The fall semester, indeed the entire 2016-17 academic year, started this past Thursday. This term our students are studying Brooklyn’s Grand Army Plaza, with the first few weeks dedicated to the Battle of Brooklyn in order to give students a sense of place. Today my colleague and I were in Prospect Park following the route of George Washington men on this date 240 Augusts ago. I believe there were a few events scheduled for later in the day but I was surprised that no one else was looking at these markers. Here with little comment are a few snapshots from the day.
I visited relatives last weekend and while there my uncle took me to several WW1 monuments, markers, and tablets spread across numerous towns around Boston. It seems that all of the small communities in the area left some kind of marker to remember the events of the Great War. One of them even commemorated a doughboy killed in France in early 1919, a reminder that the danger did not end with the Armistice in November 1918 and that Americans were in harm’s way for some time thereafter. I intend to share these monuments in greater detail over the course of the rest of the summer, but wanted today to show a few pics from last week.
My uncle was extraordinarily kind and generous; he researched all of the monuments himself and drove us to each one, which was no easy task. It was also the hottest weekend of the year with temperatures in the mid-90s on both days. It would have been so easy for us to call it a day at any given point. Still, it was such a good time. Again, I will go more into these in the near future but here are a few snippets from our two excursions.
This is the town square in Hopedale. The statue in the background is General William F. Draper who fought for the Union in the Civil War. The statue is beautiful and was sculpted by none other than Daniel Chester French. Noting this, my uncle and I discussed how the veterans of the North had the financial resources to build these types of monuments to a degree that the veterans of the physically and economically devastated South did not. (Seeing the ghastly Stonewall Jackson statue at Manassas yesterday only drove the point home.) Hiring French cost General Draper’s widow a fortune. Still the Draper family was part of the industrial boom taking place during the Gilded Age and had the means to do it. The WW1 monument we came to see was directly behind where he is standing.
Some of the monuments are small and easy to miss. This one above was dedicated to a particular individual and is in remarkably excellent condition.
You can barely make it out but the marker, again dedicated to an individual, is on the pole just to the right of the small American flag. I imagine that when the marker was dedicated, presumably in the 1920s, there were still a few GAR members around to witness the occasion. This Grand Army of the Republic post is today an animal hospital.
Another town, another WW1 memorial. This one dedicated in 1935. When recording these things, one should always try to put the marker/tablet/memorial into its context and not just capture the object itself. The old New England church across the street adds to the poignancy. On the other side of the street, behind me where I took this picture, was an American Legion post with people coming and going.
These were a great couple of days all the way around, and I look forward to digging deeper into the stories of what we saw and sharing it here.
Last week I posted an image of the plaque dedicated to James C. Andes on Governors Island. Yesterday I strolled down the southern part of the parade ground to take this image of the monument to Ewin V. Evans. This is just north of the Chapel of St. Cornelius. It is so quiet on the island before that first public ferry boat, and with the Manhattan skyline standing there looking like a cardboard cutout on a bright day the moment is sublime.
Like Andes, Evans was a 2nd lieutenant in the 16th Infantry Regiment. Evans was killed the day after Andrews during the Battle of Soissons. At least with the 16th, what the Army did was place a tablet on a boulder and name the facing road after said individual. It’s something that most–as in virtually all–visitors to the island walk past without realizing. From what I understand someone I know is contemplating a larger project with the various 16th Infantry and other tablets spread out across Governors Island. I do hope comes to pass. Over the rest of the summer, leading up to our World War 1 day scheduled for September 17, I am going to take a photo of as many as I can an post them here.
I was all Gettysburg and Vicksburg at Governors Island yesterday. Hancock, the Grants, Pemberton. So many of them spent time, often significant time, on the island in the years before and after the war. Many of the visitors to the island are casual visitors who know little of the place’s history. Most perk up when you help them make a connection, especially of 4th of July Weekend. I stopped in front of the Andes plaque and took these photos of the tablet dedicated to the doughboy from the 16th regiment who was killed at Soissons in July 1918. Eventually I am going to dig deeper into this one and send it off to Mark Levitch at the WW1 Memorial Inventory Project. The 16th had strong ties to Governors Island in the decades after the Great War. They were housed in Liggett Hall and left their legacy all over the place. It was the 16th that marched through Paris on the 4th of July 1917 to Picpus Cemetery in honor the Lafayette. I did also manage to squeeze the marquis in yesterday during my tour of Castle Williams, pointing across the harbor to Castle Clinton to show the group where Lafayette was fêted by enthusiastic New Yorkers in 1824.
I was leaving work last night when I struck up a conversation with one of my co-workers about the anniversary of the Normandy Invasion, the 72nd anniversary of which was of course yesterday. That led to a discussion about another event that took place on a June 6: the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy in 1968. All told it was a terrible year in American history, with the Tet Offensive, MLK assassination, riots, violence at the Democratic Convention in Chicago and so many other things I am leaving out as a type this. As my friend’s and my conversation continued I remembered that there is a bust of RFK in Cadman Plaza and that I had showed it to students during one of our walk-throughs this past semester. In the spring it was behind some construction fencing, but as you can see from these images I took after work last night, that fencing has been removed.
There are a great many memorials within Cadman Plaza. Three of our students wrote about different ones in their final papers, and even with that there were still a good 4-5 we left out. Unfortunately some of the memorials are now gone; trees with memorial plaques dedicated to Brooklyn men who had served in the Great War have been torn up to make way for the renovation of Columbus Park and Cadman Plaza that has been taking incrementally over the past year or so.
Though she did not address the audience Ethel Kennedy, Boby Kennedy’s widow, was on hand during the unveiling of the bronze bust when it was dedicated on November 2, 1972. Coincidentally or not the dedication came five days prior to the presidential election in which Nixon defeated McGovern. I was curious to see if anyone would be making note of the statue but in the five minutes or so I was there no one did. It will be interesting to see if two years from now they do something in the Plaza to mark the 50th anniversary of Robert Kennedy’s assassination.
I hope everyone is safe after the Great Blizzard of 2016. I have not been out since Friday evening and so have not yet seen it, but we got dumped with about three feet here in New York City. I took advantage of the weather yesterday by preparing the syllabus for the class I will be co-teaching this semester. It’s about 30% done. There are some holes to fill but it’s coming along. As I said the other day, I’m nervous and excited in equal measure. There’s that feeling of working without a net.
The other day I posted about the obscure Lincoln tablet affixed to the north face of Borough Hall. That same day I took this image of the World War II memorial in Cadman Plaza. Ironically, despite its size many people miss this one too because it is in a seldom-visited part of the plaza. The reason why it is so seldom-visited is something out students will learn and write about over the term. The way I understand it Robert Moses constructed this memorial in the early 1950s in response to what he saw as the excessive number of World War I memorials that sprung up throughout the city in the wake of the Great War. As Mark Levitch, the founder of the World War I Memorial Inventory Project notes, there are something like 10,000 Great War monuments of all types and sizes across the country. Every park in the five boroughs seems to have its doughboy and Moses was apparently determined that this not repeat itself after VE and VJ days. There is so much history surrounding us as we go about our daily lives. I will be writing more about the WW2 memorial as the semester goes along. The snow will hopefully have disappeared by then too!
Friday morning I was out and about taking photographs in Brooklyn’s Cadman Plaza for a class I will be co-teaching this coming spring semester. This is the first for-credit class I will be teaching and I am nervous and invigorated at the same time. Over the semester the students will be documenting a New York City locale; after some discussion my colleague and I chose Cadman Plaza. It is rife with interpretive possibilities. I have always known a fair amount about the area and am now boning up to bring myself up to full speed. I will talk about it here and there over the course of the term.
Here are two of the approximately twenty images I took the other day. This first one in on the north-facing wall of Borough Hall. It is hard to make out–my little phone camera will only do so much–but it is the Lincoln penny along with the full Gettysburg Address. When I first saw the tablet the other day–and I walked past it for years without ever noticing it–I figured the plaque was placed in either 1909 (centennial of Lincoln’s birth) or 1963 (centennial of the Gettysburg Address). With a little digging I learned via the Catalogue of the Works of Art Belonging to the City of New York, Volume 1 that the City of New York commissioned the 22″ x 28″ tablet from artist Victor D. Brenner for dedication in 1909. That is the year the Lincoln penny made its debut as well.
Communities large and small erected such works throughout that year to commemorate Lincoln’s 100th. President Roosevelt had commissioned Brenner to design the Lincoln penny a few years previously. Of course Roosevelt’s father was an acquaintance of Lincoln’s and a good friend of his personal secretary John Hay. Roosevelt always had an interest in coinage and medallic arts; TR was a good friend and patron of Augustus Saint-Gaudens as well. Downtown Brooklyn was doing poorly in these years, in large part due to the elevated train line that blighted the neighborhood and the new subway line that took commercial and residential traffic to other parts of the borough. Urban renewal efforts were in the works, but the onset of the Great War brought those plans to an end. I would go further into the story here, but that’s for the students to do this winter. I’m eager to see how the class goes.
A friend and I took a day trip to Peekskill, New York yesterday to visit the Lincoln Depot Museum. The LDP opened about fifteen months ago and, though small, is a testament to what can be done through good decision-making and a strong sense of purpose. The founders of the museum created something special. We did not quite plan it this way but it proved a good 1,2 punch with the Transit Museum’s satellite space inside Grand Central Station displaying its annual holiday train display. Trains were the theme of the day. And yes it was like Grand Central: packed with holiday-goers. The timing was not entirely coincidental; I was determined to get there in 2015 while the Civil War sesquicentennial is still technically on.
Lincoln was in Peekskill for a whistle stop in February 1861 on his way to Washington City and his inaugural. Four years and two months later his body passed through and stopped in the town once again on its way back to Illinois. I believe the Lincoln Depot Museum is about to close for the season but if one is in New York and has a few hours it is well worth the trek. It is a five minute walk from the Metro North train station with a good bakery and restaurants right there.
Yours truly was at Baruch College for a conference this morning when he came across this statue of Bernard Baruch in the Vertical Campus building. Baruch’s ties to City University of New York dated back to his time at City College in the late nineteenth century. When he died fifty years ago in 1965 he left a sizable chunk of his fortune to what was then the Bernard M. Baruch School of Public Administration. About a year later the Baruch School became the full-fledged, four-year Baruch College. Apparently there are several statues such as this one sprinkled here and there across the country; Barcuh was called the “park bench statesman” for his affinity to mediate on important affairs seated on a favorite perch in Lafayette Park across the street from the White House.
Baruch was a consigliere to presidents from Woodrow Wilson, to FDR, Ike and beyond. He ran the War Industries Board during the First World War. Really it was people like Baruch who kept the trains running on time and the goods flowing across the Atlantic. There is something so tactile about statues such as this one, where you can get up close and touch it. Artistically this quite deliberate and allows a person to connect with the subject in way that is impossible when he/she is up on a pedestal. It reminds me of the Lincoln statue in front of the Visitors Center at Gettysburg that always has a crowd around it. I had him to myself at 8:30 but when I left around 4:00 sure enough there were folks sitting next to BB.
(bottom image/War industries Board, National Archives and Records Administration, via Wikimedia Commons)
Blake Seitz of the Washington Free Beacon has written an informative piece about the ongoing project to build a national First World War memorial in Washington D.C. Some readers may know that the WW1 Centennial Commission has been working on this endeavor for some time now, and that the competition is now down to five selections. A winner will be chosen in January. Whichever design wins, there will undoubtedly be a few bugs and details to be worked out. Still, the process has gone fairly well so far. Seitz captures well the purposes of U.S. war memorials, especially how the ones in our nation’s capital reflect the times in which they were built and the individual conflicts they commemorate. There is a reason Lincoln is etched larger than life in granite and the Vietnam Wall stretches semi-below ground with its fatalities listed one-by-one in chronological order. As Centennial Commission Ed Fountain points out in the article, the Great War’s ambiguity has been one of the major reasons it has taken so long to build a national World War 1 memorial in Washington.
It was not always this way. In the 1920s and 30s Americans built approximately 10,000 tablets, memorials and statues across the country. D.C. itself had its own memorial, commissioned in 1924 and finished in 1931 in honor of the men from Washington City who served and died Over There. These were all locals projects however. The Depression and rise of Hitler eventually took away whatever enthusiasm there was to remember the events of 1914-18. I strongly urge you to read Seitz’s article.
(image/Oneida County Historical Society)