For nearly a century, the Silent Sentinel watched over the graves of Civil War veterans at Mount Moriah Cemetery in Yeadon and Southwest Philadelphia.
The bronze figure of a Union soldier clasping the end of a musket stood at rest amid long, neat rows of white marble headstones.
Then, as though deserting its post in fall 1970, the statue disappeared. Thieves pulled it from its granite base and tried to sell it to a Camden scrap dealer, who alerted police.
Silent Sentinel was recovered, repaired at a Chester foundry, and stored out of public view for more than 40 years, until a secure location could be found and money raised for a granite base.
On Wednesday - just days before Memorial Day, an observance with Civil War origins - the monument was moved to Laurel Hill Cemetery on Ridge Avenue to take up a new post and an old mission.
By this time next year, it will be affixed to a 10- to 12-foot-high granite base and illuminated at night at the Gen. George Gordon Meade Post No. 1 Grand Army of the Republic burial plot at Laurel Hill, officials said.
The figure is a natural fit for the Victorian-era cemetery, a kind of Civil War Valhalla where dozens of generals and admirals are buried, including Meade, the victorious commander at the Battle of Gettysburg. The 150th anniversary of that epic clash will be marked with a reenactment from July 3 to 7.
"We're returning this monument to its sacred task," said historian Andy Waskie, a member of the board of the Friends of Laurel Hill Cemetery and an associate member of the Pennsylvania Commandery of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States (MOLLUS), which owns the statue.
In its new location, "the statue will add a new dimension to the Civil War and arts collection of the city," said Waskie, a Temple University professor and author of Philadelphia and the Civil War - Arsenal of the Union.
The move to Laurel Hill is "a wonderful outcome," said Jon Sirlin, a Philadelphia lawyer and associate member of MOLLUS who wrote the transfer agreement. A statue "that was otherwise hidden from view is now coming to light."
The bronze will eventually be visible to passersby on busy Ridge Avenue, illuminated at night "like an eternal flame in Philadelphia, honoring all veterans," Waskie said.
Also known as Silent Sentry, the monument has a colorful history. It was the work of a French immigrant, Achille Bureau, who served in the Union Army and was buried at Laurel Hill.
During a Memorial Day-related ceremony at noon Sunday, reenactors and others will dedicate a marble headstone at Bureau's grave and a bronze-on-granite marker at the grave of another Union soldier, Lt. Charles Waterman. They'll also fire volleys at each site and over Meade's grave and Grand Army of the Republic burial plot.
Bureau's statue was commissioned in 1883 by the Soldiers' Home of Philadelphia, a civilian organization that helped care for indigent and disabled Civil War veterans, Waskie said. The home bought a plot at Mount Moriah for soldiers who died while under care there.
The 700-pound monument was dedicated in 1884 and remained in place until October 1970, when the thieves stole it, then tried to break it up and sell the bronze as scrap.
Finding a safe home for the statue delayed its move to a public site. MOLLUS wanted to prevent another theft and further vandalism, so it stored the statue, valued at $20,000, at the foundry until Waskie proposed the move to Laurel Hill.
"It was too much of a risk to take it back" to the unfenced Mount Moriah, said Adam Flint, commander of the Pennsylvania Commandery of MOLLUS.
Laurel Hill "is a National Historic Landmark that's well secured and safe," said Waskie, who formed a fund-raising committee for the transfer.
Nearly $25,000 has been collected for a granite base, plaque, installation, and lighting, said Alexander "Pete" Hoskins, president and CEO of Laurel Hill and West Laurel Hill Cemeteries, and executive director of the Friends of Laurel Hill Cemetery.
"First, we're part of saving an important monument that's been out of view for more than 40 years," Hoskins said. "This also helps remind the world that we are one of the most important Civil War burial sites."
The statue, standing up to 18 feet high on its base, will be placed in the Meade plot amid the graves of about 24 Civil War veterans, including some who fought at Gettysburg. It's now on display in the cemetery's gatehouse office.
"It's a gorgeous monument that is finally being returned to its mission," Waskie said.