Monday, December 4, 2017

The Lost Henry Hudson Memorial - Riverside Drive at 72nd Street


A lush flower bed surrounded the lamppost memorial by the time this photo was taken.  To the far right is the Angie Booth mansion at No. 4 Riverside Dr., and the massive Charles Schwab chateau just beyond it.  photo from the collection of the Library of Congress.

In 1905, with the the 300th anniversary of Henry Hudson's discovery of the Hudson River and the 100th anniversary of Robert Fulton's successful steamboat nearing, a group of industrialists including Andrew Carnegie and J. Pierpont Morgan conceived of a massive Hudson-Fulton Celebration.  The two-week event would be held from September 25 to October 9, 1909 and was, in reality, less a celebration of Hudson and Fulton as it was an international marketing ploy to promote New York City as a major metropolis.

Scores of committees were formed to plan parades, events, and spectacles.   Social, political and recreational groups joined in the fervor.  Not to be left out was the Colonial Dames of America.  On February 28, 1909 The New York Times noted that the organization "will hold a large exhibit of the relics of Robert Fulton during the coming Hudson-Fulton Celebration, in September and October, in the new building of the New York Historical Society."  The Colonial Dames asked anyone willing to loan artifacts to notify the Relic Committee.

Their Fulton exhibition would pale in comparison to their efforts to honor Henry Hudson, however.  The Colonial Dames had commissioned sculptor Allen G. Newman to design a bronze memorial to the explorer.   Born in New York City in 1875, Newman had studied under renowned sculptor John Quincy Adams Ward from 1897 to 1901.  Nearly all his commissions were memorials; but this one would be like no other.

Newman created what Edgar R. Harlan in the 1915 Annals of Iowa called a "colossal bronze sculptured electric light standard."   The monument, perhaps unexpectedly, took the form of a street lamp.  Sitting on a granite base two feet tall, the bronze shaft rose 16 feet to the milk glass globe that nested in delicate bronze garlands.  The cost of the memorial-lamp was $7,500; more than $200,000 today.

The unveiling took place at noon on September 30, 1909.  The New-York Tribune reported "There was a great fanfare of trumpets, a little woman in a pongee suit pulled a cord and ran from under, the Stars and Stripes came down, the Dutch colors followed, and the tall bronze and granite shaft erected at 72d street and Riverside Drive by the Colonial Dames of America, in commemoration of the discovery of the Hudson River stood revealed."

The choir of women from the Old First Presbyterian Church was accompanied by a small orchestra.  They sang a 300-year old Dutch anthem in Dutch, and American patriotic airs like "America" and "God of our Fathers."

The Tribune pointed out that "Ten policemen were detailed to look out for the crowds, but were not needed, for the only rampageous individual in the landscape was a large bulldog, led by a small boy.  He--the dog--wanted to assist in the unveiling, but was gently persuaded away."

Newman had designed a three-sided base to the shaft.  On one a bas-relief of Hudson's ship the Half-Moon was depicted approaching the shores of the New World.  The Tribune described "two Indians, kneeling on the banks, peer out at the ship."  (The New-York Observer was less politically correct, saying it "pictured in low relief [is] the Red Man's surprise at the rigging of the Dutchman's craft.")

The immense size of the memorial is evidenced by the two men leaning on its base.  A. B. Bogart snapped this photograph shortly after the unveiling.  from the collection of the New York Public Library.

The other two sides bore inscriptions.  One depicted the seal of the East India Company, under which was written "To commemorate the discovery of the Hudson River by Henry Hudson, in the year 1609."  On the last was the seal of the Colonial Dames and the words "Presented to the city of New York by the Colonial Dames of America, 1909."

Newman incorporated maritime iconography into the work.  Three fearsome-looking fish creatures framed the base, and the bottom of the shaft was formed by three intricate seahorses.

The location overlooking the Hudson River was, of course, appropriate.  Earlier that summer the great Henry Hudson Bridge had been opened.  Accepting the memorial for the city, Patrick McGowan noted that its light "will shine on the mariners as they sail up and down the Hudson."
Newman's handsome granite base was visible during its earliest years.  But by around 1912, when this photo was shot, at least one of the seahorses had been decapitated and the bronze garlands below the globe had been vandalized.  photo by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

Manhattan statues and monuments suffered vandalism at mid-century, as chunks of bronze were sawed or pried off for their scrap value.  But the Henry Hudson memorial seems to have been a much earlier target.  Before World War I photographs show pieces missing from the seahorses and the loss of the dainty garlands around the globe.

And then at some point, with little apparent notice or public concern, the unique monument disappeared.  It may have fallen victim to Franklin D. Roosevelt's 1942 program to scrap bronze statues and recycle their metal into weapons of war.  He told reporters on August 7 that many bronze memorials "would serve a more useful purpose if junked."

The vacant spot where the Henry Hudson memorial had stood was filled in 1996 with the bronze statue of Eleanor Roosevelt; the first New York City statue to an American-born woman.

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