The COVID-19 pandemic interrupted our entire world, introducing unexpected illness, grief, and insecurity to our families and friends. It pulled many of us into the depths of despair and isolation, rendering bare the reality that every person is susceptible. It also gave us a glimpse of how our communities can hold each other up in times of great challenge. It showed us the grit, determination, and innovation of our medical and scientific communities and front-line workers, as well as the compassion and altruism of all types of caregivers across our great commonwealth. This is a story lived in our time that will be shared with future generations and will be told, in part, by this Memorial Monument.

Great stories, like great art, stand the test of time. Both encapsulate important moments in history and convey something remarkable: Beauty, Love, Tragedy, Unity, Prophesy. They deliver something of great importance to current and future generations.

Memorial from a distance showing all statues

The oldest known use of this phrase was traced to the Greek storyteller Aesop in the 6th century B.C.

The Four Oxen and the Lion – An Aesop Fable…

A Lion used to prowl about a field in which Four Oxen used to dwell. Many a time he tried to attack them; but whenever he came near they turned their tails to one another, so that whichever way he approached them he was met by the horns of one of them. At last, however, they fell a-quarrelling among themselves, and each went off to pasture alone in a separate corner of the field. Then the Lion attacked them one by one and soon made an end of all four.

“United we stand, divided we fall.”

Hundreds of years later in the first century AD, a similar phrase appeared in the biblical New Testament – translated into English from historic Greek in Mark 3:25 as "And if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand".

The first known modern usage of the phrase was in 1768, in The Liberty Song by John Dickinson, a song protesting a British Monarchy. A chorus reads…

“Then join hand in hand, brave Americans all,
By uniting we stand, by dividing we fall;
In so righteous a cause let us hope to succeed,
For heaven approves of each generous deed.”

Dickinson went on to become a signer of the Constitution.

Memorial from a distance showing all statues, with Captiol in the back ground

Only a short few years later in 1792, during the first year of Kentucky's membership in the Union, the phrase became an indelible part of our state's history. The state's first General Assembly included the motto on the official seal of the Commonwealth of Kentucky. It remains there today and is the only state in the US to bear this motto.

This phrase will forever and inexorably be representative of the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Although greatly tested during the American Civil War and at other notable points of our historic evolution, including COVID, it stands as a reminder that Kentuckians must always create a circle of unity, just as the four oxen in Aesop’s fable, to uphold thriving communities.

Memorial from a distance showing all statues

Circle of Unity

This “Circle of Unity” is represented by the giant mirror-polished stainless-steel sphere, or orb, held up and elevated by the strength and diversity of our citizens. Throughout the world, the circle is the universal symbol of unity and wholeness. It is the only shape in the universe where all points on its surface are an equal distance to its center, similar to the ideals of a Commonwealth where all citizens have an equal voice. A sphere is considered a reflection of the spirit it embodies, and it casts an incredible reflection of ourselves to each other and to the world.

United We Stand.
Divided We Fall.

Our state motto and seal are inscribed around the equator of the sphere as a reminder of its original meaning in 1792 and our continued commitment today. The design elements of this monument visually capture the imagery of our state seal in 3-dimensional form. Most important to this concept are the people of Kentucky and their fear and grief during this time, yet their hope for better days.

close up of Kentucky state seal on Memorial

The central mast which supports the sphere represents the doctors, scientists, teachers, first responders, leaders, and front-line service workers; all who have dedicated their lives in service to others by providing necessary care and vital resources during the time of COVID. This creates a “column of support.”

base of memorial with carved statue of woman holding a cardinal
base of memorial with carved statue of strong man
base of memorial with carved statue of a person
close up of statue holding red cardinal

The Cardinal

Entering the monument, a figure on the column is holding a cardinal as a gift to the viewer. Significant for many, the sight of a cardinal is recognized as a notable spiritual messenger, meaning an angel is near. Additionally, the cardinal evokes a feeling of home for Kentuckians as our state bird. This vibrant red bird not only signals the beauty of life, but also the intrinsic act of departure.

Each of the figures represent diverse Kentuckians, showing support for one another during a time of loss and suffering. These gestural figures, sculpted very loosely, represent many sizes, shapes, ages, races, and genders, and convey the beauty of diversity. They create an outer circle showing love, and support, and contributing to the spirit of Kentucky in their own unique ways. Each is bestowed with a small, mirror-polished orb, reminiscent of the large one, that engages the figures in shared interaction.

standing carved statue at memorial of woman holding orb in one hand
standing carved statue at memorial of man holding orb in both hands
standing carved statue at memorial of woman holding orb in both hands over her head
standing carved statue at memorial of pregeant woman holding orb in both hands over her head
standing carved statue at memorial of child hold orb

Common to each figure is a noticeable hole at the base of the neck, in the top of the chest. This empty space represents the indescribable grief and despair at the loss of our loved ones, relatives and friends, who left us far too soon.

During the time of COVID, Governor Andy Beshear asked us to ring bells “so those feeling alone know we are with them.” The sound of ringing bells has long been connected to the spiritual world as a way in which angels communicate with us in the earthly realm. To honor this, a small bell resides inside each open space in the chest of the figures, allowing the wind to create a beautiful dialogue between our departed loved ones and those who are still here.

Kentucky Captiol at night with top green

Our Governor also asked us to turn on green lights “…to show compassion for those we have lost.” The center of the memorial will glow green in the evening, while the white lights help guide us through the darkest part of the night until the sun comes up the next morning.

Over and over, we are reminded of the undeniable power of our state motto. Its many iterations have crossed multiple generations and beliefs to stand the test of time. It relays a diametric message of possibilities: tragedy or love. Together, let’s embrace a spirit of oneness as we honor all Kentuckians and reflect on the great motto of our Commonwealth, “United we stand. Divided we fall."