580 foot tall tribute to the American Indian in NY

Had this grand vision been realized, the first view of the New World to greet arriving immigrants after 1913 would have been a 580 foot tall tribute to the American Indian.
At the entrance to New York Harbor, overlooking the Narrows from the heights of Staten Island and perched atop a seven-story pedestal, the mammoth figure of an Indian chief was to have been
erected, his hand uplifted and two fingers extended in the “universal peace sign of the red man.” Towering 165 feet above a sprawling complex of museums, libraries, and formal gardens, he would have been the nation’s ultimate memorial to the “vanishing” North American Indian.
It was to be known in the years to come as “The Great Bronze Column of Staten Island.”
Between the volutes at the base of the capitol, running horizontally around the column, is the balustrade or viewing point of the Monument, 435 feet above the ground. This point can be reached by a circular
stairway or by the more modern elevator system.
It is interesting to note that this gigantic figure will be brought into human semblance through an entirely new method by the use of cement. In forming the huge sections, the metal instead of being
pounded into shape, according to the old, slow and exasperating process, will be pressed, bolted and anchored by an entirely new system of advanced ideas.
The figure according to present calculations is four feet higher than the Statue of Liberty ; the column will be the highest column ever erected in the history of the world and the entire monument, which
is a marvelous example of engineering, architecture and sculpture combined, will surpass in height any existing figure – monument ever erected.
The museum at the base of the shaft serves a dual purpose as a library and museum or hall of records for authentic Indian documents and historical data. An assembly room has also been planned on the
floor above.
The revenue from sight-seers and tourists will in time reach an amount sufficient to provide for the maintenance of the library and museum and the cost of operating expenses. It is a great undertaking but with the assistance of the men of prominence now interested in this project, the completion of the monument is assured (or so they thought) and the world will be inspired by awe at this symbol of greatness erected to so great a country.
The museum building which forms the base of the monument is 50 feet high and will be of granite, properly embellished, with Entrance and Exit, properly lighted. There will be sufficient stack-room
facilities for records and exhibits of the North American Indian and the collection will be under the supervision of men familiar with the subject and capable of overseeing this department.
The second story will be fitted as a place of assembly where conferences may be held relative to historical and Indian matters. This bronze column is 401 feet high from the top of the museum to the base of the figure and will be constructed of steel girders, anchored in cement below the surface of the earth, and encircled by 45 sections of copper plate, one for each State of the Union. Two elevators will
run to the base of the capital which is to be made in the form of a promenade.
The column will be surmounted by a beautiful ionic capital with leaded glass front, the two volutes acting as beacons for signaling ships or for transmitting signals to the surrounding country. The top or roof as it were, to the great capital will be gilded in order to separate the flowing color where the capital meets the figure.
This figure will be 129 feet high from the feet to the top of head (24 feet higher than the Colossus of Rhodes) and will be constructed of steel armatures covered with copper plates properly reinforced.
There will be an entrance at each foot. The sightseer will also be able to ascend inside the bronze figure to the head, some 580 feet from the level of the ground. Resting places will be installed, one at the waist, the other at the shoulders.
The elevation of this great monument, plus the height of the position where it may perhaps rest, will be in the neighborhood of 960 feet above sea -level. Which is the highest point on the Atlantic coast
between Maine and Mexico.
The site on which the monument will rest is to be chosen by the Commission
The cost of this work will reach approximately $650,000.
This flamboyant scheme was gotten up by Rodman Wanamaker, the son of John Wanamaker, who had built a Philadelphia men’s clothing store into one of America’s largest retail empires. Blessed with the bounty of this heritage, the younger Wanamaker acquired a formidable reputation as a patron of the arts, an aviation enthusiast, and an American Indian buff of considerable dimensions. Convinced, as was much of his generation, that the Indian was fast approaching extinction, he had financed expeditions to collect facts, artifacts, and movie film of the doomed people before they slipped into
oblivion. Then, at a dinner party in 1909 at New York City’s fashionable Sherry’s restaurant, with such notables as Buffalo Bill in attendance, he proposed the construction of a great monument to the Indian in New York Harbor.
The site finally selected was the front portion of Fort Tompkins, the highest rampart within the Fort Wadsworth complex on Staten Island (the same structure that today houses a military museum). And
so it was that on Washington’s birthday, 1913, President William Howard Taft, struggled up the steps of Fort Wadsworth for the dedication. On hand was an odd assortment of politicians, military officers, academicians, battle-garbed tribal chiefs, newspapermen, and movie cameramen hired by Wanamaker.
Wanamaker’s monument never got beyond the paper it was drawn on. The bronze tablet that had
been implanted in 1913 mysteriously vanished, never to be seen again. The concept was resurrected briefly in 1936 as a potential Work Projects Administration program, but died away, then arose again a decade later when a proposed memorial to World War II veterans from Staten Island had to be shifted
from Fort Tompkins because of the Indian monument’s previous claim; this brief surge of interest died also.
A century ago, the U.S. Congress passed a resolution authorizing the construction of a giant statue to pay tribute to American Indians. It was to be built on the grounds of Fort Wadsworth, on Staten Island, one of the boroughs of New York City, and with a height of 165 feet would have been taller than the Statue of Liberty.

In 1913, President Wlliam Howard Taft joined a delegation of 32 Indian chiefs and other dignitaries for a groundbreaking ceremony that saw the chief executive digging up dirt with an ancient axe-head made from a buffalo bone. Following a flag-raising, the chiefs then signed a “Declaration of Allegiance to the United States.”

The statue was never built, but according to a story at SILive.com, a Native couple who live on Staten Island are trying to make it happen. The statue was a sort of premature memorial — “to honor what was thought to be a vanishing race,” says Margie Boldeagle. “Now it’s taken on a different light. It would show that we are still here.”

Boldeagle and her husband, Robert, are not proposing anything like the colossus planned a century ago. They would like to see a 25-foot statue built on the fort grounds. They say they have a sculptor and donors for the million-dollar project lined up. The National Parks Service (NPS), which has maintained the fort since it was closed in 1994, won’t allow the Boldeagles’ project, arguing that the 1911 declaration issued by Congress authorized the Secretary of War and the Secretary of the Navy — not the NPS — to construct the monument.

The monument originally planned was the brainchild of Rodman Wanamaker, whose father had founded Wanamaker’s department store in Philadelphia. As related in an article in American Heritage, the pomp and circumstance went beyond the Presidential visit; a sort of publicity tour ensued:

The excursion was given the cumbersome title of the “Rodman Wanamaker Expedition of Citizenship to the North American Indian,” and at each stop the Fort Wadsworth flag-raising ceremony was re-enacted. Indians along the way cheerfully signed the Declaration of Allegiance, as well, then gathered around an Edison phonograph to hear a message from the Great White Father himself—Taft’s successor, Woodrow Wilson: “Because you have shown in your education and in your settled way of life, staunch, manly, and worthy qualities of sound character, the nation is about to give you distinguished recognition through the erection of a monument in honor of the Indian people, in the harbor of New York.”

The project was shelved with the outbreak of World War I. Whether the Boldeagles, founder of the Red Storm Drum and Dance Troupe, can make their version of it a reality remains to be seen; although they have the support of some local politicians, the agencies that control the facility seem uninterested. John Warren, public affairs specialist for Gateway National Recreation Area, which oversees Fort Wadsworth, told SILive that national parks are about preservation, and “not places where people can put up statues and memorials.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s