Arrant Nonsense, Art, History, Removing Statues, Revisionist History, Sculpture, statue, Waterloo, William Seward

Learning All About History by Looking at Statues. Chapter VI. A Hometown Hero.

Chap VI.

Our next statue was chosen because its sculptor was from my hometown.

I wanted to discuss the intellectual and aesthetic question “Why is this artist’s most famous work, the most-replicated statue by an America sculptor, during the 19th century, like a chronic sinus infection?”

The answer to the question:  Drip, drip, drip.

I’ll explain the dripping in just a sec.

I am from Waterloo, NY.

If you ask people in my village, the only famous person from here is a football coach, named Coughlin (pronounced just like you’d think, like a cat with a hairball).

Runner-up for local history buffs, is a guy named Gridley, who invented an improved washboard (not kidding, it was curved).

The back of the village garage, which faces a defunct grocery store, and a crumbling, unusable bridge, has a mural, showing Murray & Welles, who began the village’s Memorial Day observances in 1866.

Then one day, by chance, I found out that one of the most successful American sculptors of the 19th Century was born here.

Not only is there no statue of him in Waterloo, but in all seriousness, I’ve never once heard his name mentioned in his birthplace.

It’s Randolph Rogers.  Born 6 July 1825.

You can see his works in parks, galleries, and the better sort of cemeteries in NYC, Hartford, Gettysburg, Cincinnati, Detroit, Richmond, Philadelphia, Washington, etc.

His “Columbus Doors,” all 20,000 pounds of them, are the main entrance to the U.S Capitol.  They’re an homage to Lorenzo Ghiberti’s Renaissance masterpiece, the “Gates of Paradise” in Florence.

Randolph Roger’s versions are 17′ tall, and depict everyday life in Columbus, Ohio, during a political convention.


One one door, a stylized border of venial sins surrounds panels with scenes of graft, extortion, lobbying, malfeasance, pettyfogging, etc. while the other door depicts the politicians’ torments in the afterlife.

Rogers created statues and busts of Adams, Lincoln, William Seward, General Lew Wallace (of “Ben Hur” fame), and allegorical figures like “The Genius of Connecticut” for the top of their statehouse.  (This last one was later re-named “We’re All Above Average” and then melted down for scrap during WWII.)

His Civil War monuments include the Soldiers’ National Monument at Gettysburg.

The Seward statue is in Madison Square Park, in NYC, and was the subject of a scurrilous rumor that Rogers re-purposed a leftover Lincoln body and stuck on a Seward head.  It’s simply not true.  The proportions are fine – Seward just had a small head, relative to his body and nose.

(Henry Adams wrote that he had “a head like a wise macaw.“)


And replicas of one of Roger’s statues are in almost every big art gallery in the country.

The work is called “Nydia

It was the most popular American sculpture of the 19th Century.

Nydia is based on a character in a book called “The Last Days of Pompeii” (1834).

The author, Bulwer-Lytton, was a politican-novelist, and poet-playwright.  It’s all about hyphens with this guy.

The book was a huge hit.

And it’s absolutely unreadable.  I know that, because I tried.  Really.  Cannot be done.

I mean, I have an exceptionally high tolerance for tedium.  I can show you my survivor badge for “One Thousand PowerPoint Presentations” and once, I stayed awake for 3 ½ minutes of “Twilight.”  But this book – –  I lasted one page.

Here’s the beginning:

’HO, Diomed, well met!  Do you sup with Glaucus to-night?’ said a young man of small stature, who wore his tunic in those loose and effeminate folds which proved him to be a gentleman and a coxcomb.”

Doesn’t that just make you long for a dark & stormy night, so you could kill the author before he writes anything else?

“Sup with Glaucus”??  Why no, I finally got a prescription for Amoxicillin and that cleared up that supping Glaucus, boy, I’m glad to be done with all that Mucus and Phlegma.

But it turns out, Glaucus is not a medical condition, it is the hero.  And he and Nydia live in Pompeii.

And also a type of sea gull, I looked it up in Wikipedia.  “The glaucous gull (Larus hyperboreus)…the second largest gull in the world. which breeds in Arctic regions of the Northern Hemisphere and winters south to shores of the Holarctic.”

I remember thinking that you might want to know that, but now I don’t know why.

(Didn’t you think for sure, Glaucus was a sinus or eye infection?)

One more sentence, and you’re done.

Well, you must sup with me some evening;  I have tolerable muraenae in my reservoir, and I ask Pansa the aedile to meet you.”

Well, sure, I’d love to sup, unless some clever blacksmith has invented tines, and then we could just eat with forks, like grownups, and stop all this supping crap.

Um, aedile is a type of Roman magistrate?  And I found, with a dawning sense of horror, that muraena is a type of Mediterranean moray.

So this idiot  is bragging that his reservoir is infested with eels ?? and no doubt we’re going to be supping up jellied eels for dinner??  and why is this paired with the magistrate??  Unless it’s the politician/slimy eel thing??


I misplaced my notes – – this is either a still from the 1913 silent film “Last Days of Pompeii,” or a current cabinet meeting in Washington.


It’s a long, convoluted lava flow of melodrama — Greeks, Romans, Christians, the Cult of Isis, love potions, a witch, and eels.

Most of the characters are wiped out by the volcano, but not nearly soon enough.

Pompeii is depicted as a warped and decadent place, and yet, not fun.  If anyone tried to get a good bacchanalia going, I’m sure Bulwer-Lytton threw a wet toga over it.  His artistic conceit was clearly to deep-fry every sentence into agonized contortions, to mirror the bodies found in the ashes of Pompeii.

Better to dig up roasted Romans than by buried in this book – I never made it past the first page.

So anyway.

The book was a huge hit.

It was 1834.  In three years, if you’d finished the book, Victoria would begin her reign, and you’d have 63 years, seven months, and two days of additional dullness ahead of you.

In the U.S., free from monarchies and elitist literature, we were celebrating Jacksonian Democracy and getting ready for bank failures, 25% unemployment, and a 7-year long recession.

Most of this wasn’t Bulwer-Lytton’s fault, but he didn’t help.

So…some years after all that, I was in the Memorial Art Gallery in Rochester, NY and ran across a statue of “The Toothache”.

(That was my guess, anyway.)

At her feet rests the broken capital of a Corinthian column, symbolizing an impacted wisdom tooth.



It turned out to be an 1861 work by Randolph Rogers, inspired by the book, depicting Nydia, as she guides Glaucus through the eruption and ash-storm that was engulfing Pompeii, towards the harbor.

There he would be safe, and have lots of lovely eels to eat.

Her mission accomplished, Nydia then continues on, into the Mediterranean.  I don’t remember why, unrequited love I think, but she drowns, or maybe the eels get her, but she definitely dies.

It’s all very tragic, because she didn’t drag Glaucus and Bulwer-Lytton with her.  Somebody should have tied them all together and dropped them off a pier, attached to a Corinthian column.

I think Nydia washes up again, in the epilogue.

So, somehow, Randolph Rogers was inspired to depict Nydia, pre-drowning, but already drippy.

The statue was a huge hit.

It’s displayed in the big galleries in NYC, Washington, Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, Portland, Providence, L.A., and a whole lot more places.

In fact, Rogers replicated it 167 times (seriously).

Rogers didn’t actually chisel all these himself, of course.  He had a workshop in Italy, where workmen cranked these out for Culture Tourists, in the days when a souvenir was a souvenir, and before snow globes were invented.

Here’s a mention in “A History of European and American Sculpture” by Chandler Rathon Post (1921):

“Randolph Rogers never found his vein.  He tried his hand with tolerable results at several kinds of sculpture, but all his many productions suffer from a blight of dullness…his portrait statues…are fairly respectable performances in stiff rhetoric.”

Well, quite likely, you think I’m all wet, and ignorant, and that Nydia is a lovely statue.  They have one in the Memorial Art Gallery, the National Art Gallery, the Met, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Chicago Institute of Art, I’m tripping over this thing where ever I go.

But to my uneducated, rustic eye, it looks awkward, and a bit odd.


Like someone you’d feel bad for, if you ran across her downtown, and probably kind of avoid, because she’s hunched and her dress is half-off, and then you’d feel terrible, when it dawned on you that she was blind, and you weren’t sure if she was trying to cross the street, or if she was aware of her wardrobe malfunction, and depending on the angle, she’s either suffering from toothache, or is listening for something, like maybe an oncoming bus, or chariot, so you’d have to go back and hesitantly ask if she would like assistance in crossing the street, and she says, no, thank you, I’m actually listening for a volcanic eruption.  And until Mount Vesuvius actually blows, you’d think she was delusional, and should you call social services or something, the whole thing is awkward.

Oh, I forgot to mention that.  The character was blind.  The full title is “Nydia, The Blind Flower-Girl of Pompeii”.


She’s not identified as such, but pretty sure this is Nydia, from the 1913 silent movie “The Last Days of Pompeii” (Library of Congress)


It’s an interesting example of how tastes change.  I don’t know if most people today, would be crazy for the statue, or the book.  I’ve yet to find anyone who’s actually read Bulwer-Lytton.  Because I’ve asked a lot of random people at airports, bus stops, restrooms, and bars, and only gotten funny looks.  Apparently he’s really not popular anymore.


(Do you know he added a third Lytton to his name?  Edward George Earle Lytton Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Baron Lytton.  Because having it only twice, you might forget??  Or to distract people from “Bulwer”?)

(Today, “Bulwer-Lytton-Lytton-Lytton Disorder is better known as “Compulsive Redundancy Syndrome.”)

Most of us tend to remember and focus on the good stuff.  In the 1830’s, people were reading “Oliver Twist,” “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” “The Fall of the House of Usher,” “The Lady of Shalott,” etc.  But just like our own time, people consumed lots of not-so-wonderful stuff.

Maybe that’s the value of looking at “Pompeii” and “Nydia”  – – for contrast, and to show just how wonderful the good writers and artists were.  To remind ourselves, just how exceptional Dickens, Poe, Shelley, Hawthorne, Washington Irving, Byron, Emerson, Delacroix, etc. were.  In 1861, when the statue was unveiled, there were other horrible things happening, like Fort Sumter and the Battle of Bull Run, but there was also Church’s “The Icebergs,” Whistler’s “Symphony in White, No. 1,”  Manet’s “Music in the Tuileries,” and Leutze’s “Westward Ho!” so Rogers can’t use the Civil War as an excuse.

Nydia is shown as she guides some Pompeii people through the blinding volcanic ash-cloud to safety – the man she loves, his girlfriend, and some really insistent people hawking postcards.  That’s admirable, and that’s why she’s holding her hand to her ear.

Although I still think, she could have had a toothache, too, right?  and that’s why she drowned herself, not the unrequited love thing.

The museum sign informs us, that the statue is evocative.  But would you have understood the situation, if I hadn’t told you? That she’s listening for which way an exploding volcano is located?  If she were a Labrador, would you guess that someone was blowing a dog whistle?  Or figure, poor doggy, has a toothache.

Well, we’re all learning a lot from these statues, aren’t we.

And anyway, Randolph Rogers was born in my hometown, he was knighted by King Umberto I, and Art is in the eye of the beholder.  So is glaucoma, I did look it up, and it’s related to Glaucus, but I forget how.  Something to do with seagulls.


Excavation of the Temple of Isis at Pompeii (Wellcome Library)


P.S.  Glaucus, glaucoma, and the seagull really are all related!  But this post is way too long already.


An earlier, and I think, much nicer work, “Ruth Gleaning” (1850).  As in the Book of Ruth in the Bible, and “gleaning” as in gathering up leftover barley.




And one final piece, “The Last Arrow” (1880) – – I wonder if his fellow Upstater, Frederic Remington, saw this, since it predates his bronzes by fifteen years.  These two pictures are from the Met website.


















Johnny Reb & Billy Yank


































Civil War, Decoration Day, First World War, History, Memorial Day, Waterloo, WWI

Memorial Day Postcards VII ~ ~ 1900 – 1945 ~ ~ ~ ~ ~~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ” There in the fragrant pines and the cedars dusk and dim”






A very busy photograph, but that seems appropriate for Teddy Roosevelt. The real Teddy did visit Waterloo, but by train, on a whistle-stop campaign for Governor.




This small village lost fifty-eight men during the Civil War.




The actual observance of Memorial Day, and commemoration of the fallen, will be on the 30th, as it has been, every year, for 151 years.




I took a picture of an old Chrysler, and didn’t see the reflection of the flags until I got home. This is similar to the one owned by Harry Truman, who would drive with his wife Bess to NYC, to visit their daughter.  He drove it himself, with no Secret Service detail.


courtesy of the Truman Library, accession Number: 2004-213


This reminded me of the 1975 song by Robert Lamm of the band “Chicago,” who was not a fan of Richard Nixon –

Harry Truman

America needs you Harry Truman ~ Harry could you please come home

Things are looking bad ~ I know you would be mad ~

To see what kind of men ~ Prevail upon the land you love ~

America’s wondering, how we got here ~ Harry all we get is lies~

We’re gettin’ safer cars ~ Rocket ships to Mars ~

From men who’d sell us out~  To get themselves a piece of power ~ 

We’d love to hear you speak your mind ~ In plain and simple ways ~

Call a spade a spade~  Like you did back in the day ~

You would play piano ~ Each morning walk a mile ~

Speak of what was going down ~ With honesty and style ~

~ America’s calling Harry Truman ~ Harry you know what to do ~

The world is turnin’ round ~ and losin’ lots of ground

Oh Harry is there something we can do to save the land we love ~~~~~ by Robert Lamm


Civil War, Decoration Day, Finger Lakes, FLX, History, Memorial Day, Upstate New York, Waterloo

151st Memorial Day Parade, Waterloo, NY.


The “Flags on Parade” stamp was first issued on May 30, 1991 in Waterloo, NY, for the 125th anniversary of the village’s Memorial Day observances.




c. 1900-1910





1908  Grand Army of the Republic. Membership in the G.A.R. peaked at 490,000 in 1890. Their last “encampment” was held in Indianapolis in 1949, and it’s last member died seven years later.






Decoration Day, History, Memorial Day, Uncategorized, Waterloo

Memorial Day Postcards V ~ ~ ~ 1900 – 1910 ~ ~ ~ Old Glory



The Spanish-American War provided another opportunity for reconciliation between Civil War vets. “Fighting Joe” Wheeler, the Confederate general, later commanded the U.S. cavalry fighting in Cuba. (Although while watching the Spanish troops retreat, he forgot himself and yelled “Let’s go, boys! We’ve got the damn Yankees on the run!”)


An odd juxtaposition — a solemn admonition “Lest we forget” with pretty women in uniform.


I count 46 stars, so 1908-1912. Until the Spanish-American War, soldiers wore blue wool, winter or summer, and even after khaki was adopted, the blue survived as the dress uniform. I thought this hat was fanciful, but other than the gaudy gold trim, it’s actually the correct style of dress cap for that era.


1908. Horrifyingly indiscreet, but at least the young lady isn’t revealing any ankle.


In the 1890’s, this became a day for hugely popular bicycle races, followed in 1911 by the Indy 500. It’s a neat poster, but again, it seems like a strange partnering of soldiers, aged vets, and bicyclists. Library of Congress


This one puzzles me — has he enlisted to escape his formidable-looking wife? Or was he shooting at that hat by mistake, hoping to have pheasant for dinner?

Civil War, Decoration Day, Memorial Day, Uncategorized

Memorial Day Postcards IV ~ ~ ~ A Bit Less Serious


c. 1900-1910 Even as the number of surviving Civil War soldiers dwindled over the years, cards continues to display the emblem of the G.A.R. (Grand Army of the Republic), a fraternal organization, and a powerful lobby for the interests of Union veterans and war widows. In later years, you also see the emblem of an offshoot, the S.U.V. (Sons of Union Veterans), which was formed in the 1880’s.


c. 1900-1910


c. 1899 “To My Comrade” A Spanish-American war uniform, however, with the G.A.R. insignia and badge


This postkarte, like a lot of the ones I’m posting, was printed in Germany, which may explain the unusual two-finger salute. As far as I know, it’s used in the U.S. only by the Cub Scouts, but hasn’t been used by our military. It was apparently more customary in the German and Polish armies.


c. 1917


illustration from a 1917 “Youth’s Companion”




Decoration Day, First World War, History, Memorial Day, Uncategorized, WWI

Memorial Day Postcards III ~ ~ ~ 1900 – 1918 ~ ~ ~ Passing the Torch



c. 1917-1918.   Even after Veteran’s Day (originally called Armistice Day) was instituted in 1919, Memorial Day has continued to be an opportunity to honor not only those lost in the wars, but also the surviving veterans, and those currently serving in the military.



c. 1900-1910 Some historians estimate that 70,000 soldiers lost a limb during the Civil War. It has often been noted, that in 1866, the state of Mississippi spent more that half it’s annual budget on artificial limbs.


One of the philanthropists supporting this writing contest for one-armed veterans, Theodore Roosevelt, Sr. (Teddy’s father), had also supported the war effort, but did not serve in the army. Instead, he avoided the draft by hiring a substitute to take his place in the ranks.  LOC




I just read that Hanger, Inc., a company providing prosthetic limbs, was founded by a one-legged Confederate veteran. J. E. Hanger enlisted at 18, and two days later, was hit by a cannonball. He may have had the honor of becoming the first known amputee of the Civil War. An engineering student, he developed a lighter, superior wooden leg made from barrel staves, and supplied them to the Confederate Army. He lived long enough to see his inventions used by another generation of soldiers, wounded in the First World War.


James Edward Hanger, from his company’s website


c. 1900 – 1914


When I looked at this particular portrait, I wondered if he survived the war.


1883 Reunion of Union veterans. LOC




“A Grateful Land Remembers All Her Promises Today”



Civil War, Decoration Day, History, Memorial Day, Waterloo

Memorial Day Postcards II ~ ~ ~ 1900 – 1918 ~ ~ ~ Veterans