The monuments of Detroit

The best-known downtown monument is the $40,000 sculpture “Spirit of Detroit” by Marshall Fredericks which sits in front of the City-County Building.

You pass by them everyday on the way to work, but they’re like furniture, blending into the background, becoming almost invisible. And chances are if you do see them, you have no idea who they are or what they represent.

They’re the sculptures and monuments of historic Detroit, relics of a bygone era.

Soldiers and Sailors Monument:

The Soldiers and Sailors Monument on Campus Martius across from Kennedy Square commemorates the more than 90,000 troops Michigan sent to fight the Confederacy in the Civil War and the 14,823 from Michigan who died in battle.

At the end of the war, thousands of discharged soldiers and citizens campaigned to raise funds for the construction of a monument to highlight Michigan sacrifices and achievements in battle.

The Soldiers and Sailors Monument commemorates the more than 90,000 troops Michigan sent to fight in the Civil War.

The campaign started in 1865 with the forming of the Michigan Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument Association. The 60-foot-high monument was unveiled April 9, 1872, the seventh anniversary of the Confederate surrender at Appomattox, Va.

Speakers at the dedication party held in the nearby Detroit Opera House included Gens. Philip H. Sheridan, Ambrose H. Burnside and George A. Custer, who later died with all his men at the Little Big Horn

Designed by sculptor Randolph Rogers, the four-tiered monument is topped by an 11-foot female figure, armed with sword and shield, representing Michigan. Below her are four figures symbolizing Victory, Union, Emancipation and History. At a lower stage are seven-foot bronze statues of an infantryman, a cavalryman, an artilleryman and a sailor.

Four plaques depict Abraham Lincoln, Gens. William Techumseh Sherman and Ulysses S. Grant and Adm. David G. Farragut. Four screaming eagles on pedestals surround the base. A tablet reads: Erected by the people of Michigan in honor of the martyrs who fell and the heroes who fought in the defense of liberty and union.

General Thaddeus Kosciuszko

Many people have trouble pronouncing the name (Koz-chews-co). But the bronze statue which stands at Michigan and Third commemorates a truly American hero, a soldier and early civil rights advocate.

The Polish-born Kosciuszko fought for six years in the armies of George Washington during the Revolutionary War, rising to the rank of general. He was assigned a black slave named Agrippa Hull, whom he eventually freed. Later, moving to France as a special U.S. ambassador, he instructed that his land be sold to buy freedom and education for other slaves.

Polish-born Thaddeus Kosciuszko fought for six years in the armies of George Washington during the Revolutionary War, rising to the rank of general.

The statue, proposed by Detroit’s Polish Century Club during the American Bicentennial, was a gift of the people of Krakow, Poland.

The Italian design of the 22-foot-high sculpture — the general astride his horse — dates from 1911 and duplicates a monument in Krakow. The city of Detroit donated the 15-ton granite base. The 10-ton statue didn’t arrive until two years after the Bicentennial, and was dedicated in 1978 during the city’s annual Polish Ethnic Festival.

Statues of Mayors Hazen S. Pingree and William H. Maybury

For many years during the first half of this century, the seated statues of two former civic leaders looked at each other from opposite sides of Grand Circus Park in downtown Detroit.

On the west, Hazen S. Pingree, a former mayor of Detroit and governor of Michigan, sat looking east. On the east William Maybury, also a former mayor and a political enemy of Pingree, looked back.

Pingree, descended from Pilgrim stock and a self-made millionaire shoe manufacturer, was a vigorous defender of the working man. When employes of a streetcar company dumped a trolley into the Detroit River to protest low wages, Mayor Pingree not only refused to have them thrown into jail, but said he wished he’d been part of the mob.

Pingree once had the entire Detroit Board of Education arrested, calling them a bunch of thieves, grafters and rascals. He also plowed up city parks and land to plant potatoes for the hungry.

When he became Governor, he threw a party Dec. 31, 1899 on the floor of the Michigan House of Representives celebrating the advent of the 20th Century . The party was attended by future President Theodore Roosevelt dressed in his Rough Riders cavalry uniform.

When Pingree died on an African safari with Roosevelt in 1901, an unbroken line of people filed past Pingree’s bier for two days and nights, most of whom later contributed pennies and nickels to build his monument. Designed by Rudolph Schwarz, the statue depicts him as a caring and responsive man.

Maybury, a former congressman who defeated Pingree’s hand-picked successor for the mayor’s office, served eight years until 1905. He was a high-priced attorney and a sanctimonious pillar of the local Episcopal Church. He disdained demon rum and once banned a performance by English showgirl Lily Langtry as too salacious for Detroit audiences.

At left is a monument to Detroit Mayor William H. Maybury, a political foe of his predecessor Hazen S. Pingree, whose monument at right also stands in Grand Circus Park.

      Fewer Detroiters mourned Maybury’s passing in 1908, but a group of prominent, wealthy Detroiters contributed funds to build a monument to him. Adolph A. Weinman designed the memorial.

The two old foes sat glowering moodily across Woodward until Grand Circus Park was excavated in the late ’50s for an underground garage.

Somehow, Maybury’s monument wound up on the west side of the street, back to back with Pingree. They remain in that position, ignoring each other in the after life, just as they did in political life.

Frank Murphy

Sculptor Carl Milles’ “Hand of God,” a tribute to Frank Murphy, stands outside the Frank Murphy Hall of Justice in downtown Detroit.

      At his death in 1949, Frank Murphy — govenor, judge, justice, U.S. Attorney General, Detroit mayor, Phillippines high commissioner — had held more high public posts than any Michigan native.

The United Auto Workers revered Murphy as a crusader. As governor he rejected using force to halt sitdown strikes when the UAW was organizing the auto industry, an act which some believe cost him re-election.

Walter P. Reuther, then UAW president, must have felt the Carl Milles scuplture “Hand of God” a fitting tribute to Murphy’s career when Reuther and Judge Ira W. Jayne, chose the design in 1959.

“Hand of God” was one of Milles’ last works before his death. Originally, Milles created it to honor C. E. Johansson who revolutionized precision measuring of auto and other industrial parts which made the assembly line possible. The Murphy casting was a gift to Detroit paid mostly from contributions by UAW locals.

But the $65,000 work by the Swedish-born sculptor stood in limbo for 11 years until a home could be found for it. The huge bronze work depicts a giant, strong left hand, opened upward fingers apart. On the thumb and forefinger stands a nude youth leaning backwards, arms and fingers played out as if expressing surprise. There were some complaints over the nude figure.

Eventually given to Wayne State University by the UAW, it remained in storage until its installation outside the new Frank Murphy Hall of Justice in November 1970.

Under the direction of Marshall Fredericks, a Milles’ student, the sculpture was placed on a piece of black granite, making the work 26 feet tall, 10 feet higher than the original concept, making the nude figure less visible to those few offended by it.

Col. Robert M. Lyon, commander of the 2d Infantry at Fort Wayne, salutes the statue of Gen. Alexander Macomb, onetime commander of the regiment, the second oldest in the U.S. Army. The statue stands at Washington Blvd. and Michigan Ave. Photo was taken in 1935.

General Alexander Macomb

General Macomb was born to a wealthy and prominent Detroit family. His father was a business partner of John Jacob Astor. The family owned not only most of Macomb County, but also Grosse Ile and Belle Isle as well. Choosing a military career, Macomb distinguished himself at the battle of Plattsburgh, N.Y., during the War of 1812.

In 1906, Adolph Weinman was chosen to memorialize this early Michigan war hero. Although not well known in art circles at the time, the then-36-year-old sculptor had worked with the reknowned Daniel Chester French. Weinman’s dashing portrayal of Macomb, cape windblown, stands on Washington Boulevard at Michigan Avenue.

This portrayal delighted influential Detroiters so much that several years later Weinman won the job for the memorial to former Mayor Maybury.

A monument to Stevens T. Mason, “Michigan’s boy governor,” stands in Capitol Park.

Stevens T. Mason, ‘Michigan’s boy governor’

In the shadow of downtown Detroit’s high-rise buildings stands a statue which marks a single grave, that of Stevens T. Mason, Michigan’s boy governor. He lies buried on the site of his best known achievement, Capitol Park, which was Michigan’s seat of government during the state’s early years.

Mason, a territorial official at 19, became governor when the territory had to fill the post as a condition for subsequent statehood. Earlier, from territorial headquarters in Detroit, Mason had been called upon to help residents along the Ohio border who were trying to keep southern insurgents from stealing their land. Ohio had decided to claim what is now Toledo, an area which had been under Michigan’s jusrisdiction. Threats and counterthreats caused Federal officials to draft a law prohibiiting a takeover, which few heeded. Then troops moved in. But there is no record of shots causing any injury, and eventually a compromise was reached. As consolation for losing about 450 square miles to Ohio, including what is now Toledo, Michigan gained 9,000 square miles of land now called the Upper Peninsula. With acceptance of the exchange, Michigan was granted statehood by Congress.

Mason served two successive two-year terms as governor at the state capital, then in Detroit. He moved to New York with his socialite wife, where he died at the age of 31 of an illness his doctors called suppressed scarlet fever.

A few years later, the state government moved to Lansing and the former Detroit Capitol building became a schoolhouse. Mason’s ashes returned to Michigan in 1905 to be buried on the old Capitol grounds at Griswold and State streets.

Sculptor Albert Weinert represented Mason as a young statesman standing confidently on a pedestal.

Russell A. Alger Memorial Fountain

General Russell Alger served as United States Senator, Governor of Michigan, and Secretary of War under President McKinley. One of Michigan’s best loved citizens, he was born in a log cabin in neighboring Ohio. Orphaned at the age 12, he supported a younger brother and sister.

He became a lawyer and moved to the Grand Rapids area where he went into the lumber business. When the Civil War began in 1861, he enlisted as a private in the Second Michigan Cavalry. He took part in more than 60 battles and skirmishes, rising to the rank of colonel, and , at the end of the war, a major general. In 1866, Alger settled in Detroit, resuming his lumbering activities and becoming one of the country’s most prosperous businessmen.

The Russel Alger Memorial Fountain in Grand Circus Park was unveiled in 1921.

      A staunch Republican, Alger enjoyed a distinguished political career. In 1884 he was elected Governor of Michigan. In 1888 and 1892 he was a leading prospect for the Republican presidential nomination. President McKinley appointed him Secretary of War in 1897 and in 1902 he was elected to the United States Senate. He died in office Jan. 24, 1907.

While living in Detroit he began giving suits of clothing to needy Detroit newsboys. From his charity activities, the annual Christmas Fund collection by the Old Newsboys Association eventually developed.

After Alger’s death, a memorial society commissioned American sculptor Daniel French and his collaborator, architect Henry Bacon, best known for their Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. to design the Alger Memorial. The fountain located at Grand Circus Park and Woodward Avenue cost $30,000 when erected in 1921.

The cast bronze and Milford granite statue stands about 15 feet high. It is not Alger himself, but of a classical Roman figure symolizing the state of Michigan, which bears a shield emblazoned with the state emblem. On the pedestal is a plaque memorializing Alger.

In 1997, the fountain no longer operational, underwent major renovations.

Noguchi’s Pylon tower at Hart Plaza

Passersby have remarked that Isamu Noguchi’s pylon looks like a giant silver spike at the head of Detroit’s Hart Plaza. But most city officials look at the sculpture as symbolic of the city’s rebirth during Detroit’s first renaissance in 1974.

Posted firmly in the stone walk leading to Jefferson Avenue, it stands like an anchor for the long streets and blocks of buildings which radiate from the downtwon area in wagon wheel fashion.

When the puzzling framework rose during construction in summer 1974, many people voiced confusion and disappointment about the design. Mayor Coleman Young reversed public doubt. “A centerpiece for the renaissance going on all around us,” he proclaimed.

The Spirit of Detroit is protected by plastic covering as marble panels are replaced behind the statue in 1984.

      The sculpture stands alone on the crest of the plaza. Its four sides fit neatly into a square platform at the base, but then a curious thing happens. As it ascends, it bends subtly in a counterclockwise direction. The result is a feeling of tension and energy, especially when bright light and shadows play on its surface.

Said the American-born sculptor of his creation when he viewed it for the first time: “It was done by nature originally. You might call it wind. It relates to atmosphere, to wind, to space flight and all aspirations we have today.”

Spirit of Detroit

The $40,000 bronze statue created by Marshall Fredericks, which some Detroiters call the Jolly Green Giant because of its green patina, was commissioned in 1955, and dedicated in 1958, and is perhaps the city’s best known outdoor sculpture.

The huge seated figure holds in his left hand a gilt bronze sphere emanating rays to symbolize God, and in his right hand, a family group symbolic of all human relationships.

A plaque in front of the sculpture bears the inscription, “Through the spirit of man is manifested in the family, the noblest human relationship.” Serving as backup to the work is a 36- x 45-foot semicircular Symbol Wall bearing reliefs of the seals of the city and the county with the message, “Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.”

Passo di Danza: Step of the Dance

In 1961 Italian sculptor Giacomo Manzu met with Detroit architect Minoru Yamasaki who commissioned him for two art works for two of Yamasaki’s building projects in Detroit. Manzu’s 11- foot bronze sculpture, Passo di Danza, modeled after his wife, now stands outside the American Natural Gas Company on Jefferson and Woodward Avenues.

Manzu depicted a gracful nude ballet dancer standing on point, her hands lifted over her head uncoiling her hair, enticing onlookers to dwell on her lithe silhouette.

Passo di Danza outside the American Natural Gas Company building.

In the late sixties, the statue was the subject of a whimsical joke. With the tall bronze maiden basking daily in the sun across the street from the Spirit of Detroit, it was inevitable that she would attract his attention.

One morning long green footprints painted on the pavement marched from the Spirit across Woodward Ave. to the dancer. Editorials lauded the event and City Councilman Ed Carey said the nocturnal visit “reminded me of my youth.”

Horace E. Dodge and Son Memorial Fountain

Answering a plea from Detroit News editor Martin Hayden and Mayor Jerome Cavanaugh, socialite and city benefactor Anna Thomson Dodge, widow of automobile baron Horace E. Dodge, bequeathed $2 million to the city to erect a fountain in the Philip Hart Civic Center Plaza at Jefferson and Woodward Ave as a memorial to her late husband and her son, Horace Jr.

Noguchi won the job to design the fountain which was completed in 1978. The thirty-foot high Dodge fountain forms the focus of Hart plaza. Composed of a stainless steel ring suspended daringly between two inwardly canted supports, it sprays water from the basin below which can interact in a vareity of ways with the downward sprays from the ring above.

The Detroit River and the skyline of Windsor form backdrops for the fountain. Its powerful jets of water and dramatic setting combine to create a futuristic environment. Said Noguchi, “I wanted to make a new fountain, a fountain which represents our times and our relationship to outer space.”

Joe Louis’ Fist

“Making a statue of a fighter would have been a limited image of Joe Louis,” said Robert Graham, the sculptor responsible for Detroit’s monument to the late heavyweight boxing champ. Instead Graham created a 24-foot bronze arm and fist suspended from pyramidal support beams that stand 24 feet tall. His Monument to Joe Louis at Jefferson and Woodward, commissioned with a $350,000 grant from Sports Illustrated magazine, came as a gift to the city.

The work became controversial immediately at its unveiling in October 1987. Some interpreted it as a symbol of black power. Some wanted to know why the fist lacked a boxing glove. Others likened it to a stray body part. Still others voiced concern that the sculpture didn’t reflect what their Brown Bomber meant to the city of Detroit.

Graham said, “People bring their own experiences to the sculpture. I wanted to leave the image open, allowing it to become a symbol rather than make it specific.”

The Dodge Fountain in Hart Plaza.

      Graham selected the Woodward-Jefferson site after he saw several locations in the city. “I don’t like the idea of sculpture gardens where the work is isolated,” he said. “I wanted Joe to be in the center of the city, right in the middle of the street with people driving and walking by it. And I like having it near the Hart Plaza designed by Isamu Noguchi because I respect his work.”

Graham cast the sculpture himself in his foundry in Venice, Cal. He used the ancient lost-wax method, casting the piece in eight sections and later assembling and finishing it himself. He worked secretly, refusing to talk about his concept and the form the sculpture would take. “A lot of things can happen between the initial concept and the final piece,” he said. “You don’t want public opinion about something before it’s public.”

Other Detroit monuments and sculptures will be visited in later chapters.

“Making a statue of a fighter would have been a limited image of Joe Louis,” said sculptor Robert Graham.

(This story was compiled using clip and photo files of the Detroit News.)By Pat Zacharias / The Detroit News