Saturday, January 13, 2007

Bell Ringers's Monument (James Gordon Bennett Memorial): OMOM Essay 21

Every source I’ve read mentions the sensationalism of the New York Herald and the New York Tribune in the 19th c., but few cite concrete examples. I decided to see how one major event was covered by each of the New York newspapers of the time, and after some exploratory research settled on Wall Street's first Black Friday, 9/24/1869. The fascinating variety of headlines in Bennett's Herald, Greeley's Tribune, Hamilton and Bryant's New York Post, and the New York Times is the focus of "About the Subject."

In "About the Sculpture" I discuss how the complex composition of this piece focuses attention on Athena. I enjoyed working in a reference to the owl fetish of New York Herald publisher James Gordon Bennett, Jr., who planned to construct for fellow Manhattanites a 125-foot tall owl with an observation deck behind its eye sockets. When Athena adorned the Herald Building's roof, she was flanked by numerous owls whose eyes blinked green throughout the night. Some of them are now scattered near the Bell Ringers' Monument in the small park east of Macy's Herald Square. (See photo.)

Primary sources sometimes reveal that contemporaries disparaged what we now accept as beautiful. Bennett's new headquarters for the Herald, a two-story Renaissance-style palazzo at Herald Square, was lauded by Harper's Weekly in 1893 as a relief from other buildings going up at the time, which it condemned as of "skyscraping ugliness." (More of this article appears in the Sidebar of Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan.) In 1890, New York’s tallest structure was the 309-foot World Building, all of 20 or so stories high.

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