Maine Monument

  • Sculptor: Attilio Piccirilli
  • Architect: H. van Buren Magonigle
  • Dedicated: 1913
  • Medium and size: Marble pedestal (44 feet), gilded bronze group on top (16.5 feet), 9 marble figures at base (over life-size)
  • Location: Central Park at Columbus Circle, the intersection of Eighth Ave., 59th St., and Central Park South
  • Subway: A, B, C, D, 1 to 59th Street - Columbus Circle

Main Monument

Investigating the Maine Explosion

Captain Charles D. Sigsbee telegraphed the secretary of the Navy on 2/15/1898:

Maine blown up in Havana harbor at nine forty tonight and destroyed. Many wounded and doubtless more killed or drowned. ... Public opinion should be suspended until further report.

Captain Charles Morgan left a gruesomely vivid description of diving into the wreck of the Maine in 1898, to search for the cause of the explosion.

The Maine Monument Commission

A few days after the explosion aboard the Maine, William Randolph Heart’s New York Journal set out to raise funds for a memorial. Hearst originally planned for the memorial to be at the mouth of New York Harbor. Then it was slated instead for Times Square, but a public restroom was built on the designated spot. Finally it was erected at the southwest corner of Central Park, where its size balances that of the Columbus Monument, erected in 1892.

The Columbia group that tops the monument was cast from bronze recovered from the Maine. Also created from the bronze recovered from the Maine were a thousand plaques designed by Charles Keck and cast in 1913. The Maine Monument has one of these attached to its northeast side.

Keck Maine Plaque

Who can touch this plaque without feeling a shiver?

Attilio Piccirilli

Piccirilli (1866-1945) was a member of a family of Tuscan stonecutters whose studio was in the Bronx. The Piccirillis carved for Daniel Chester French (including the Continents at the Customs House and the Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial in Washington), and for John Quincy Adams Ward (including the New York Stock Exchange pediment), plus works such as the lions outside New York Public Library, 1911 (Fifth Avenue at 42nd Street), parts of the Washington Arch, ca. 1895-1918, and the Pulitzer Fountain, 1916 (Fifth Avenue at 58th Street).

Of Attilio's own design are the sculptures on the Maine Monument and the Firemen's Memorial, both 1913, as well as Youth Leading Industry and Joy of Life at Rockefeller Center, ca. 1936 and 1937 (636 Fifth Avenue and 15 West 48th Street, respectively), the pediments of the Frick Art Reference Library (71st Street off Fifth Avenue), and the doors of the Riverside Church (Riverside Drive at 122nd Street). Brooklyn has Indian Literature and Indian Law Giver, ca. 1900 (Brooklyn Museum). The Bronx has Columbus (East 183rd Street, Crescent Avenue and Adams Street - worth the trip) and Outcast, 1908 (Woodlawn Cemetery).

Disgraceful, Cheap, and Bad

When the Maine Monument was first exposed to public view, The Sun published scathing comments about it:

Leading artists of the city, although many of them decline to allow their names to be published before a formal protest is made, maintain that the monument in its present form disgures the beautiful park entrance. They object to the pink tint of the marble, an alleged difference in scale between the figures at the base and the gilded group at the top, and say that there is a lack of harmony in the whole composition. The Art Commission may be asked to consider the substitution of another group for the gilded Columbia and her dolphin horses on top of the pedestal.

"This monument is a disgrace to the city," said Leon Dabo, one of the founders of the Association of American Painters and Sculptors, to a Sun reporter last night. "It is a misfit," he continued, "and spoils the beautiful park entrance. And what has it to do with the Maine? Unless some one told us that it was a Maine Memorial Monument, we would never know it from the design.
"What possible relationship these various groups have to one another is still a mystery. Architecturally and constructively, the whole thing is cheap and bad." --The Sun, 5/18/1913

Two months earlier, the Association of American Painters and Sculptors had sponsored the 1913 Armory Show - famous for introducing modern art such as Duchamp's Nude Descending a Staircase to America. Leon Dabo, their spokesman, was known for his paintings that showed little but open sea, sky, or fields. Allegorical figures were sooooo not his thing.

Cross References

  • See the Straus Memorial on Audrey Munson, the model for Columbia atop the Maine Monument.
  • The flag-draped building shown in the episode was the headquarters of the James Gordon Bennett, Jr.’s New York Herald, seen with Athena and the Bell Ringers atop the roof (now the Bennett Memorial).
  • The Maine Monument is an example of the public art works erected during the City Beautiful movement: see Bryant.
  • Also shown: Sherman
  • Charles Keck, who designed the bronze plaque on the back of the Maine Monument, also created Father Francis P. Duffy.
  • On the Spanish-American War, see also Marti and Schurz.
  • Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan gives more details on the allegorical figures and on the historical context of the U.S.S. Maine's explosion.

Puck cartoon

Above: A cartoon from the Spanish-American War: America trying on her new hat, a battleship labeled “world power” with “expansion” pouring out of the smokestacks. Schurz would have approved.

Copyright (c) 2013 Dianne L. Durante