Category Archives: Monuments and Statuary

The origins of the monuments men

I was at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Watson Library doing some research today when I passed this display case.

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I did a double-take when I noticed this image of none other than Dwight Eisenhower himself. This is he and Mamie walking down the Met Museum steps familiar to New Yorkers for generations.

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The date was 2 April 1946. That day the Met made Eisenhower an Honorary Fellow for Life for his role in saving European artworks during the Second World War. This is the first page of the address he gave that April day:

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Here is the order he gave in May 1944, just a few weeks before D-Day. It is revealing that he would issue such an order even before the Normandy Invasion. He always said there was no contingency for failure. Thus, there were preparations for saving artworks even before a beachhead had been secured. Think about it.

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Here are Eisenhower, Patton, and Bradley. The photo was taken by a U.S. Army lieutenant in a German salt mine on 12 April 1945, a month before the war ended and a year before Ike spoke at the Met.

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In a nice touch, the museum has a gallery itinerary in which one cane find artworks now in the Met that were saved by the Monuments Men. I had seen a few of these a number of times over the years without knowing their provenance.

Here is one of those works.

Guardroom with the Deliverance of Saint Peter David Teniers the Younger, ca. 1645–47

Guardroom with the Deliverance of Saint Peter
David Teniers the Younger, ca. 1645–47

The painting was donated to the Met in 1964, half a century ago and only nineteen years after the war’s end.

(images/Ike et al, National Archives; Guardroom, Metropolitan Museum of Art)

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Filed under Dwight D. Eisenhower, Monuments and Statuary, Museums, WW2

A Green-Wood Sunday

I ventured out on this crisp Sunday to go for a walk in Green-Wood Cemetery.

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The images above give a sense of the extent of the snowfall in New York City this winter. There is a little tramping here, but for the most part the snow in the cemetery was still pristine. Today was sparkling with bright blue skies and frigid temperatures.

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The Civil War headstones were visually arresting in the snow. Naturally I was drawn to this one for a Harvey P. Hawley. A quick internet search gives us this information from the 17 October 1865 New York Times:

HAWLEY. — Buried in Greenwood, on Saturday, Oct. 14, the remains of Lieut. HARVEY P. HAWLEY, 82d N.Y. Vols., (or 2d N.Y.S.M.,) who fell in the battle of Fair Oaks, May 31, 1862, aged 23 years, 2 months and 17 days — the first officer slain of that regiment whose glorious muster-rolls numbered nearly five thousand men.

Hawley was killed in the Battle of Seven Pines, the same battle in which  Joseph E. Johnston was wounded and soon replaced by Robert E. Lee. I am assuming he was initially buried in Virginia and reinterred here in Brooklyn after the war.

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An Ancestry search reveals that Captain Hoffman Atkinson of the First West Virginia Cavalry was made a full captain on 28 May 1862, three days before Hawley was killed at Fair Oaks. He died in 1901.

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John A. Robinson was a surgeon in the 5th New York, also known as Duryée’s Zouaves. Many men of the 5th New York are laid to rest in Green-Wood. Colonel Abram Duryée’s himself is buried just around the corner from Robinson. I was going to go up and take a picture of Duryée’s grave atop the hill where it stands, but the snow was so high I decided against it.

Robinson died in 1885. Here is a record I found in Fold3. Attaching a story to a name on a headstone makes these men more real. We throw throw the numbers around a little too cavalierly.

Robinson, John A

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Above is a few of us at the 5th New York Volunteer Infantry monument at Manassas last summer. Way back in July 2011, on the 150th anniversary of First Bull Run, I posted about the New York memorials at Manassas. Robinson died a good thirty years before the monument was dedicated in 1906. The monument is for Second Bull Run.

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For the most part I was meandering, but I went out of the way to visit the Roosevelt family plot. Theodore Roosevelt Senior died on the day in 1878. I wrote a small something about this for the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace Facebook Page this morning, so I will not into it here. If you check it out, make sure to like the TRB page for more.

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Filed under Monuments and Statuary, Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace (NPS)

Battle lines tightening in Florida

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From the “War that never ends” department, a curious story is emerging in Florida in which people are getting angry about a proposed Federal monument to be placed at the Battle of Olustee state park. It seems there are three Confederate, but no Union, memorials at the site. I have never understood these imbroglios. Here is a small piece, complete with video, explaining more. Olustee is actually one of the places I will be visiting as I retrace the steps of Joseph Roswell Hawley in the writing of my biography of him. I really want to see what comes of this story.

(image/Michael Rivera)

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Filed under Florida, Joseph Roswell Hawley, Memory, Monuments and Statuary

Cleaning Tecumseh, cont’d

Manhattan's Grand Army Plaza, 7:15 am

Manhattan’s Grand Army Plaza, 7:15 am

Update: I was in the city running some errand or another last week and noticed that the Sherman statue in Grand Army Plaza was still covered up. I was a little surprised, as the post I wrote about this was some months ago. Still, the stature did need work and I would rather that they do it right. Today’s New York Times has more on the project, complete with video.

I was in the city bright and early this morning running to a dentist appointment when, crossing 59th Street toward 5th Avenue, I noticed that the Sherman statue was covered for renovation. I blogged about the area back in 2011. I had not been in the neighborhood for a while and this was the first I had seen or heard of the project. My first thought when I saw the fencing and signage was, The Central Park Conservancy manages the plaza, along with its Saint-Gaudens masterwork? Then again, why should I be surprised? A quick internet search reveals this New York Times article with the full story from mid-June. The short version is that the pigeons were winning the battle of attrition versus General Sherman. Apparently previous restoration efforts did not go to well; guilding applied in 1989 was too bright, giving the artwork an unnatural hue which angered and upset many in the neighborhood. I have no fears for this current project and am sure the end result will be fine. Keeping the pigeons away permanently is another story.

I am not counting on it but I would love to see a more concerted effort to preserve Civil War New York and see it presented to the public in a more conscious way.

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Filed under Monuments and Statuary, New York City

One day in August

The Hayfoot and I were walking across the Mall from the National Museum of American History yesterday on our way to the FDR Memorial when, crossing Independence Avenue, we heard a tap-tap-tapping sound emanating from the direction of the Martin Luther King Jr Memorial. The MLK statue is one of those disasters so jarringly off in its size and scope, so inappropriate for the man it is meant to honor, so . . . wrong, that it is almost magnificent. Its inappropriateness was all the more obvious after having just left the museum, where we had just seen the Changing America: The Emancipation Proclamation, 1863 and the March on Washington, 1963″ exhibit.

The tapping we heard was somehow appropriate for the still new memorial: it was the engravers chipping away the original, paraphrased “drum major” inscription that angered so many. A ranger told us that the work is all but complete, and that the finishing touches will be in place in time for the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington in a few weeks.

MLK Jr Memorial from rear, with scaffolding and covering, 5 August 2013

MLK Jr Memorial from rear, with scaffolding and covering, 5 August 2013

. . . and from the front

. . . and from the front

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Filed under Monuments and Statuary, Washington, D.C.

Cleaning Tecumseh

Manhattan's Grand Army Plaza, 7:15 am

Manhattan’s Grand Army Plaza, 7:15 am

I was in the city bright and early this morning running to a dentist appointment when, crossing 59th Street toward 5th Avenue, I noticed that the Sherman statue was covered for renovation. I blogged about the area back in 2011. I had not been in the neighborhood for a while and this was the first I had seen or heard of the project. My first thought when I saw the fencing and signage was, The Central Park Conservancy manages the plaza, along with its Saint-Gaudens masterwork? Then again, why should I be surprised? A quick internet search reveals this New York Times article with the full story from mid-June. The short version is that the pigeons were winning the battle of attrition versus General Sherman. Apparently previous restoration efforts did not go to well; guilding applied in 1989 was too bright, giving the artwork an unnatural hue which angered and upset many in the neighborhood. I have no fears for this current project and am sure the end result will be fine. Keeping the pigeons away permanently is another story.

I am not counting on it but I would love to see a more concerted effort to preserve Civil War New York and see it presented to the public in a more conscious way.

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Filed under Monuments and Statuary, New York City

Headstones project reaches brick wall

One of the new headstones at Brooklyn's Green-Wood Cemetery

One of the new headstones at Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery

A strange story came to my attention today via the New York Daily News. Regular followers of the blog know how much Brooklyn’s Green-Wood’s Cemetery means to me, so much so that my wife knows to lay me there to rest when it’s time for my just reward. Green-Wood has many natural, historical, and cultural charms. Like all cemeteries–as opposed to graveyards–it is, paradoxically, a living place. One of the signs of life over the last decade has been the hundreds of Civil War headstones that have gone up in that time. The process takes place with volunteers, working with the cemetery historian, going through old military, pension, and burial records to ascertain the soldiers now resting there. It seems the Department of Veterans Affairs has instituted a rule change that only family can request headstones for loved ones. Needless to say, this will put a damper on the project; demographic changes over the last century and a half have taken many Brooklynites away from the borough. It is difficult to believe many will come forward to identify an ancestor who wore the Grey or Blue. Yes, there are a handful of Confederates buries in Green-Wood.

I really do not know a whole lot about the situation at the moment. My guess is that it is a budget thing. I know the VA has been very busy the past decade and more. Iraq. Afghanistan. Aging WW2 and now Korean and Vietnam vets. The agency has had its hands full. Still, it would seem a shame if this project, not just in Green-Wood but at similar places across the country, were to end. If anyone know more about this please feel free to enlighten us.

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Monday evening winding down

I just got back from DC. The Hayfoot and I had a good time. Being in the nation’s capitol on Memorial Day Weekend is always special. It was a great beginning to the summer. For starters, I have made it my goal to dedicate Memorial through Labor Day to reading novels and short stories, fiction being something I have gotten away from in recent years. To that end, I kicked off by reading John Williams’s 1965 Stoner on the bus ride up ad down. It is sort of The Death of Ivan Ilych if the protagonist were a frustrated academic living in Middle America in the early to mid twentieth century. I think this fiction thing is going to work out well; there is a lot of literature, in different genres, I wasn’t ready for as a younger person that I think will speak to me now.

I also got an interesting email from my sister on Saturday. She received a phone call out of the blue from a woman who is distantly related to us. I began my genealogy in earnest about a year ago and have become something of the de facto family historian. My sister gave me the woman’s contact information and I intend to call her now that I am back in town.

As I mentioned the other day, we planned to visit the Old Soldiers Home/Lincoln Cottage on Saturday. We did, and had a great time. The wife surprised me by arranging a visit to Manassas on Sunday with some friends of ours. I had never visited Bull Run before. It was a special day.

Here, quickly, are a few pics from the weekend.

Abe and the Hayfoot, Lincoln Cottage

Abe and the Hayfoot, Lincoln Cottage

President and Mrs. Lincoln spent more than a quarter of their time at the Old Soldiers Home. The Home, the grounds of which include the presidential cottage, lies about 3 1/2 miles north of the White House. Here Lincoln was able to get away somewhat from the city’s oppressive heat and endless stream of supplicants asking for favors.

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There was little respite, however. In a painful reminder of the war’s human cost, this cemetery was within sight of the cottage. From the window of his study Lincoln could see the graves adding up.

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Manassas

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This monument atop Henry Hill was dedicated in June 1865 and was one of the very first constructed.

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A living history unit representing the 14th Brooklyn was in attendance.

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The 14th was one of many New York zouave units at both First and Second Manassas. In July 2011 I blogged about the rededication of the New York monuments at Bull Run during the Centennial fifty years ago. It meant a lot to finally see them in person.

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Bull Run Creek

Bull Run Creek

Overall it was some weekend. Thank you honey, and to everyone else who made it happen.

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Filed under Monuments and Statuary, Washington, D.C.

A Beautiful Way to Go

Four years ago, just prior to getting married, I moved from an apartment I had lived in for twelve years to another about five blocks away. Overall, the move wasn’t much: same grocery store, post office, dry cleaner, etc, etc. The big change (other than the marriage) was that I was no longer so close to Prospect Park. An extra twenty minutes each way may not seem like much, but it adds an almost-prohibitive amount of time to a potential weekend walk or evening stroll after work. Brooklyn’s Prospect Park was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux and, though not as well-maintained, is very much the equal of their earlier Central Park. (Central Park is better maintained because the rich folks who live along its perimeter give piles of private money for its maintenance.) For me it was a big loss, though one that came with an equally big win: I am now just five minutes away from the gates of Green-Wood Cemetery. Green-Wood is one of the original garden cemeteries and is currently celebrating its 175th anniversary. To mark the occasion the Museum of the City of New York is hosting an exhibit titled A Beautiful Way to Go: New York’s Green-Wood Cemetery. It opened yesterday and runs through October 13.

Brooklyn's Green-Wood Cemetery

Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery

Garden cemeteries, sometimes called rural cemeteries, were a phenomenon of the nineteenth century, when American and European societies were industrializing rapidly and green space was becoming scarcer and scarcer for city dwellers. It may surprise you to know that in the late nineteenth century Green-Wood was the most-visited place in New York State after Niagara Falls. Graveyards are for the dead, final resting places for those who came before us and have now passed on; cemeteries are for the living, places to commune with nature and the past. One hundred and seventy-five years later Green-Wood is still serving this function. No matter how many times I have been there–and it is in the hundreds by now–I always see something new on each visit. It is not hard to do, whether it’s reading the many freshly-planted headstones of the 4,000 Civil War soldiers buried there, poking my head into the bars of a mausoleum to peek at the Tiffany windows, or seeing the sun hitting a familiar vista at a different angle during the change of seasons. I am looking forward to catching this show in the coming weeks, and will have more to say about it here on the blog after I do.

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Filed under Memory, Monuments and Statuary, Museums, New York City

Sunday morning coffee

The Scottish – American Soldiers Monument, Edinburgh

The Scottish – American Soldiers Monument, Edinburgh

An interesting vignette came to my in-box yesterday about the George E. Bissell statue of Lincoln that stands in Edinburgh’s Old Calton Cemetery. Bissell’s name does not carry the same weight as Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Daniel Chester French, or Paul Manship, which is unfortunate because the sculptor was very much their equal. Bissell created one of my favorite statues in all of New York City, the monument to Chester Arthur that stands in Madison Square Park. Bissell’s Arthur stands adjacent to the more lauded Saint-Gaudens’s tribute to Admiral Farragut. Sadly, both are off the tourist path and stand equally unnoticed by New Yorkers themselves as they go about their daily routines.

Bissell’s Lincoln was dedicated in 1893 and was the first of many Lincolns erected outside of the United States during the era. As you can see, it fits neatly into the “Standing Soldiers, Kneeling Slaves” motif described by Kirk Savage in his book of the same title. We have our own such statue, for Henry Ward Beecher, here in downtown Brooklyn. Bissell’s Lincoln is more than a tribute to the Great Emancipator, however; it was also built to pay honor to the Scots who fought for the Union. If you look closely, you will notice that it stands next to the tomb of philosopher David Hume, which could not have been coincidental. We are clearly meant to associate the two men and to think of them as equals. In the tradition of the time turnout was significant for the dedication, so much so that tickets were required despite the blustery conditions. It is lost on us today how seriously people of the period took these kinds of things. Bissell’s Lincoln is a good reminder, too, that the world was paying attention to the events in the United States during our Civil War.

(image/Ad Meskens)

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