From the Greek words kenos (empty) and taphos (tomb) cenotaphs are tombs or monuments erected to honor a person or persons whose remains are elsewhere or their whereabouts unknown. This one in San Antonio’s Alamo Plaza is sometimes referred to as “The” Cenotaph. It was commissioned in 1936, for the Texas Centennial, and dedicated in 1940.
It is called “The Spirit of Sacrifice.” Some believe that the monument is built where many of the Alamo defenders were put to death after the fall. Others believe the corpses of the dead defenders were piled here and unceremoniously burned. The remains were later collected by local citizens and today located in a marble casket at nearby San Fernando Cathedral.
The basic concept of the memorial was by architect Carlton Adams (who also designed Jefferson High School.) Local sculptor Pompeo Coppini, an Italian immigrant, carved the marble relief figures. The plaque reads: Erected in memory of the heroes who sacrificed their lives at the Alamo, March 6, 1836, in the defense of Texas. They chose never to surrender nor retreat; these brave hearts, with flag still proudly waving, perished in the flames of immortality that their high sacrifice might lead to the founding of this Texas. It also list the names of the 167 people believed at the time to be the Alamo defenders,
University of Texas folklorist (and member of the Centennial Commission) J. Frank Dobie HATED the monument. He wrote, for the front page of the San Antonio Light newspaper, that is was “like a grain elevator or one of those swimming-pool slides” and the defenders look as if they had “come to the Alamo to have their pictures taken.” Travis, he noted, is wearing an anachronistic Lone Star buckle “he probably bought . . . at the 10-cent store across the plaza.”
The Cenotaph made national news when Black Sabbath rocker Ozzy Osbourne — wearing his wife’s dress (she had hidden his clothes) — relieved himself on the monument. Arrested for public intoxication and banned from performing in San Antonio for years, he made amends 10 years later by donating $10,000 to the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, then custodians of the Alamo.