Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Inspired by the Great War: The Lincoln Shrine of Redlands, California

The Lincoln Shrine in Redlands, California, was a gift to the community from British immigrant Robert Watchorn. Watchorn was drawn to the oil business and made a fortune wildcatting and founding his own business. An admirirer of Lincoln, Watchorn was a devoted family man. He married Alma Jessica Simpson in Ohio in 1891. They had two sons, Robert Jr., who died in infancy, and Emory Ewart, who was born in New York City in 1895. Emory Ewart graduated from Hollywood High School in Hollywood, California, in 1913. Watchorn shared his admiration for Lincoln with his only surviving child. 

A frequent visitor with his parents to Europe, Emory was trapped in Germany for a brief period of time in 1914 when the conflict that would become known as the Great War broke out. Sharing his father’s affinity for Great Britain, the young Watchorn looked forward to American involvement in the war. In the summer of 1916 he completed officer training at Monterey, California. When President Woodrow Wilson convinced Congress to declare war on Germany in April of 1917 “in order to make the world safe for democracy,” Emory Ewart volunteered for the U.S. Army Air Service. After completing ground training at Berkeley, California, he sailed aboard the SS Aquitania for Europe. Before entraining for his final destination in Italy, he was able to enjoy a ten-day leave in Paris. In a letter later published in the Los Angeles Times, he wrote “Paris is like the smile on the face of the badly wounded.”

Caproni CA-3 Bomber Flown by American Pilots

The Italian Front in World War I witnessed incredible suffering. After three years of bloody trench warfare with Germany and Austria, Italy was on the verge of suing for peace. Italy’s allies — Great Britain, France, and the United States — rushed in reinforcements to bolster Italian morale. Included among these reinforcements was a contingent of several hundred American pilot trainees, under the command of then congressman, later New York mayor, Fiorello La Guardia. Although her army was not enjoying much success, Italy’s strategic aviation was widely regarded as being the best in the world in 1917. In particular, the tri-motor Caproni biplane bomber was highly respected. The United States, by comparison, had no military aviation and despite expending millions of dollars, very few American-produced aircraft would see service in the war. What America did have was tens of thousands of eager volunteers, including 21-year-old Emory Ewart Watchorn.

Lt. Emory Watchorn, USAS
After months of flight training in Foggia, Lt. Watchorn received his gold Royal Italian Air Force wings in the summer of 1918 and was assigned to the 13th Squadriglie (squadron). Based in Padua, Lt. Watchorn and his Italian comrades flew day and night bombing missions against Austrian airfields, railroad yards, and troop concentrations. On a night mission, Lt. Watchorn’s center engine was hit by anti-aircraft fire. He would receive a commendation for coolly executing a perfect emergency landing, saving his crew and the plane. The arduous flying conditions, open cockpits, and extreme cold took a toll on his health. Soon after Armistice Day, he contracted a severe case of pneumonia. He recovered, however, and returned to California in triumph. Two years later, a recurrence of his health problems developed into blood poisoning. After a two month struggle, Emory Ewart died at the age of 25 on 10 July 1921. Robert and Alma were devastated by the loss of their only surviving child and always felt that his death was a direct result of his service to his country.

Padua Airfield, Where Lt. Watchorn Served

Seeking a way to memorialize their fallen son, the Watchorns eventually settled on the concept of building the Lincoln Memorial Shrine in their winter home of Redlands. That vision became reality in 1932, when the one-room octagonal building opened. In 1937, fountains and limestone walls bearing Lincoln quotations were added to the octagon. Over the following decades, an ever-increasing wealth of acquisitions required additional space. Thanks to the generosity of Lincoln and Civil War enthusiasts throughout Southern California, more than one million dollars was raised and in 1998 two beautiful wings were added to the original octagon.

It is a unique facility — the only such museum and archive west of the Mississippi River dedicated solely to the study of Abraham Lincoln and the American Civil War. By placing the shrine in his adopted home of Redlands, Watchorn knew this monument of ideals would be available to the increasing number of people moving into Southern California. It was “accessible yet secluded,” he said.

Thanks to regular contributor Courtland Jindra for bringing this to our attention.

Article contents from the Lincoln Shrine website. (Corrections posted 12 May 2016.)


  1. "not a single American-produced aircraft would see service in the war."

    This is incorrect. The US produced several thousand DH-4 "Liberty Planes," many of which saw service in France. It is true that we had no original designs that made it into combat.

    1. Good catch Steve. Correction made. Made it to Behonne. Will post pictures on 20 May of the LE airfield.

  2. Both father and son were huge Lincoln enthusiasts, which is one of the reasons this shrine was built. There is a plaque out front with the family names as well.

    It's a beautiful facility.