Early this month I went for a long stroll in Prospect Park to visit some of “my” sculptures. (I have a database of outdoor sculptures in New York City: I know where they all live.) Two points struck me: how gorgeous several of these sculptures are, and how much our ideas of what we fight wars for have changed.
For a map of Prospect Park, see here. I took the G train to 7th Avenue and walked uphill to the park entrance at Prospect Park West and 9th Street.
Marquis de Lafayette
Prospect Park has sculptures by two of my favorite American sculptors of the 19th and early 20th centuries: Daniel Chester French and Frederick MacMonnies. The Marquis de Lafayette was dedicated in 1917, after the “Great War” (a.k.a. World War I). When anyone wants to honor Franco-American friendship, Lafayette’s the go-to guy: the elegant Bartholdi sculpture of him at Union Square was erected after the Franco-Prussian War; Pulitzer commissioned Washington with Lafayette from Bartholdi some time later. For details on French’s sculpture, see the NYC Parks Department’s page. I’m not going to repeat what they’ve put up: I’m just going to give you a lot more photos.
The figure of Lafayette is actually in the round, not just high relief. Marvelous job, DCF!
Here’s the inscription at the base of the relief:
The Marquis de Lafayette // This monument was erected and presented by // Henry Harteau // a distinguished citizen of Brooklyn to be an enduring tribute // to the memory of one who as friend and companion of the // immortal Washington fought to establish in our country // those vital principles of liberty and human brotherhood // which he afterward labored to establish in his own.
The wording of the inscription struck me, because I don’t recall anyone who lived at the time of the American Revolution stating that they were fighting for the sake of “liberty and human brotherhood.” Sounds much more like the French Revolution, doesn’t it? Liberté égalité fraternité.
Just for the sake of completeness, here’s the inscription on the back of the memorial.
From Lafayette, I wandered down the West Drive. If you live in Phoenix or Florida, here’s a glimpse of what you’re missing by not being in New York during February. I didn’t actually mind the overcast. No camera on earth can cope with the harsh shadows and glare that strong sunlight creates on well-maintained bronze or marble.
The Center Drive promised access to Lookout Hill. The stairs up to the hill strike me as very much in Olmsted & Vaux’s no-straight-lines style. (Prospect Park’s design was submitted by O&V eight years after their Greensward Plan won the Central Park design competition.) When the leaves are out, you probably can’t see much past the first turn of this staircase.
The view from the top of Lookout Hill was rather lovely, but you’re not going to appreciate it unless I whip up a GIF that makes the water sparkle. And trust me, no matter where on earth you are, it’ll take you less time to travel to Prospect Park than it would for me to create an animated GIF.
Coming down the east side of Lookout Hill, I spotted a monument. I’d been looking for it, but I didn’t expect the emotional wallop that the inscription gave me.
The Maryland Monument
The Maryland Monument honors a few hundred men from the Maryland Regiment who fought a holding action against two thousand British in the Battle of Long Island, August 1776. Their bravery gave Washington and the rest of his troops time to retreat to the East River. See my 8th Hamilton post, and the NYC Parks site, here and here.
And suddenly, I feel like I’m in Central Park!
Except when I get close-up … The Central Park bridges that have this sort of arch are stone, not cast iron. With the bright colors of spring and a focal point, this would be a good photo op.
Prospect Park War Memorial
The Prospect Park War Memorial, near the Wollman Rink, is by Augustus Lukeman. It’s reminiscent of Daniel Chester French’s Milmore Memorial … but a lot eerier. The NYC Parks Department page on it is here.
Remember the monument to the Marquis de Lafayette at the beginning of this post? Its inscription praised Lafayette for fighting to establish “liberty and human brotherhood.” The inscription on the Prospect Park War Memorial, dedicated four years later, reads:
Men and women of Brooklyn who died // in the World War // MCMXIV-MCMXVIII
They gave their lives for liberty // and universal peace // honor duty country
I think I’m most offended by the sheer sloppiness of lumping liberty and universal peace together. In the 19 months that the United States fought in World War I, more than 116,700 American soldiers died. More than 204,000 were wounded. At least half of the troops were drafted: Americans did not want to fight a European war. (See Wikipedia on the Selective Service Act of 1917.) After the “War to End All Wars,” “universal peace” lasted barely two decades.
Light on the towns and cities, and peace for evermore!
The Big Five met in the world’s light as many had met before,
And the future of man is settled and there shall be no more war.
The lamb shall lie down with the lion, and trust with treachery;
The brave man go with the coward, and the chained mind shackle the free,
And the truthful sit with the liar ever by land and sea. …
Let the nations scatter their armies and level their arsenals well,
Let them blow their airships to Heaven and sink their warships to Hell,
Let them maim the feet of the runner and silence the drum and the bell;
But shapes shall glide from the cellar who never had dared to “strike”,
And shapes shall drop from the garret (ghastly and so alike)
To drag from the cave in the forest powder and cannon and pike. …
The rest of Lawson’s “League of Nations,” written in 1919 (!!!), is here.
Next week: the Concert Ground, and north to Grand Army Plaza.
- For more Daniel Chester French, see here. His home, Chesterwood, is open to the public. The last sculpture he was working on, Andromeda, is still on view there.
- For more MacMonnies, see here (on his Nathan Hale in City Hall Park).
- The Guides Who Know video episodes for Lukeman’s Straus Memorial are available as free previews (Art and History). See also Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan: A Historical Guide.