

That news will have to wait a little while until it is visited again by folks celebrating Wyoming’s 125th anniversary in June.

  Check out Bill Sniffin’s columns at http://www.billsniffin.com.  He is a longtime Wyoming journalist from Lander who has written five books. His most recent book is “MY WYOMING 101 Special Places,” is now available for purchase.

 

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