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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 by Ralph Adams Cram and Bertram Goodhue in 1906 but not consecrated until 1916. Funds initially raised 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....