The next statue in our history tour, is of the indomitable P. Eckel.
Now largely forgotten — but in the final decades of the 19th century, he was known to every resident of this city.
A quintessential Victorian reformer, and, I am obliged to point out, a figure attracting considerable controversy.
Had he remained satisfied with his campaign to create a dog park in every neighborhood, he would, to a certainty, be better represented in the annals of American history.
His inaugural Canine Green (1876) was opened with considerable fanfare, and proved an instant success. As reported in the Post:
“Dog fanciers, sportsmen, and courting couples have flocked to the park. The upper crust rubs elbows with the humbler sort, those who must toil to earn their daily crust, and the Social Register’s pureblood hounds mix in perfect cordiality and democracy with their less-distinguished mongrel cousins…”
Based on its popularity, Eckel was appointed the city’s first Dog Warden — considered a rising political star, being groomed to run for mayor.
Eckel believed there were no bad dogs, only dogs hadn’t been properly instructed on the proper locations to relieve themselves. His philosophy was embraced by adherents of the Aesthetic Movement, the Domestic Animal Welfare Reform societies, and all those grounded in the essential Victorian faith in Doing Your Business.
But his single-minded resolve to place his Patented Canine Sanitary Stanchions, on every street corner, without the blessing of the city council, cost him his job, and extinguished his dog park crusade.
Careful study of the Sanitary Stanchions (seen surrounding his statue in the picture above) reveals to the observant, one of the issues with his invention.
Because they so closely resembled hydrants, the fire brigades were constantly attempting to hook hoses to them.
When, as the result of this confusion, the city morgue burned to the ground, with tremendous loss of bodies, if not lives, the city fathers had had enough, and his political opponents unleashed their resentment.
Eckel, who only wanted to provide hygienic relief, was relieved of his position. Hounded from office, every stanchion was removed and destroyed.
But P. Eckel was not someone to roll over for a pack of ward heelers, or sit idle, or take this lying down.
In his self-designed uniform, he continued to stride along the thoroughfares, up the town and down, six days a week, shouting through his speaking trumpet at miscreant curs befouling the footpath, and sometimes their dogs, too, but sadly, without the authority to collar wrong-doers.
Reading through his voluminous papers, laid down in the archives of the Eastminster Kennel Club, he comes across as well-meaning, but somewhat monomaniacal.
It’s sad to see this forgotten figure, in a park that no longer allows dog-walking.
Carved in stone, his features weathered by a century of rain, he stands forgotten, passed like water through our collective memory.
Old postcards, of a no-longer-extant statue, lead me to an interesting bit of early American history.
In college, I became interested in the study of colonial emigration to North America. It’s a field that’s rich, complex, and often surprising.
Why would people suddenly leave the Old Country, with all the Shakespeare plays, great wines, fun accents, Eiffel towers, etc. and go live in a wilderness?
Religious wars, family squabbles, a gradual weariness with eating bread soaked in olive oil, are the usual back stories. Escape from feudalism and blood feuds, incessant bagpipe and accordion playing, and other loud wheezing kinds of sounds, from aristocrats and their drafty castles. But this statue tells one of the other, less-well-known motivations, and thereby hangs a tale.
One of the most powerful royal families in Europe, the Hapsburgs were a case study in inbreeding. They suffered from an exaggerated chin (“Hapsburg jaw”), gout, depression, dropsy, and an overfondness for Bourbons.
Their cousins, the House of Hamburg, had all these hereditary problems, and more.
Including, in a few cases, and not to put too fine a point on it, tails.
The Hamburgs are usually only remembered now, because their difficulty in chewing caused them to create ground-meat patties, which became popular for a time as “hamburgers”.
Examine the portrait above – – around this nobleman’s neck hangs a tiny dead sheep.
Now look at the pedestal in the picture below, with its goat heads.
What are the artists trying to tell us?
The pedestal was inscribed “Postremo superbia semper,” and “Last to leave the fight,” although a more literal translation would be, “Bringing up the rear with pride”
A sword hilt is visible, but in fact, the Hamburgs never carried on their persons, so much as cuticle scissors, due to a neurotic aversion to the sight of blood.
The hilt is just a prop.
Poking out from under the cape, disguised as a scabbard, but fooling no one, we see the hereditary Hamburg tail.
The family fled the Old World — which had turned it’s back on them – – subjected to persecution, and often painfully pinched, when people were too quick to slam shut those enormous bronze doors they have on castles and churches.
Aristocrats who were destined to never sit upon a throne, because they just couldn’t sit comfortably on anything other than ottomans.
Off they went to America, back to fundamentals, to establish a new family seat, a place to rear their young.
But their New World colony “Hinterland” (near present-day Piscataway) was short-lived and tragic, and with the exception of a huge number of porcelain cats, no artifacts of any note have been unearthed at the site. Why did they settle on that particular spot? No one knows. The Hamburgs, famously articulated in some ways, never clearly articulated their plans.
They left, but didn’t leave a note, and probably became extinct or something.
So there’s really no reason to talk about them anymore.
You know when you’ve reached the point of post-Thanksgiving saturation.
Walking near a beaver pond, and seeing turkey noodle soup.
And what looks like one stray cranberry.
[Second in my Monumental Series “Learning History Through Statues”]
As you will recall, however regretfully, we began the series with the Father of Our Country, George Washington.
George was made for statues.
Statuesque since he was a lad.
Strikingly tall, striking a pose in almost countless statues, struck onto coins and then stuck into vending machines, stuck on letters as a stamp, stuck onto dollar bills, and also sometimes stuck on stumps, possibly of cherry trees.
Moving on, here we have a New Yorker, reproduced in numerous statues, and stuffed animals.
Governor, Soldier, President.
In the pictures above and below, “Theodore Roosevelt, Modeled in Butter”.
This was an exhibit at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition of 1904, commonly called the St. Louis World’s Fair.
As I pondered this monument, done in a style called baroque arteriosclerotic, a thought suddenly occurred to me.
And, man, that’s annoying. How many times, have I told my brain, “Don’t do that!”
A historian’s thinking process should be like a bank robbery – – “Don’t nobody make no sudden moves!”
I hate it when random ideas pop up, like a deranged Whac-A-Mole game, and you just cannot pound them back in their hole with the hammer. So I was dismayed to realize that Teddy’s 1904 butter sculpture for the St. Louis World’s Fair, had somehow brought up a new and timely topic – the removal of statues.
Well, my brain can go off wherever it wants — so long, good riddance, write if you get work — and I’ll go my own way.
But here’s a concept that could help with that debate over taking down monuments.
My plan, the Statue Statute, combines the oleaginous evasiveness of a politician, with the icy reasoning of a historian.
Chill out, dude. It’s simple. In future, we’ll make all our statues out of butter or ice.
Stick ‘em in a refrigerated case — and here’s a key concept – – fans of the statue have to pay the electric bill to keep things cool.
You can donate online, or by feeding change into a meter.
Way more hygienic than having the actual person there, like Disney’s longest-running show,
“What a Sleeping Beauty! Lenin on Ice!” in Red Square.
If we have a burning desire to see Jubilation T. Cornpone memorialized in the park, we have to pay to keep him
— in sparkling ice, granita, or well-marbled butterfat.
The Popsicle Pantheon, The Immortal Icebox of Heroes, La Crème Glacée de la Crème.
Ice, pure and transparent, is obviously the wrong medium for politicians, so we can “laud him, all ye people, in lard.”
If we don’t keep the power on, if we waffle, our hero turns into a pool of melted butter.
When memories and passions cool,
and their snow jobs come to light,
and there’s no frozen slush fund to pay the electric bill,
the Sub-Zero Politicians will just melt away
… dissolve like such stuff as bad dreams are made on.
And most likely, the world will just carry on
…spinning in greased grooves.
And in the end, even when all the lights go off,
and the stuff in our refrigerators has gone very bad, become sentient, and taken over the planet,
the people we actually want to remember, will remain
…frozen in our memories, in the times and forms we most love to recall.
We’ll get back to Teddy, another time, don’t worry, I won’t forget.
I want to achieve two goals with this post.
Inaugurate a new series “Learning History By Looking At Statues, Before They’re All Taken Down”.
I don’t want my kid sister to feel badly about not having a driver’s license.
Dear Sis –
George Washington was a great man.
He fought the French, he fought the English, he fought the Hessians, and he fought the Whiskey Rebellion.
And despite all that, he isn’t seen as a hostile guy, everybody thinks he’s a great guy.
Like many otherwise nice, intelligent people…
He. Could. Not. Parallel. Park.
Look at this statue. This happened all the time.
Stuck on a stump.
Because he just couldn’t parallel park.
“Martha? Can you give me a lift? There’s something the matter with this horse again.”
And did he give up? I do not think so.
What is carved on the base of this statue? A quotation from the Marquis de Lafayette:
“Il est un conducteur terrible. Mais il est toujours un grand homme”
“He is a terrible driver, but still, a great man.”
Washington was a lesson in perseverance, and overcoming all obstacles in your path. Except granite curbs. And light poles. Stray shopping carts, too.
Now, here he’s crossing the Delaware.
Why would you do that in a little boat, standing up, when the river’s full of ice?
Because you cannot get your horse to go around the safety cones, on the bridge to New Jersey.
So you don’t give up, you take the ferry.
You just have to keep trying. And re-taking the driving test. I will give you driving lessons over the holidays.
But not with my car.
OK I’ve enjoyed posting some photos for Halloween.
If you’re a “regular viewer”, thank you for indulging me, and I promise to simulate maturity for the rest of the year.
Probably posting a bit less for a while, my one-man PR campaign for Upstate New York will be on hold – –
Moving to Boston for six months, perhaps longer, starting a new job, which I expect will require total focus.
New job, new town. Remembering lots of new names, figuring out the commute, where to get groceries.
There’s a Whole Foods across the street, expensive, and I cannot bring myself to disturb the produce displays,
it would be like vandalizing an art installation.
New language, too – – what is “scrod” and is that the same thing as “wicked pissah,” etc.
I’m looking forward to all the great museums, musical venues, and galleries.
Already learned that the Boston streets are an ironic art installation all their own, designed by M.C. Escher.
But I will, of course, continue to read everyone else’s posts, could not get by without that! 🙂