By Peggy Carroll and Kevin Coughlin
General Washington must have been too proud to ask. Santa Claus was encamped on the Morristown Green for the holidays… but did not bring the Father of Our Country a new thumb for Christmas.
It’s hard to believe, but someone appears to have vandalized the regal statue of Washington on the Morristown Green.
Washington is missing his thumb–and the sculpted letter from the king of France that it had clutched. The Trustees of the Morristown Green say they noticed this early in the summer; they are trying not to think the worst.
“Possibly it was a weak spot and just broke off, we are not sure what happened,” said Trustee Linda Coutts Snyder.
Fellow Trustee Douglas Greenberger figures vandalism is the likely explanation, however.
“Ostensibly, it took some effort to do that,” Greenberger said. “Hard to wrap one’s head around certain things. This would be one of those.”
The Trustees are researching whether the statue–which is arrayed with statues of Alexander Hamilton and the Marquis de Lafayette, a work collectively known as The Alliance–can be repaired.
Re-enactors of those historic figures posed by the statues during an October event, but spectators did not seem to notice the damage to Washington’s statue.
STATUES TELL AMERICA’S STORY–AND MORRISTOWN’S
Unveiled in 2007, The Alliance was the centerpiece of the “Green Vision” campaign, a plan to upgrade and enhance the park, and to establish an endowment fund to help maintain and preserve it.
The project raised $4.6 million, with $1 million earmarked for improvements ;$200,000 was budgeted for the statues.
The statues broke new ground. While there are Morristown streets, schools and historic buildings that bear the names of the trio – from Washington’s Headquarters to the Schuyler-Hamilton House to the Lafayette Learning Center, they were not on the Green.
Previously, the park’s only sculptures were the Civil War memorial and the Patriot’s Farewell fountain, with a symbolic colonial soldier and family. There was not a word about the Revolutionary War leaders who once walked there.
One major goal of the Green Vision campaign was to raise awareness of the history of the Green not only for visitors, but to its own community. Even those who live, work, shop or warship in town did not know its story.
The statues were to help tell it.
The Green Vision committee – composed of Trustees and other area residents – chose to commemorate a pivotal day in the Revolutionary War: May 10, 1780. That was when the young Lafayette, just returned from France, hurried to Morristown to tell Washington that he had convinced his king – Louis XVI – to send an expeditionary force to aid the Revolutionary cause.
The French, strong supporters of the rebelling colonists, has already loaned or given the nascent government almost 50 million livres in direct financial support, equal in buying power to more than $100 milliontoday. Lafayette had gone home to ask for more – and his King agreed.
It was a dark time in the fight. The Continental Army had endured another winter of hardship and Washington faced a serious threat of mutiny among his troops. And the British had just captured Fort Moultrie at Charleston, SC – the worst American defeat of the war.
Washington was elated with Lafayette’s news and his morale soared.
The French promised to send 6,000 elite troops, along with artillery pieces, munitions and ships under the command of Lt. Gen. Count de Rochambeau.
The alliance proved to be a turning point in the tide of the war. The French aid was crucial in the decisive battle of Yorktown in October 1781. The British commander Cornwallis was trapped between the Americans and French on land and the French fleet at sea.
It was, one should note, the one and only time that a foreign power came to the United States by invitation.
BORN IN BROOKLYN
To create the statues, the Trustees commissioned the master sculptors at Studio EIS (standing for Eliot and Ivan Schwartz) in Brooklyn.
EIS is a design and fabrication studio, a leader in the design and production of three-dimensional figures for museum exhibits worldwide.
In particular, it has earned a reputation for the extraordinary potency of its portrait sculptures. It had just completed what may be the largest bronze portrait commission in American history, producing the 42 figures for the Hall of Signers at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia.
That was the project that caught the attention of the Trustees. Among the Constitution’s signers: George Washington.
The statues EIS designed for the Green are life-size – the same size as the original men.
Washington is the oldest (he was 48 in 1780) and tallest (he was 6 foot 2). In his hands was a document – the promise of the expeditionary force from France.
Lafayette’s portrait is modeled on his life mask and subsequent sculptures and busts, but several years younger than existing statutes. He was only 22 on that May day when he came to Morristown.
Hamilton’s portrait is built upon a profile image, but showing him at a younger age than any other depiction. He too was very young, just nine months older than Lafayette.
The statues were unveiled on Oct. 10, 2007. Francois Delattre, the French consul general in New York, was among the guests and speakers. He dedicated the statue of Lafayette.
Trustee Doug Greenberger last spring talked about watching people approach the statue group.
“There is a non-stop stream of locals and visitors,” he said. “They are people of different races, different ethnicities. They aim for the statues, walk up and have their photographs taken with them.
“It is emblematic of the birth of the American dream. It brings to fruition all of the efforts of those who came before us. The French throwing in with Washington – what an event this was. It sealed the birth of our country. And people somehow know it, it’s almost intuitive.
“They really get it.”
And now, evidently, someone’s got a piece of Washington’s statue.