(Roughly) Daily

“Eternity is a long time, especially towards the end”*…

 

A soldier, an urn, and “Faith,” all available from the 1882 Monumental Bronze Co. catalog

In 1898, the people of Elberton, Georgia—like those of many Southern towns a few decades after the Civil War—commissioned a granite statue to honor those local men who had fought for the Confederate army. Two years later, late one night, those same people took their own monument down. Public opinion of the war hadn’t shifted much: the statue was just ugly, with bug eyes, and what looked suspiciously like a Union-style overcoat. The citizens had nicknamed it Dutchy, because it resembled, one said, “a cross between a Pennsylvania Dutchman and a hippopotamus.”

According to the Elberton Star, on August 13, 1900, around midnight, a group of men tugged Dutchy down via “a rope around his neck.” A few days later, they buried him. And after they’d dusted themselves off, what did they do? They ordered a brand new “white bronze” statue from Monumental Bronze Co.—because one of those, they had been told, would last forever.

Today—117 years later—Dutchy’s replacement still stands. (It has been moved several times, and is now at Confederate Memorial Park, in Lee County.) A bunch of his Confederate clones still stand, too, in town squares and courthouses across the American South, while their Union brothers, in slightly different uniforms, remain stationed all around the North.

As recent events have reminded us, many of the South’s Confederate monuments went up not immediately after the war, but half a century later, in the first two decades of the 1900s. During this time, organizations like the United Daughters of the Confederacy were looking to reframe and glorify the Confederate cause, and in many states, the descendants of slaves had been stripped of the right to vote, which impeded their ability to effectively voice opposition.

Today, historians argue that the rush to erect Civil War statues, especially in former Confederate states, was part of that project. “It is hardly coincidence that the cluttering of the state’s landscape with Confederate monuments coincided with two major national cultural projects: first, the “reconciliation” of the North and the South, and second, the imposition of Jim Crow [racial segregation laws] and white supremacy in the South,” writes historian W. Fitzhugh Brundage, at Vox. By memorializing the dead in this particular way, Brundage argues, those who put up statues sought to reframe the story of the war, “making the Confederate cause virtually sacred.” In the spirit of peacemaking, Northerners went along with it, and put up their own statues, too. These goals may have been political, but the means were material: they almost certainly couldn’t have gotten so many statues up, in the North or South, without white bronze…

The role of white bronze– which is neither white nor bronze– in the “memorializing” of the Civil War: “Those Mass-Produced Civil War Statues Were Meant to Stand Forever.”

* Stephen Hawking

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As we remove those eyesores to the museum (or the scrap heap), we might recall that it was on this date in 1715 that the reign of Louis XIV– the Sun King– ended with his death; at 72 years and 110 days, it was the longest recorded reign of any monarch of a sovereign country in European history.  A centralizer of power, he used his ever-grander palace at Versailles (formerly his father’s hunting lodge) to lure, then lull the nobles around him; the system of absolute monarchical rule that he established survived to the French Revolution.

Louis was a patron of the arts (he restored and expanded the Louvre)– and a vigorous promoter of his own image.  With the help of his Minister of Finance, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, he had himself portrayed heroically in painting, sculpture, tapestry, theatre, dance, music, and in the almanacs that diffused royal propaganda to the population at large.  Beyond the 300+ formal portraits he had done, he commissioned over 20 statues of himself to stand in Paris and the Provincial capitals as physical manifestations of his rule.

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Written by LW

September 1, 2017 at 1:01 am

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