Bronx Cheer! Hall of Fame for Great Americans (Championed Here) Gets an NEH Chairman’s Grant

(November 4, 2020)


by Lee Rosenbaum

As an mild antidote to severe post-election anxiety, let’s savor a morsel of good news from the federal government: Although it falls short of what I’d hoped for, I’d like to think I may have had something to do with this announcement last week from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH):

In New York, New York, an NEH Chairman’s Grant [of $30,000] to Bronx Community College (BCC) will support the digitization of archival photographs and materials documenting the Hall of Fame for Great Americans, featuring 96 busts of notable Americans in a Stanford White-designed colonnade on the BCC campus, for use as teaching materials while the hall remains closed during the pandemic.

Here’s what I wrote last July about the Hall of Fame, after President Trump had issued his Executive Order on Building and Rebuilding Monuments to American Heroes, in which he called for the establishment of “a vast outdoor park that will feature the statues of the greatest Americans to ever live”:

We already have what he wants in my native Bronx….As a culturally curious teenager, I had made the 20-minute hike from my Bronx apartment to the…once popular, now little-known pantheon for bronze busts of great men and women, some by well-known sculptors (including four busts by Daniel Chester French, two by Augustus Saint-Gaudens).

I was glad to see the Hall recognized by the NEH, but the grant for a digital archive did not address a far more pressing need—an estimated $12 million for repairs of “ongoing deterioration from water infiltration, failure of materials, and highway and industrial pollution.” according to the Protect the Hall of Fame campaign. “We are raising funds for the most urgent of these repairs, which will require $1.2 million.”

“That’s chump change,” I had optimistically written, “compared to the cost of creating [as Trump had proposed] a new national park, with many newly commissioned pieces, ‘on a site of natural beauty that enables visitors to enjoy nature, walk among the statues, and be inspired to learn about great figures of America’s history. The site should be proximate to at least one major population center, and the site should not cause significant disruption to the local community,'” in the words of the President’s executive order.

Sadly, the NEH’s modest $30,000 support won’t ameliorate the “damage to the Hall’s 630-foot Colonnade [which] includes cracked tiles and pavers, stained and discolored busts and Tiffany tablets, and deteriorated limestone,” in the words of BCC.

The support for the BCC was one of the four $30,000 grants awarded by NEH Chairman Jon Parrish Peede “to revitalize public interest in American history in advance of the nation’s 250th anniversary in 2026.”

The others were awarded towards:

—The repair of two vandalized statues at the Wisconsin State Capitol: one of Colonel Hans Christian Heg, an abolitionist and Union military officer during the Civil War; and the allegorical statue “Forward,” commemorating women’s suffrage.”

—The creation of a bronze monument to abolitionist Frederick Douglas, possibly to be placed at the Rochester Airport, commemorating his accomplishments as an orator and activist during the 25 years he lived in Rochester.

—More controversially: the restoration of a Christopher Columbus statue that previously stood in Baltimore’s Little Italy neighborhood and that was toppled and severely damaged during protests [emphasis added] in July 2020.

While we’re on the subject of “toppling”: Joseph Biden, as I write this, is edging closer to the Magic 270, with 253 Electoral College votes (compared to 214 for Trump), according to projections as of 5:23 p.m. by the NY Times (which has been relatively cautious in its predictions, compared to other news outlets).

Will we know the outcome tonight? Will it hold in the face of possible challenges? For an informed answer to that, you’ll need to consult a political pundit, not CultureGrrl.

Read online at CultureGrrl