National American Indian Memorial
The National American Indian Memorial was a proposed monument to American Indians to be erected on a bluff overlooking the Narrows, the main entrance to New York Harbor. The major part of the memorial was to be a 165-foot-tall (50 m) statue of a representative American Indian warrior atop a substantial foundation building housing a museum of native cultures, similar in scale to the Statue of Liberty several miles to the north. Ground was broken to begin construction in 1913 but the project was never completed and no physical trace remains today.
The memorial was to be erected on the site of Fort Tompkins on Staten Island, New York, United States. Fort Tompkins, a component of the larger Fort Wadsworth, is located on a bluff high above the west side of the Narrows. It was and still is owned by the federal government. For many years Fort Wadsworth, along with Fort Hamilton on the east shore of the Narrows, provided harbor defense for New York City. Virtually all ocean-going ships destined for New York pass the site, so the monument would have been highly visible to visitors, seen well before the Statue of Liberty would come into view.
The project was the brainchild of Rodman Wanamaker, scion of the Wanamaker department store family, and "Doctor" Joseph Kossuth Dixon, head of the retail chain's education department. In 1909 Wanamaker proposed the privately funded memorial at a banquet in New York attended by Buffalo Bill Cody among others. On December 8, 1911, Congress set aside the federal land needed for the project but did not otherwise provide for any expenses.
Sculptor Daniel Chester French and architect Thomas Hastings, both already well known at the time, came up with a general concept and sketch of the memorial, which included the statue of an Indian standing on an Aztec-like pyramid base atop an Egyptian Revival complex of museums, galleries and libraries, surrounded by a stepped plaza and formal gardens with sculptures of bison and Indians on horseback.
On a rainy Washington's Birthday in 1913, President William Howard Taft broke ground with a silver spade amidst a massive ceremony that included at least two 21-gun salutes from nearby Battery Weed and a naval gunboat. Also in attendance were 32 or 33 American Indian chiefs, including Red Hawk and Two Moons.
It was soon discovered, however, that Wanamaker was not to be the donor of the cost of the project, but rather its chief fundraiser. Very little money was actually raised, and newspapers that were originally supportive now called the project "philanthropic humbug." With the advent of World War I in 1914, enthusiasm for the unfunded project on the site of a harbor defense installation waned. A bronze plaque that marked the site of the ground-breaking was gone by the 1960s at the latest.
- Staten Island Register, May 5, 1998, p. 5
- “The Colossus of Staten Island”, American Heritage Magazine, April/May 1979, accessed March 16, 2008
- The New York Times, December 14, 1913, accessed March 16, 2008
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