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Lucius Burrie Swift: From a Civil Service Reformer to a Monument in Garfield Park

Two weekends ago, in the midst of the social distancing due to the current pandemic, my wife and I picked up breakfast (carry out) and then drove around the city to do some “sightseeing.” Since we were already on the southside of downtown, our tour was focused on Bates-Hendricks neighborhood and Garfield Park. The latter we are very familiar with, although you never know when you might spot something you haven't seen before.

That weekend was one of those occasions. As we drove through Garfield Park, I spotted what appeared to be a monument on the northside of the Sunken Gardens which I hadn’t noticed before. Closer examination revealed it to be a simple stone slab, with what looked like a pedestal on the front, which was clearly missing some additional piece.

The side opposite the pedestal was smooth stone with no writing or features, beyond lichens and the general weathered condition. The front included the inscription 'Lucius Burrie Smith,' 'American Citizen.'

Who was Lucius Swift? And how did a dilapidated monument end up in a corner of one the city’s oldest parks? First, while he was an American citizen, he was not a native citizen of the Hoosier state. Swift was born in New York in 1844 and served in a New York regiment during the Civil War. Following the war, he attended University of Michigan, and graduated in 1870. He studied law for two years, but then went into education, teaching school in LaPorte, Indiana and later becoming superintendent. He married his wife, Mary Ella (or Ellen in some sources) Lyon sometime prior to 1879, when they both moved to Indianapolis and began to practice law.

While his legal practice continued for most of his life, his real mark were his efforts to reform the civil service, i.e. the service of career government employees who work in their positions despite changes in the political winds, and focusing on a merit system of hiring and promotion versus a patronage, or “spoils” system. In 1881 he joined the Civil Service Reform league, which put him in contact with likeminded individuals at the state and national level. In 1889, he  began to publish the Civil Service Chronicle (for which Mary was an editor), a monthly newsletter addressing civil service related issues, and “promoting civil service reform”:

Civil Servce Chronicle, Volume 1, No. 1, March 1889
Civil Servce Chronicle, Volume 1, No. 1, March 1889

Swift's efforts gained widespread notice, and he became a national authority on civil service reform. Through these activities at the local and national level, he became good friends with Theodore Roosevelt, after Roosevelt was appointed to the Civil Service Commission by President Benjamin Harrison in 1889. He was involved in numerous reform efforts, including those targeting the postal service and the Central State Hospital. Despite his focus on civil service, Swift didn’t hold any governmental position until later in life when he was appointed to the sanitation commission for Indianapolis in 1915, and was reappointed in 1919 for a second four year term. Mayor Charles Jewett, in reappointing him at the recommendation of the president of the board, stated that “[i]t is a great pleasure to make the appointment as recommend, as Mr. Swift is a faithful, loyal and efficient public official.”

In addition to his civil service and legal work, Swift was also an author, and wrote several pamphlets and books, which were generally focused on patriotic ideals. These included Germans In America, published in 1913, How We Got Our Liberties (1928), and America's debt to England : the failure to teach the foundations of liberty (1917). How We Got Our Liberties explored the evolution of the American system of government from its Anglo-Saxon roots, and was dedicated to his wife. I expected Germans in America to be a history of the German people in the United States, but in fact it was a mostly polite tirade against Imperial Germany on the eve of the Great War. While he was too old to fight in that war, he instead oversaw the local conscription board. He spent long hours on this work, and "interrogated the witnesses, rounded up the slackers, and shamed the cowards..."

Swift died at his home at 716 East 14th Street in March of 1929, at the age of 85, and his remans were cremated. During what was described as a simple funeral, his friends, especially those from his circle of reformers, remembered him fondly. William Dudley Foulke, a fellow civil service reformer from Richmond, Indiana, eulogized him, stating “[h]is reward in official honors was eager enough He did not seek office or popular applause at all. He had a good deal of the Spartan in his makeup but it was so mellowed with the milk of human kindness that those who were nearest to him could barely perceive it.” He also recounted Swift's desire "to go over the top" and die during the Great War. Foulke would write a biography of Swift the next year. Copies are available through several local institutions. 

Mary Ella Lyon Swift, who had joined Lucius in many of his community endeavors and herself had championed several causes, including war relief, died in 1933 (although a burial permit was issued, I could not find her grave locally).  However, her will included provision for an erection of a memorial in honor of her late husband. A committee of Swift's acquaintances proceeded with the memorial which was to be erected in Garfield Park. The location in Garfield Park is odd, considering the location of his residence in the area now known as the Old Northside.

Image of Swift from a portrait done by Simon P. Baus

Sources vary as to the reason for Garfield Park. One reference from local papers was that the location was chosen since it was amongst the trees, which Mr. Swift loved. Another, and the reason allegedly given in his wife's will, was Garfield Park's close proximity to Swift's friends in the area. Whatever the reason, the monument, with its inscription and a bust of Swift, was completed in March 1934 at the present location in Garfield Park. As you can see in the photos at the beginning of this post, the bust is no longer present, although Swift's name and the inscription "American Citizen" is still visible.  I have been unable to find any information on what happened to the bust. The only reference is on a Hoosier History Live archive page from 2014, which mentions the bust was stolen (the reference is not subject to a Control + F search). 

Following his death, some of his friends and acquaintances began an essay contest for school children in his memory, although this seemed to have ceased by the 1950's. Occasionally there are references to him and his reform efforts in newspapers throughout the mid-20th century, usually in the context of the need of another Lucius Swift to address reform or corruption related issues.


Indiana State Library Lucius Swift Finding Aid,

Indianapolis Star, October 10, 1917, July 4-6, 1929, April 7, 1933, March 4, 1934

Indianapolis News, May 29, 1880, December 30, 1919, September 8, 1933

Germans in America,

Fighting the Spoilsmen: Reminiscences of the Civil Service Reform Movement, William Dudley Foulke,

Image of Swift is from a portrait done by Simon P. Baus, which appeared in the Indianapolis Star on January 13, 1929

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