COLUMBIA -- Francis Marion, the Revolutionary War hero known to schoolchildren everywhere as the Swamp Fox, got a bum deal.
His family plantation was flooded and now sits at the bottom of Lake Marion. Sure, he's got a national forest named after him, a grassy square in downtown Charleston where coeds sunbathe and a tomb in rural Berkeley County commemorated with a historic marker.
But this guy is the stuff of legend. Some people say Americans may have lost the war to the redcoats, if it wasn't for Marion and the broken ankle he got on Tradd Street that sent him back to the swamps and his militia band of freedom fighters.
John McCabe gets animated just thinking about it.
The Columbia financial adviser and all-around do-gooder (a baseball coach to his three young sons and a member of several state boards) has been on a nearly six-year journey to put up a monument to the Swamp Fox, right where no one will ever forget him: Washington, D.C.
"Things don't happen in a vacuum; you have to make them happen," McCabe said. "If you're going to do something that's lasting and has an impact, it takes effort. It takes vision and there are stumbling blocks."
McCabe said the project is much bigger than he thought when he got the idea in June 2005. He decided to take on the project after he visited an acre-and-a-half park along South Carolina Avenue in Washington that was named for Marion in 1887 but does not have any other tribute to its namesake. The well-worn park, part of the National Park Service, is about four blocks from Capitol Hill. Neighborhood families, including children and dogs, use it daily.
McCabe wants to raise about $500,000 to cover the cost to design and build a monument. He wants to include iconic South Carolina elements and has some ideas about what he'd like it to look like, but the design is not complete.
The immediate goal is to raise $50,000 to hire an architectural firm in Washington to guide McCabe and his committee through the site-selection and design process. McCabe's Francis Marion Memorial Project has partnered with the nonprofit Palmetto Conservation Foundation for the effort.
So far, the project has raised $10,000 through the Swamp Fox Challenge, a letter-writing campaign that started with eighth-graders at Dent Middle School in Columbia. The children reached out to students in all 1,100 South Carolina public schools and asked them to each give $1 between Feb. 23 and April 15.
Before the committee started raising money for the project, McCabe won approval by Congress and the president for the memorial and collected a stack of OKs from several oversight boards and commissions.
"It's kind of funny, the old joke about 'You need an act of Congress to make that happen.' Well, I literally had to have an act of Congress to make that happen," McCabe said. "That was the part of it that I didn't think would be that difficult, and yet it took three years."
After President George Bush signed off on the monument in 2008, the project hit a standstill because of the economic situation. McCabe said that with signs the economy has picked up, he thinks it's time to move forward.
The president's approval expires in May 2015. And besides raising the money, McCabe said the project needs environmental and parking studies and some more additional approvals.
But the project won't be finished until the committee attends to some details closer to home. McCabe said he wants to put up Swamp Fox monuments in Charleston's Marion Square and at the corner of Senate and Marion streets in Columbia.
Michael Carmody, a Charleston commercial real estate broker and a member of the project committee, said he has been a fan of the Revolutionary War patriot ever since he was a child and earned a Francis Marion merit badge as a Boy Scout. Carmody said besides adding a statue of Marion in Marion Square (the statue in the square is actually of former Vice President John C. Calhoun), he said the Swamp Fox deserves a tribute in Washington befitting of his national significance.
"It's pretty sad that the hero he was is not being revered in a better way," Carmody said.
McCabe's ultimate goal is lofty. He wants to give South Carolina children something to be proud of. He thinks the state's national reputation will be enhanced with a prominent monument so close to Capitol Hill.
"When you can instill a sense of curiosity, a desire to learn in our children, something that excites a child to want to learn, that's invaluable," McCabe said. "That's how we move our state in the direction we want it to move in. Sometimes we need symbols, rather than just statements."
Reach Yvonne Wenger at 803-926-7855.