Understanding The Alamo cenotaph

Empty tomb honors Alamo defenders

SAN ANTONIO – Bruce Winders has been historian of The Alamo for 22 years.

During that time, Winders has noticed something about the cenotaph, the large white monument located northwest of the shrine's entrance. 

"Many people will walk up to it, but they just walk right by it," he said.

But Winders said there's an important history behind the cenotaph, which was one of the biggest sticking points of the Alamo Plaza redesign plan that was approved by the San Antonio City Council in October.

"The cenotaph, specifically, is an empty tomb. It's a type of monument where the bodies aren't available. We don't know where they are. In this case, they were burned," Winders said.

He said the monument was also the subject of controversy in 1940 when it was completed.

"Many people said, 'Well, The Alamo is a monument. A monument doesn't need a monument,'" he said. "But there was always this idea -- even from the 1830s -- that there needed to be something with the names that represented the Alamo defenders."

The names are now etched on the cenotaph.

"Right after the battle, there was a list of about 150 names that were published in a period newspaper. And that becomes the basic list of names. And then later, the 32 men from Gonzales that showed up later in the siege, their names get added," Winders said.

History has continued to reveal more names to add to the list.

"But that's one of the ideas behind relocation -- there would be signage that would talk about what the cenotaph is, its history, and then we'd be able to give a little more detail about who the men were," Winders said.

The cenotaph will be moved 500 feet south in Alamo Plaza, where Winders said it was originally planned to be located, along with the names and famous faces from the battle.

The monument was funded by the state in 1936, the 100th anniversary of the Texas revolution. 

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