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Friday, July 14, 2017

A Little Known Reminder of World War I: The Split Rock Explosion Monument

 

Syracuse, NY. Oakwood Cemetery. Monument to the Victims of the Split Rock Explosion. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2016
Syracuse, NY. Billings Park, Monument to
Soldiers of Thirty Eighth Infantry United States Army (World War I). Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2011

A Little Known Reminder of World War I: The Split Rock Explosion Monument


by Samuel D. Gruber

(Cross-posted from My Central New York) 

I've written about many public monuments on this blog, especially war monuments, such as the Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument at Clinton Square and The Hiker at Billings Park.  But one of the most unexpected war monuments in Central New York and probably among the least known is the striking memorial erected to the victims of the terrible Split Rock Explosion of 1918 and located in Oakwood Cemetery. Since we are in the midst of commemoration of the centennial of American entry into World War I, let's take a look.

The elegant stone monument is a large high thin slab flanked by two low stone urns, and it sits on the edge of Oakwood's raised section B, originally part of Morningside Cemetery, not far from Comstock Ave.  It is in distinct contrast to traditional war monuments with their heroic statues of fighting men, such as the one in Billing Park to the Soldiers of Thirty Eighth Infantry United States Army, shown above). Although the dead remembered here were victims of the World War I effort, their deaths came far from combat, and thus their remembrance is largely outside the mainstream of World War commemoration. the explosion is more often mentioned in the context of catastrophic industrial accidents then in lists of casualties of war.

The Semet-Solvay Company manufactured explosives during World War I, for which work they purchased an abandoned quarry called Split Rock in the western hills of Syracuse, where they began producing TNT on site in 1915. On July 2nd, 1918 a mixing motor in the main TNT building overheated and ignited nearly three tons of explosives. The building was destroyed, fifty people were killed, and dozens  injured.  From my reading it is not clear to me how many died in the explosion and how many fighting the fire.

The Semet-Solvay Company erected this monument which mentions those who "voluntarily gave their lives" fighting the fire. It seems, based on a newspaper article, that fifteen victims must be buried here.

 Read the entire blogpost and see more pictures here

Saturday, July 1, 2017

USA: Lee Lawrie's Striking - Yet Modest - World War I Memorial at St. Thomas Church in Manhattan


New York, NY. St. Thomas Church, World War I Memorial. Lee Lawrie, sculptor. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2017.
New York, NY. St. Thomas Church, World War I Memorial. Lee Lawrie, sculptor. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2017.
USA: Lee Lawrie's Striking - Yet Modest - World War I Memorial at St. Thomas Church in Manhattan
by Samuel D. Gruber

(click photos for larger images)

Because we are in the midst of commemorating the 100th anniversary of the American entry into the First World War, I'm especially attentive to monuments and memorials to those who served and those who died. 

Over the next few months I'll be posting pictures and short notes about monuments I encounter. Here are pictures from a too little known memorial inside St. Thomas Church at 53rd Street and Fifth Ave. and Manhattan.  The great church, was designed byralph Adams Cram and Bertram Goodhue in 1960 but not consecrated until 1916. Funds initialyly rasied for the construction were instead donated to aid victims of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. The exterior of the church is well known as it anchors a block now mostly taken up by the various Museum of Modern Art expansions. 

Next time you go to MOMA and are totally stressed out by the crowds stop in the church for some rest, repose and reflection - and look to your left as you enter at this somber memorial designed by the great architectural sculptor Lee Lawrie, and added after the war. Lawrie also worked with Goodhue on the great reredos which dominates the church (but now is partially obscured by scaffolding as a new organ is built).

New York, NY. St. Thomas Church, World War I Memorial. Lee Lawrie, sculptor. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2017.
New York, NY. St. Thomas Church, World War I Memorial. Lee Lawrie, sculptor. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2017.
The memorial consists of an upper wall painting and low-relief of the Archangel Michael driving his lance into a dragon, which represents Satan, evil, and war. Below this, on a lintel  above a door under the tower is a dynamically charged high relief sculpture of American soldiers heading to war, leaving the St. Thomas Church and heading to the Cathedral of Rheims. The composition is an undated version of an ancient motif of armies on the march. On either side of the door are names of parishioners who served in the war. Those painted in gold at the top are the soldiers who died. Colored shields on the stone represent the branches of the armed services. The colored shields on the doors represent the Allied Nations.
New York, NY. St. Thomas Church, World War I Memorial. Lee Lawrie, sculptor. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2017.
New York, NY. St. Thomas Church, World War I Memorial. Lee Lawrie, sculptor. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2017.
New York, NY. St. Thomas Church, World War I Memorial. Lee Lawrie, sculptor. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2017.
President Woodrow Wilson went before a joint session of Congress to request a declaration of war against Germany on April 2, 1917. On April 4, 1917, the U.S. Senate voted in support of the measure. In December war was also  declared on Austria-Hungary. 

Monday, February 27, 2017

USA: Charleston's Holocaust Memorial in Shadow of Calhoun Monument 

cross-posted from Samuel Gruber's Jewish Art & Monuments

Charleston, South Carolina. Marion Square. Holocaust Monument. Jonathan Levi, architect, 1999.  Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2015
Charleston, South Carolina. Marion Square. Holocaust Monument. Jonathan Levi, architect, 1999.  Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2015
Charleston, South Carolina. Marion Square. Holocaust Monument. Jonathan Levi, architect, 1999. The Calhoun Monument towers in the background. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2015

USA: Charleston's Holocaust Memorial in Shadow of Calhoun Monument
by Samuel D. Gruber

A few months ago I wrote a post about a certain genre of Holocaust Memorials that I called "Things left Behind."  To the several memorials I discussed then I could have added the large Holocaust Monument  in Charleston, South Carolina, completed in 1999, where the central element is a lonely discarded tallit, the Jewish prayer shawl used by men in the synagogue and also in which for some it was customary to be wrapped for burial. Cast in bronze, the tallit lies on the floor of a rectangular space that can been seen as a synagogue, a prison, or even perhaps a gas chamber. Left behind, the tallit indicates prayer and life cut short, but also the rites of proper burial denied.

This one recognizable ritual object is set in the midst of a symbolic architecture which itself is inserted into an urban memorial field - Marion Square - rich and deceptive in the layers of history it chooses to reveal and hide. Designed by Jonathan Levi, the Holocaust Memorial was commissioned by the Charleston Jewish Federation. You can see more photos, drawings and models on the architect's website here.

Charleston, South Carolina. Marion Square. Holocaust Monument. Jonathan Levi, architect, 1999.  Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2015
I've made several visits to Charleston in recent years and in traveling around the historic city I've been attentive to markers and memorials that recognize and commemorate the Jewish history of the city, including the historic Jewish cemetery and the Francis Salvador marker. I've also been attentive to those markers, such as that at a former Brown Fellowship cemetery, that acknowledge - even in a small way - that for centuries Charleston was a majority African-American city where black slaves and then black citizens outnumbered whites. It can truly be said that slaves built Charleston - their sweat and toil, blood and struggles are mixed in the very bricks and mortar of the streets, churches, houses, and public buildings. Sadly, there are still too few markers commemorating and celebrating African-American history in the city (though the number is growing).  And none of these are in the three main ceremonial and commemorative spaces in the city - White Point Gardens, Washington Park, and Marion Square. These public parks have several monuments, however, that celebrate in some way the confederacy and slavery, and none is more prominent than the enormous Calhoun Monument that dominates Marion Square. Calhoun, a great defender of slavery, stands atop a tall monument fully visible from historic black churches in the area, including Mother Emanuel Church - where the terrible shootings took place in 2015.

The Calhoun monument also towers over Charleston's and South Carolina's official Holocaust Memorial Monument. While the city's Jewish community was able to erect a memorial to the injustices of Nazi Germany, no monument in the square explicitly mentions slavery or any of South Carolina's long history of crimes against African-Americans. A push to erect a monument in the square to Denmark Vesey, who threatened white rule, was rejected by the two private organizations, the Washington Light Infantry and the Sumter Guards which own the square and have final approval on all monuments even though the square is maintained by taxpayer dollars. Despite intensive lobbying, both organizations refused a Vesey statue. The armory (later the Citadel)which overlooks part the square was built in response to the failed Vesey slave rebellion. Nonetheless, memorials to the South's own rebellion against the United States, in which South Carolina was a leader, are legion.

Read more here....

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument in Syracuse, New York

Syracuse, NY. The Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument. Postcard.
Syracuse, NY. The Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument. Postcard
The Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument in Syracuse, New York
by Samuel D. Gruber

[cross posted from My Central New York (May 30, 2016)]

For Memorial Day we look at Syracuse's Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument at Clinton Square, the city's largest and most prominent monuments to war veterans, and the grandest local expression of public art from the period of "The City Beautiful" and Beaux-Arts design. Memorial Day has its origins in Decoration Day and was celebrated to honor the dead of the Civil War. In Syracuse it took almost a half century before a large and fitting memorial was built as the backdrop for public ceremony. The monument was built to honor the 12,000 individuals from Onondaga County who fought in the Civil War, but it is now been rededicated in  memory of all the county's service men and women.

Syracuse, NY. The Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber

 Clarence H. Blackall (1857-1942) was the architect, and the bronze sculptures were designed by Cyrus Dallin (1861-1944). The East group of figures is titled, "A Call to Arms" and the West is named, "An Incident at Gettysburg." Dallin was a leading sculptor of the period, known especially for his majestic figures of Native Americans on horseback, such as Appeal to the Great Spirit (1909), now at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and and his statue of the Angel Moroni atop the Salt Lake Temple in Salt Lake City.

Read full post here

New Memorial to Lynching Victims in Montgomery, Alabama

Memorial to Peace and Justice. Rendering by MASS Design.
New Memorial to Lynching Victims in Montgomery, Alabama
by Samuel D. Gruber

The Memorial to Peace in Justice, A new project to commemorate the victims of decades of systematic American terrorism - the lynching of innocent African-Americans throughout the south (and through much of the rest of the country, too) is underway in Montgomery, Alabama. This is an important, timely and overdue commemorative and educational initiative. The MASS Design Group, which is designed the memorial, writes:
The Memorial to Peace and Justice will sit on six acres of land in Montgomery and become the nation's first national memorial to victims of lynching. The structure will contain the names of over 4000 lynching victims engraved on concrete columns representing each county in the United States where racial terror lynchings took place. Counties across the country will be invited to retrieve duplicate columns with the names of each county's lynching victims to be placed in every county. The project is planned to open in 2017.
Memorial to Peace and Justice. Rendering by MASS Design.
 Read about it here in the New York Times.
Last year, the group [the Equal Justice Initiative released a report documenting more than 4,000 lynchings between 1877 and 1950. After that report, Mr. Stevenson launched a project to collect soil from unmarked lynching sites around the country. The soil will be placed in glass jars that will be on display at the museum.
I have not digested the aesthetics yet, but it clearly takes a lot form conceptual and interactive Holocaust memorials of the 1980s and 1990s, especially some of those in Germany. Americans tend to be literalists, so how will this resonate in Alabama? The precedent of the Oklahoma City Bombing memorial is encouraging, but more often we are given the stirring neo-classicism or gigantism of DC (WWII & MLK monuments) - and don't get me wrong, sometimes literalness works, as with the popular Jerry Rescue Monument in Syracuse, commemorating a local uprising against the Fugitive Slave Act ....but that is essentially an upbeat, affirmative and optimistic story. The new Montgomery monument builds on the momentum created by the installation of historical signage in Montgomery about the history of the slave trade. 

Syracuse, NY. Jerry Rescue Monument with Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument behind. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2012
 As a paper I once gave asked "How do we remember places [events] we'd rather forget?" for America,this new work may be a big step forward. Now, if only a fraction of people would be interested, aware and outraged over the history of lynching as are out looking for Pokemans we'd really be making progress!

The decades-long history of lynching is a history - and America's legacy - of tolerated terrorism against thousands of innocent African-Americans - not just in the south, but across much of the country. Because as a white society we have never truly confronted this legacy - and in fact have exhibited a blase complacency - the culture of violence against blacks has not gone away, it has merely shifted into a more (but equally lethal) structured aspect of our criminal justice system. If lynching was called "terrorism" - would there be a different response?

 

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Charleston, South Carolina: Belated Remembrance of an African-American Cemetery

Charleston, South Carolina. Monument on site of the cemetery of the Brown Fellowship Society, now part of the College of Charleston. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2014

Charleston, South Carolina: Belated Remembrance of an African-American Cemetery
by Samuel D. Gruber 

I recently wrote about an 18th-century  Jewish cemetery in Charleston, South Carolina, the second oldest Jewish cemetery in the United States and one that is still cared for today and is the focus of a continuing maintenance and restoration effort. 

Another old cemetery in Charleston did not fare so well.  

Today, the African-American cemetery founded by the Brown Fellowship Society in 1790 is remembered only by a monument erected in 2008 by the College of Charleston at Rivers Green, an open area adjacent to the College's Addlestone Library, which apparently occupies at least part of the cemetery site. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Charleston bought the cemetery site, which was adjacent to the Bishop England High School, in 1956 and later sold the land to the College of Charleston in 2001. Soon after, when excavation began for the new library, human remains and carved gravestones were uncovered.
 Charleston, South Carolina. Monument on site of the cemetery of the Brown Fellowship Society, now part of the College of Charleston. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2014

According to Find a Grave,
although there are reports of promises made to move both headstones and human remains from Pitt Street to Cunnington Avenue [the Society's later cemetery] , only scant handful of headstones was moved. There is no evidence that any remains were removed, nor is the fate known of the rest of the many headstones and monuments, some of which were ornately and elaborately carved."
Today part of the site is a parking lot at 54 Pitt Street, whiles the area in front of the monument is a landscaped and paved open space for the College.

The College subsequently erected a monument commemorating the use of these grounds as a cemetery by the Brown Fellowship Society and other groups.  The two stone slabs are engraved with some of the the history of the site. The monument pays tribute to the Brown Fellowship Society and those buried in the cemetery but it offers no history of the shameful treatment of the site nor of the cemetery boundaries and how they related to the present topography. Still, the erection of the monument has helped revive interest in the Brown Fellowship society and other cultural and social aspects of Free Black Society in Charleston - one of the country's leading slave centers. The history of the cemeteries also is a poignant reminder of the history of American segregation - in death as in life - and by Christian churches until very recent times.

Building on cemeteries is not unusual in the United States. Most often human remains are removed beforehand - but not always. Historically African-American cemeteries have had fewer protections than cemeteries for dead white people, and they have received less attention and care when threatened.  This has changed in recent years - in large part due to the attention given to the African Burial Ground in Lower Manhattan excavated in the 1990s, but the case in Charleston shows that that kind of (government-funded) attention is the exception, not the rule. 


New York, NY. Bronze marker denoting location of African Burial Ground. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2005.

According to historian Dr. Rita Reynolds, of Wagner College, "The Brown Fellowship Society Burial Ground was established in 1790 by a group of wealthy free men of color in Charleston, S.C. In antebellum Charleston, cemeteries were racially segregated. Free blacks who did not wish to be buried with slaves established their own burial grounds to allow them a degree of dignity in death."



The Society consisted of free men of color in a time when most of the African-American population in Charleston was enslaved. It was the oldest and most prestigious free black organization that aimed to promote “charity and benevolence” among its members and also the community. These men joined together to form a fraternal organization and also a credit union for members. When a member of the Society passed away, the men supported the widow and family by conducting the burial in the cemetery on this site. The Humane Brotherhood was founded in 1843 and had many of the same functions. It was also composed of free black men who were successful working members of Charleston society.

The Brotherhood buried members in this location, and it is possible the cemetery was also used by two local churches, Plymouth Congregational and Bethel Methodist. The monument that stands today acknowledges the history, altruism and community involvement of the organizations who buried their members on this plot of land. The memorial honors those members who were buried, but also the organizations that contributed to the rich history of Charleston’s African-American community.
The Brotherhood buried members in this location, and it is possible the cemetery was also used by two local churches, Plymouth Congregational and Bethel Methodist. The monument that stands today acknowledges the history, altruism and community involvement of the organizations who buried their members on this plot of land. The memorial honors those members who were buried, but also the organizations that contributed to the rich history of Charleston’s African-American community.

Charleston, South Carolina. Monument on site of the cemetery of the Brown Fellowship Society, now part of the College of Charleston. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2014

Records of the Fellowship Society are housed at the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture of the College Library. Charleston may have been unique in the large number of African-American burial societies that existed in the past (and still survive). Curiously to me, the organization and function of these societies is very similar to Jewish burials societies - both groups also provided care to the sick and poor and helped widows and orphans as well as carried out the procedures for burial of the dead. According to the Avery Research Center, as reported by Adam Parker in the Post and Courier in 2010, nine African-American burial societies in Charleston have been identified and eight survive - though some just barely.


Charleston, South Carolina. Monument on site of the cemetery of the Brown Fellowship Society, now part of the College of Charleston. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2014

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Hiker by Theo Alice Ruggles Kitson at Syracuse's Billings Park by Samuel D. Gruber

Syracuse, NY. The Hiker by Theo Alice Ruggles Kitson at  Billings Park. photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2011
 
CNY Public Art: The Hiker by Theo Alice Ruggles Kitson at Syracuse's Billings Park 
(cross posted from My Central New York)
by Samuel D. Gruber  

Among its many public monuments and art, Syracuse boasts a substantial collection of art by women sculptors.  These include the Hamilton White Memorial at Fayette Park and the Kirkpatrick Monument (LeMoyne Fountain) by Gail Sherman Corbett, the Elemental Man by Malvina Hoffman and the bronze Saltine Warrior statue by Luise Kaish at Syracuse University, and the high relief sculpture of the Jerry Rescue Monument at Clinton Square by Sharon BuMann.  There is also an abstract work by Penny Kaplan outside the Everson Museum, and women ceramicists have created murals in the Westcott area.

Perhaps the most famous work by a woman sculptor in Syracuse,The Hiker, located at the south side of Billings Park, goes little mentioned. I venture that today most people who even know the name of the sculptor are not even aware that T. A. Kitson, was a woman. Yet Theo Alice Ruggles Kitson (1871-1932), was a leading artist of her time, and possibly the foremost American woman sculptor of her generation. She made many public monuments throughout the country and at least fifty casts of The Hiker, her best known work, are installed as memorials across the country. 

In 1895, Ruggles Kitson was the first woman to be admitted to the National Sculpture Society. In 1888, at age 17, she won honorable mention at the Salon des Artistes Francais (the youngest woman ever to receive the honor). She was celebrated when she returned to the United States and as a (minor) celebrity asked to comment on everything from art to fashions.  When the Kitsons separated in 1909 (her husband had been her teacher and partner), Alice moved to Farmington, where she maintained a studio until her 1932 death in Boston, Massachusetts.



Syracuse, NY. The Hiker by Theo Alice Ruggles Kitson at  Billings Park. photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2011

Syracuse, NY. The Hiker dedication plaque at Billings Park. photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2011
  
The Syracuse Hiker at the south end of Syracuse's Billings Park in front of the former Central High School. It represents a Spanish American War soldier and commemorates those who died in that war, the Philippine-American War and the Boxer Rebellion. The statue reminds us of time, much like today, when American forces seemed to be engaged in an unending series of conflicts far from home. Though these were the first wars of American empire, The Hiker represents free-spirited and even carefree individualism rather than the increasingly professionalized militarism of the era. A handsome young soldier - ready for a jungle trek - steps confidently forward.  Ruggles Kitson was appreciated as a woman sculptor who could make manly men.

The first version was installed at the university of Minnesota in 1906.  The bronze cast in Syracuse was dedicated on Memorial Day, 1924.  In stanllatuion postdates the inauguration at the north end of the park of a stone monument dedicated July 15, 1920, known as the Rock of the Marne Monument, engraved with names of some of the local dead of World War I, atop of which stands the figure of an infantryman by sculptor Ronald Hinden Perry. .

The Syracuse Hiker was one of the first placements of the iconic statue, which proliferated around the country after 1921 when the Gorham Manufacturing Company, located in Providence, Rhode Island, bought the rights to the statue, and over the next 44 years cast at least 50 Hiker statues.

The earliest installations of The Hiker were mostly in the northeastern United States, often complementing Civil War Memorials.  Post-World War II statues were installed mostly in the South and West.  The Syracuse statue was recently restored and cleaned. Interestingly, because of the wide distribution of the statues, they have been used to study air pollution over the last century since their original state is known, and in case so is the date of their installation.  Thus conservators and meteorologists can compare deterioration and analysis the effect of acid rain and other pollutants in specific places and over measurable time.


 Syracuse, NY. The Hiker by Theo Alice Ruggles Kitson at  Billings Park. photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2011

 
Providence, RI. The Hiker. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2005


Syracuse, NY. The Hiker by Theo Alice Ruggles Kitson at Billings Park. photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2011 
 
 Syracuse, NY. The Hiker by Theo Alice Ruggles Kitson at  Billings Park. photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2011
 
Billings Park is a small open space at South Salina, South Warren and East Adams Streets; about a third of acre in size. It was once a more prominent space in the city, when central High School was open and when the downtown was more knit to the south of the city along South Salina Street. Today, there is little residential use of the area and there are more parking lots and garages than active commercials centers. The space was formerly Warren Park, named like Warren Street in honor of American Revolutionary War General Joseph Warren. Roger Billings had his carriage factory on the north side of Adams Street across from the park from 1841 to 1859;(where the recently constructed bus terminal is now) and he helped improve the park  with help from fellow citizens Richard W. Jones, George Ostrander and George Herman. The provided new landscaping, walkways and a central fountain, and the park was dedicated by Mayor William Stewart, August 24, 1867. 

For more on Theo Alice Ruggles Kitson see:
 

Charlotte Streifer Rubinstein, 1990. American Women Sculptors: A History of Women Working in Three Dimensions (Boston: G.K. Hall & Co, 1990), pp 102-105.