According to the Department of Parks and Recreation, there are over 270 memorials devoted to wars (New York City, “War Memorials in Parks”). Commemoration of the dead, especially the war dead, and veneration to those who fought in battle is an important element in Western culture, and New York is no exception. Across all five boroughs, they range from extravagant and monolithic to small and almost utilitarian. Especially from 1900 onward, there were several distinct eras of aesthetics and theme present in monuments devoted to various wars. 1900 is the date chosen for the start of comparison because memorials from the Civil War, Spanish-American War, both World Wars, and the Korean and Vietnam Wars were built or unveiled in this time. In addition, memorials for those who were killed in the attacks on September 11th, 2001, which in effect began conflict in Afghanistan and, later on, Iraq, for the purposes of comparison and analysis will be included as well.
The turn of the 20th century saw the unveiling of monuments for both the Spanish-American War, which ended approximately two years prior, and the Civil War, which ended approximately 35 years before. Many Civil War monuments were not completed by the 1900s, due to their largesse and extravagance. The two best examples of Civil War monuments completed in this time are Grand Army Plaza, outside of Prospect Park in Brooklyn, and the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument in Riverside Park on the West Side of Manhattan. Grand Army Plaza, which at the time of its completion was named Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch, was itself completed in 1892, but additional sculptures were affixed in 1901 and 1902: Spirit of the Army and Spirit of the Navy, sculptures of soldiers and sailors, respectively, preparing for battle, on the sides of the arch; and the Quadriga, atop the arch, which features a winged Columbia, embodying the United States, on a horse-drawn chariot surrounded by angels playing trumpets. The arch itself, similar to the sculptures, features elements both allegorical and explicit: the phrase “To the Defenders of the Union, 1861-1865,” adorns the arch, above reliefs of winged women, assumingly embodiments of Liberty, and an eagle, the bird emblematic of the U.S. Furthermore, the arch is similar in both theme and the elements of Roman architecture (specifically, the very presence of an arch itself, pioneered by the Romans) to the Arc de Triomphe, which was built to commemorate Napoleon’s victory at Austerlitz (“History”). In contrast to the Roman style of Grand Army Plaza, the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument shares elements of classical Greek style, a circular temple-like structure surrounded by 12 Corinthian columns (New York City, “Riverside Park”). Much like Grand Army Plaza being based on the Arc de Triomphe, this monument is based on the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates in Athens (“Riverside Park”). While the Soldiers’ and Sailor’s Monument is dedicated to all soldiers who fought, and more specifically died, in the Civil War like Grand Army Plaza, the monument is very individualistic, with the base of the monument featuring generals and the battles they led, along with the regiments from New York that fought in the war (Brady). (Prospect Park Alliance)
The string of memorials of monumental size was less prevalent when regarding the Spanish-American War, partially due to the scarcity of monuments for the war; this is somewhat warranted, considering that the war lasted less than a year. The largest of the monuments is the memorial for soldiers who died in the attack on the USS Maine, erected on West 59th Street in 1912 (“War Memorials in Parks”). The centerpiece of the monument is a monolithic 44-foot pylon inscribed, “To the valiant seamen who perished in the Maine by fate unwarned, in death unafraid,” and includes the names of all of the nearly 260 sailors who were killed (New York City, “Maine Monument”). Further, at the front of the pylon is a sculpture of a group of people in the shape of a boat, allegorical of the Maine (New York City, “Maine Monument”). Much like the Quadriga atop of Grand Army Plaza, the Mainememorial features Columbia Triumphant, a woman – referencing the United States – on a chariot pulled by three seahorses. However, most Spanish-American War memorials were much smaller in size, such as the “Hiker,” a statue of a soldier carrying a rifle, that was erected in many cities around the turn of the century, with one in Staten Island put up in 1904 (New York City, “War Memorials in Parks”).
World War I’s memorials were an amalgam of allegorical and literal, and great and small, largely due to the sheer number of them; according to the New York Department of Parks and Recreation, 100 monuments have been erected memorializing the Great War (New York City, “War Memorials in Parks”). This is largely due to the war’s importance at the time as an outpouring of troops abroad for the first time. Quite a few of the memorials were relatively small; for example, the 107th United States Infantry Memorial, dedicated in 1927, located near Hunter College at East 67th Street and 5th Avenue in Central Park, features seven larger-than-life-size – approximately 10-foot-tall – soldiers in battle, one of many realistic sculptures of the “doughboys” scattered across New York (New York City, “107th Infantry Memorial”). Another memorial, the John Purroy Mitchel Memorial, is even smaller in both stature and commemoration; it honors only Mitchel, the former Mayor of New York who died after he fell out of his plane during stateside training in North Carolina (“John Purroy Mitchel Monument”). However, some WWI memorials are quite large, such as the 1932 Bronx Victory Memorial in Pelham Bay Park, a 70-foot tall column with an 18-foot tall statue of Nike, the goddess of victory (New York City, “War Memorials in New York”).
Due to the sheer amount of World War I memorials, the decision was made by city officials to advocate for the building of one large-scale monument in each borough, rather than many scattered across the city (New York City, “War Memorials in New York”). The largest of these is the East Coast Memorial, erected in 1963. The memorial, built in Battery Park and facing New York Harbor and the Statue of Liberty, features 8 monolithic panels, each measuring 19 feet in height, with the names of all the troops who died in the European theater of the war. Between the aisles of the panels, a sculpture of an eagle, perched on a pedestal, appears. This combination of great size and both literal and symbolic elements is similar to the Maine memorial. (“East Coast War Memorial.”)
In the past two decades, additional memorials have been erected for the Korean and Vietnam Wars. The latter war was rife with sentiment against it, and with it being the first genuine American loss in wartime, it took a long period to honor those who fought in the war; the former is often forgotten about due to the uncertainty as to the very result. In 1991, almost four decades after the Korean War came to a cease-fire, a memorial was erected on the north side of Battery Park, across from the East Coast Memorial. Although a solid granite structure, the main part of the monument is a silhouette of a soldier carved out of the center, truly symbolic of a “forgotten war” (New York City, “War Memorials in Parks”). The soldier silhouette also represents the fact that this memorial is not individualistic, but collective – honoring all troops, regardless of nationality, who fought in the war, with flags of the countries, along with the flag of the UN, which sponsored the mission, at the base (New York City, “War Memorials in Parks”). The Vietnam Veterans Memorial was not erected until 2001, and unlike the Korean War Memorial, has a more individualistic approach, with the names of all 1,741 casualties from New York etched on individual stainless steel panels (“Making of the Memorial”). However, while largely individualistic, it maintains a collective theme as well, as it features quotations from correspondence by both deceased soldiers and living veterans alike, to offer a glimpse as to the nature of the war as seen by the soldiers (“Making of the Memorial”).
The time of the unveiling of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial leads to a new, unfortunate era in war memorials: those honoring the victims of the September 11th, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center. “The Sphere,” temporarily displayed in Battery Park, was a sculpture originally erected between the two main towers of the World Trade Center; after the attack, the sculpture remained structurally intact and was moved to the park. While it was not originally a memorial at all – in fact, sculptor Fritz Koenig said that it was a tribute to peace – due to its very existence after the attack, it became a symbol to memorialize the attack itself (Min). Further, the cracked and mangled orb represents both the heartbreak felt across New York due to the attacks (Min). The “Tribute in Light,” an installation of 88 floodlights that originally shined in March and April of 2002, and annually on September 11th since then, represents the Twin Towers destroyed in the attack by creating two beams of light, visible from miles away and further accentuating their absence (Dunlap). Many of the monuments built or to be built have a primarily individualistic aspect to them in terms of commemoration: the Brooklyn Wall of Remembrance in Coney Island, completed in 2003, individually honors the 416 first responders – from firefighters and police officers to a rescue dog – who died in the attack; the Staten Island September 11 Memorial, erected in 2004, features plaques, aptly measuring 9” by 11”, with the names and silhouettes of each of the 270 people killed; and the National September 11 Memorial and Museum, to be completed next year, will have the names of those killed not only in the attack on the World Trade Center in 2001, but in the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993 and the attacks on the Pentagon and in Shanksville, Pennsylvania on September 11th (“About the Wall”)(Staten Island)(“About the Memorial”). However, some have a collective, symbolic element, as well: the Staten Island memorial features two large curved beams, which could represent the blooming of a flower, or the towers themselves, as they graced the skyline of Lower Manhattan as seen from Staten Island, and the inscriptions of names at the National Memorial will surround two fountains, each an acre in size, directly in the footprint of the two towers.
In summary, the war memorials of New York cover many wars, and many facets of those wars therein. Many contain symbols of victory or loss; others share the people who died and, with it, the sense of grief. They share elements of both aesthetic style and historic substance. While each memorial in New York is different, they are, indeed, quite similar.
“About the Memorial.” National September 11 Memorial and Museum. National September 11 Memorial and Museum, n.d. Web. 10 Dec. 2010.
This web page discusses the National Memorial commemorating September 11th, and is used in this paper to discuss the stylistic aspects with regard to commemoration of those who died.
“About the Wall.” Brooklyn Wall of Remembrance. Brooklyn Wall of Remembrance, n.d. Web. 10 Dec. 2010.
This web page discusses the process of building and describes the content of the Brooklyn Wall of Remembrance, and is used in this paper for the latter.
Brady, Chris. “NY – Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument – Riverside Park.” The Weblicist of Manhattan. n.p., 25 Oct. 2007. Web. 10 Dec. 2010.
This blog post contains pictures, along with a brief discussion of the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument, and for the purposes of this paper is used to describe the monument.
Candelaria, Felix. “Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Manhattan.” Flickr. New York City Transit, 13 June 2006.
This picture, taken by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, presents the New York Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial in Manhattan, and is presented as such.
Dunlap, David W. “From 88 Searchlights, an Ethereal Tribute.” New York Times. New York Times, 4 Mar. 2002. Web. 10 Dec. 2010.
This article describes the “Tribute in Light,” and is used for the purposes of this paper as such.
“East Coast War Memorial.” A View on Cities. A View on Cities, n.d. Web. 14 Dec. 2010.
This web page describes the East Coast War Memorial, in addition to providing pictures of the memorial, and for the purposes of this paper and accompanying presentation, is used as such.
“Grand Army Plaza, Brooklyn.” A View on Cities. A View on Cities, n.d. Web. 14 Dec. 2010.
This web page describes the Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn, in addition to providing pictures of the monument, and for the purposes of this paper is used for the former.
Gustafson, Jeffrey O. “The Brooklyn Quadriga.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 5 May 2007. JPEG file. 14 Dec. 2010.
This picture of the Quadriga, a portion of the Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn, is used in this paper’s accompanying presentation to represent a part of a monument described in the presentation.
---. “The Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch at Grand Army Plaza.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 5 May 2007. JPEG file. 14 Dec. 2010.
This picture of Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn is used in this paper’s accompanying presentation as such.
“History.” Arc de Triomphe Paris. Arc de Triomphe Paris, 12 Aug. 2008. Web. 10 Dec. 2010.
This page discusses the history of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, but is used instead in this paper to compare the Arc to the Grand Army Plaza.
Lentz, Mark. “Sphere before Sept. 11.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 21 July 2005. Web. 14 Dec. 2010.
This picture of The Sphere is used in the paper’s accompanying presentation as such.
“Making of the Memorial, 1985-2001.” New York Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial. New York Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial, n.d. Web. 10 Dec. 2010.
This web page describing the New York Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial is used in this paper as such.
Min, Eudora. “Endurance, the Sphere and Memories of 9/11.” The Newark Metro. Rutgers- Newark Online, 1 Sept. 2008. Web. 10 Dec. 2010.
This article discusses the effect of The Sphere on people in the New York metropolitan area, but for the purposes of this paper is used to describe the original and present-day message presented by the sculpture.
“New York City / Battery Park / East Coast Memorial / 'Eagle' Sculpture by Albino Manca.” Flickr. Yahoo! Inc., 16 Jan. 2010. JPEG file. 14 Dec. 2010.
This picture on the photo-sharing website Flickr is used in this paper’s accompanying presentation to present a portion of the East Coast Memorial.
New York City. Dept. of Parks and Recreation. “Central Park: John Purroy Mitchel Monument.” Dept. of Parks and Recreation, n.d. Web. 10 Dec. 2010.
This page discusses the monument devoted to John Purroy Mitchell, and is used in this paper as such.
New York City. Dept. of Parks and Recreation. “Central Park: Maine Monument.” Dept. of Parks and Recreation, n.d. Web. 10 Dec. 2010.
This page discusses the monument devoted to those killed in the attack on the USS Maine, and is used in this paper as such.
New York City. Dept. of Parks and Recreation. “Central Park: 107th Infantry Monument.” Dept. of Parks and Recreation, n.d. Web. 10 Dec. 2010.
This page discusses the monument devoted to the 107th Infantry in World War I, and is used in this paper as such.
New York City. Dept. of Parks and Recreation. “Riverside Park: Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument.” Dept. of Parks and Recreation, n.d. Web. 10 Dec. 2010.
This page discusses the monument devoted to those who fought in the Civil War, and is used in this paper as such.
New York City. Dept. of Parks and Recreation. “War Memorials in Parks.” Dept. of Parks and Recreation, n.d. Web. 10 Dec. 2010.
This page discusses the evolution of war memorials in parks, along with several smaller monuments not covered in great detail elsewhere. This page was integral in the formation of this paper.
Pearl, William. “'Lincoln and Grant', bronze sculptures by William Rudolf O'Donovan (men) & Thomas Eakins (horses), 1893-1894, Grand Army Plaza, Brooklyn, New York City.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 7 Oct. 2007. JPEG file. Web. 14 Dec. 2010.
This picture details part of the Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn, and is presented in this paper’s accompanying presentation as such.
Prospect Park Alliance. “Grand Army Plaza.” Official Website of Prospect Park. Prospect Park Alliance, n.d. Web. 10 Dec. 2010.
This page discusses the history of the Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn, and is used as such in this paper.
Staten Island. Office of the Borough President. “Staten Island September 11 Memorial.” Office of the Borough President, 1 Feb. 2003. Web. 10 Dec. 2010.
This page describes and presents a picture of the memorial for Staten Islanders who died on September 11th, and is used as such in this paper and accompanying presentation.