Friday, June 28, 2013

Tomb of the Unknown Plastic Soldiers


Somewhere on west side of downtown, there's a hidden memorial to all the brave, plastic soldiers who were left behind in backyard battles of childhood's past.

- The Terracotta Army. Image via National Geographic

Three years ago, I was in a 4D Art class at NKU. The class was a prerequisite for my photography degree. One of the assignments we had for the class was to do an "installation piece" i.e. install a piece of artwork in a public space. Not wanting to exert a huge amount of energy, time or money towards this assignment - I went with what I had available in terms of supplies...

...which at the time was a shoebox full of tan and gray army men.

I don't know why I bought them originally, but I remember buying them back in high school. A bag of like 50 of these things was on sale at a dollar store for, yes, a dollar. 50 soldiers for a dollar. That's a deal you can't pass up.

I bought two bags, opened them up, dumped them in a shoe box and forgot that I had ever bought them. I don't remember exactly why I bought them, but apparently I had packed up that shoe box and taken it to college with me.

So there I was, faced with an assignment and about 100 plastic soldiers at my command. So I decided they would be the subject of my installation piece and I'd base it off the Terracotta Army seen in the photo above.

- Terracotta Soldier. Image via Wikipedia.

If you're not familiar with the Terracotta Army, it's a collection of intricately detailed sculptures depicting the army of Qin Shi Huang, China's first emperor. The soldier's were constructed and buried with the dead emperor, meant to protect him in the afterlife. The work was so immense that over 8,000 individual soldiers were created along with hundreds of calvary and chariot units, each figure unique in its own way.

I figured these plastic soldiers wouldn't protect me in the afterlife, but they'd at least be useful in getting this assignment done. So my friend Tyrell and I went to a spot we know of West of downtown. We dug trenches, lined up the plastic troops just like the ancient sculptures and meticulously placed them all. To our credit, we did put forth a good effort by actually placing dirt around each individual soldier's plastic feet to keep it standing up. I snapped some photos for the class and decided to leave the troops there.

Jokingly, the "memorial" I made was dedicated to the plastic soldiers that kids have certainly been losing for years in backyards, basements and houses throughout their childhoods. Yet, here I was leaving behind a ridiculous amount of plastic soldiers. I figured I'd post about it on the internet and maybe someone would come across it one day and get a kick out of it.










To be honest, I had completely forgotten about the "tomb." I never really told anyone about it, never posted it online and never went back to check on it. Yesterday morning I came across the photos I had taken when I built it back in April 2010 and decided to go look for it.

Just west of Paul Brown Stadium, near Longworth Hall, there's these old railroad piers that don't carry tracks anymore. They've been decorated in public art that's worth a vist in itself, but hidden behind them and up the hill was the tomb.


I chose that spot because it's where they had filmed a scene in the abysmally bad, yet wonderfully cheesy 1990's teen drama known as "Airborne."

- The "tomb" area as it appeared in the film Airborne in 1993.

Yet, three years later, as I walked up the hill to where I had placed the soldiers all those years ago, I saw they were gone.

No sign of the trenches, no little guys left... just nothing. The "tomb" has completely disappeared and the area is now just a camp for the homeless who frequent the spot underneath the train tracks.






  1. In college, a friend got all his hundreds of army men, tanks, cannons, jeeps, and whatnot, spread them out, post-battle style, then videotaped the scene. In editing, he slowed the video, and dropped in the music from "Glory".

    It actually turned out to be quite moving.

    1. Haha that's awesome, was it this theme?

    2. Close. At the end of the movie, there's a slower take on it, as the camera pans the carnage. That's what he was going for. I gotta convince him to find the VHS tape, convert it to DVD and put it on YouTube.

  2. What kind of grade did you get on the public art project? I think it was creative and well done! I'll bet, plowed under, those bits of plastic remain ...

  3. Ronny, you're insane.
    But in a good way.

  4. I loved this piece. Re-creating the terra cotta army is priceless. I played with my plastic friends well into the 8th grade (secretly of course). There were favorites that made a team similar to the comic book legends Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos, The Losers, and The Haunted Tank. The guys standing with their rifles over their heads were the "red shirts" of our battles. We would spend hours digging them in only to be discovered and spanked for atrocities against the lawn. GREAT PIECE!