Grover Cleveland at Buffalo, New York City Hall

Copyright Brady Carlson

Copyright Brady Carlson

American history classes were once rife with presidential errata.  In my school days, presidential trivia was the bedrock of learning about the American experience.  Some of the first bits of knowledge generations of American school children learned concerned presidents.  These bits and pieces of presidential lives loom large in American history: Washington’s cherry tree, Lincoln’s fence rail, and Roosevelt’s big stick are all touchstones for students of American history.

In the course of human affairs, though, some presidents get lost in the shuffle.  One of the eras that seems to burst with forgettable presidents is the late 19th Century.  We at Monumental Photography refer to these men as The Muttonchop Presidents.  The Muttonchop Era began March 4, 1877 with the inauguration of Rutherford B. Hayes and ended March 4, 1897 with the inaugural of the clean-shaven William McKinley.  In between, the U.S. was led by Rutherford B. Hayes, James Garfield, Chester A. Arthur, Grover Cleveland, Benjamin Harrison, and Grover Cleveland (again).  Arthur was the only one to have true muttonchops, but all men represent a period when facial hair was the norm for the U.S. President.  The prior two presidents, Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant, were the first two presidents to wear beards.  They, however, are not include on the list of forgettable presidents–freeing millions of humans from bondage and winning the American Civil War tends to make a man stand out in a crowd.  The Muttonchop Presidents were remarkable men in their own right, however, even if they do get lost in a sea of Gilded Age grooming habits.

This week, we look at Grover Cleveland in front of City Hall in Buffalo, New York, courtesy of photographer Brady Carlson.  Cleveland holds the distinction of being the only U.S. President to be elected to two non-consecutive terms, which makes him both the 22nd and 24th President of the United States.  Cleveland was elected president in 1884 and 1892.  In between those elections, he was defeated by Rutherford B. Hayes.  Opponents of the Electoral College take note: despite losing the electoral vote, Cleveland received 48.6 percent of all votes, while Harrison had just 47.8.  So, the winner was the loser–or the loser was the winner, depending on your point of view.  It was the third time in U.S. history that had happened.  It would not happen again until 2000, when George W. Bush defeated Al Gore.

Cleveland was a shrewd politician and a conservative icon in the days before Fox News.  he was pro-business, fiscally conservative, and a champion of political reform.  He took on–and defeated–the boss politics and patronage systems running rampant both in his home state of New York and nationally as chief executive.  His crusade for reform as Mayor of Buffalo and, later, as Governor of New York was so popular that an entire wing of the Republican Party threw their support to Cleveland in the 1884 election.  This group was given one of the greatest nicknames in U.S. political history, the Mugwumps.

The statue pictured was one of two by sculptor Bryant Baker at the dedication of Buffalo’s new City Hall in 1932.  The other statue is of Buffalo native and forgettable 13th President Millard Fillmore.  Cleveland’s statue is a bronze statue on an engraved polished granite base.  On the rear of the base is inscribed: “I have tried so hard to do right.”

A guy named Grover with great facial hair whose followers were called Mugwumps–it sounds like the makings of a great alt-country act.  This guy should have much more cred with the hipsters.  Long live the Muttonchop Presidents!

 

St. Patrick and the Many Monuments of the Hill of Tara

Copyright Doran Cellarius Fotografie

Copyright Doran Cellarius Fotografie

The past building over the past.  it is a theme that runs through many of the photos we post here on Monumental Photography and on our sister blog, Lost Places.  There are few places in the world where the past had usurped and blended with the past like it has in Ireland.  This week, in honor of St. Patrick’s Day, we see the old Catholic saint himself.  This is not just any St. Patrick, though, this is the St. Patrick statue on the Hill of Tara.  This impressive photo was taken by Doran Cellarius, who says it was the shamrock in St. Patrick’s hand that drew his attention to the statue.

St. Patrick was born in Britain while it was still under the control of the Roman Empire, sometime around the second half of the 5th Century.  At the age of 16, Patrick was captured by Irish pirates, who took him off to Ireland and held him prisoner for six years.  Patrick worked as a shepherd in Ireland, where he became a devout Christian.  Patrick heard a voice one day telling him that a ship was ready to carry him home.  Patrick ran away from his captors and found passage back to Britain.  The ship landed in Britain, where the crew walked for 28 days in the wilderness and nearly starved before finding a herd of wild boar to eat.  Patrick returned to his family, but eventually felt compelled to spread Christianity throughout Ireland.  One of the ways he discussed the trinity, legend has it, was through the three cloves of the shamrock.  St. Patrick’s first spiritual mission, according to legend, was the Hill of Tara.

The Hill of Tara had a symbolic history long before St. Patrick.  The 646-foot hill was the seat of kings in prehistoric Ireland.  The coronation stone, called The Lia Fáil, or Stone of Destiny, was located on the hill.  The hill was the seat for 142 kings, who held lavish inaugural feasts on the hill.  Ancient Irish mythology holds that the hill was the dwelling of the gods and the portal to a world of eternal life and joy.

Archaeological evidence suggests the importance of the hill.  An Iron Age site called Ráith na Ríogh or the Fort of Kings sits at the top of the hill, enclosed by an internal ditch and external bank.  In the middle of two enclosed earthworks inside sits the Stone of Destiny, or what is believed to be the Stone of Destiny.  According to legend, the stone would scream once the would-be king completed a series of challenges.  The hill houses other archaeological sites with names like the Rath of the Synods, the Mound of Hostages, and the Sloping Trenches.

St. Patrick’s church is on the eastern side of the hilltop.  The modern church was built in 1822, but a Christian church on the hill dates to the 1190’s.  St. Patrick chose the hill specifically because of it’s symbolic and spiritual significance.   One sacred place–multiple meanings.  Somehow through the years, it becomes an excuse for college kids to drink too much.  History winds in ways none of us can ever foresee.

Happy Birthday Lawrence Welk: Here’s His Statue Near Escondido, California

Our never-ending quest to bring you the strangest statuary, the most monumental monuments, and the most enticing effigies brings us to Interstate 15 outside of Escondido, California.  This week we celebrate the birthday of Lawrence Welk, who was born March 11, 1903.  This statue stands outside the Lawrence Welk Museum.  Younger readers may not recognize the name, but for earlier generations of Americans, the name spawns a visceral reaction.  Welk was an accordionist, bandleader, and host of The Lawrence Welk Show, which ran from 1951-82.

The format of Welk’s show was the same virtually every week.  The show opened with Welk’s theme “Bubbles in the Wine” playing amid faux champagne bubbles floating through the ballroom.  Welk would then introduce the night’s theme in a heavy German accent.  The show consisted of several songs from the band and a number of skits as well.  The show featured a variety of musical numbers from the big band era through the 60’s and 70’s, but is most associated with songs from the big band era of the 1940’s.

Welk was a shrewd businessman and knew what sold to mainstream American television audiences of the 1960’s and 70’s.  His performers, which he dubbed his “musical family,” were held to an unofficial set of moral standards.  Alice Lon was famously fired for crossing her legs on a desk in 1959.  By and large, Welk gave America what it wanted, though.  Letters from fans often dictated what performers were featured and what performers saw their solo opportunities diminish.

After his death in 1992, his music earned a reputation as unequivocally un-hip.  While it is true that Welk’s “champagne music” style ostracized many contemporary jazz artists, as was the case when famed clarinetist Pete Fountain quit the band in the 1960’s.  This all-or-nothing view of Welk, however, does a disservice to a band leader whose band stayed relevant for over 30 years.  The Lawrence Welk Show launched the careers of several country acts of the 60’s and 70’s and was the first variety show to regularly feature an African-American when he hired dancer Arthur Duncan in 1964.

Welk’s band continues to perform in Branson, Missouri and the show continues to air in reruns on PBS stations throughout the United States, ensuring that, whichever way the musical wind blows, the bubbles will keep on popping.

Ancient Dog Sculpture from The Vatican

Copyright Robby Virus

Copyright Robby Virus

These charming canines come to us courtesy of photographer Robby Virus.  Robby is a gifted urban photographer.  Some of his work will be seen in my upcoming documentary “Dixie.”  He shot this sculpture not in the urban sprawl of any U.S., though.  This shot was taken in The Vatican Museum during a trip to Rome.  More info on what Robby is doing can be found here: www.flickr.com/photos/25229906@N00/, here: www.projectpimento.com, and here: bloggingthecanon.blogspot.com/.

The Romans had a great affinity for dogs.  They kept many varieties of dogs and for many purposes.  The two most famous are perhaps the Molossian breed, an ancestor to the modern mastiff, and the hound-like Laconian (aka Spartan) breed.  The Molossian was mainly used by shepherds to protect their flocks and guard their homes.  The most famous Molossian comes from the Satyricon and was named Scylax.  Xenphon recommends Laconian (aka Spartan) hounds for hunting wild boar, citing their bravery in the face of larger animals.

The Romans imported breeds from conquered territories as well.  The Vertragus breed was “swifter than thought” according to Arrian in the Cynegeticus.  The breed was an imported hound from Celtic Britain and was most likely the ancestor to the modern greyhound.  Classical Roman art attests to a wide variety of breeds imported from conquered Britain, including, according to Claudian, dogs that “can break the backs of mighty bulls.”  These animals, which may have been Irish Wolfhounds, were a spectacle in the arena as well, matched against lions, leopards, elephants, gladiators, and slaves.

Despite being put to both utilitarian and entertainment purposes by the Romans, there is evidence to suggest dogs have been mankind’s best friend for millennia.  In the 19th Century, archeologists learned they could pour plaster into holes left by the bodies at Pompeii, the city famously suffocated by volcanic ash in 79 A.D.  The plaster impressions captured inhabitants at their moment of death.  One of the plaster casts was of a guard dog, curled and twisted just as it was the second it died, still wearing its collar.

Lenin Statue in Kiev, Ukraine

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Today we have a statue of a forward-looking Vladimir Lenin by U.K. photographer Stacey Raven.  Raven, whose work can be seen at www.staceyravenphotography.co.uk,  took the photo during a much more peaceful time for Kiev and the Ukrainian people.

The people of Ukraine have had a monumental week.  Violent protests against the government last week led to the deaths of an estimated 77 people as police used live ammunition to quell the protests.  Protests initially broke out in November when Ukranian President Viktor Yanukovych rejected an accord with the European Union.  Protesters wanted closer ties with the western world, while Yanukovych’s government drew closer to Russia and the east.

Last week’s events led to the Ukranian parliament  ousting Yanukovych, the release of opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko from prison, and the looming threat that Ukraine could break in two along east-west lines.  In many ways, Ukraine is in-between two worlds: a European country that was once part of the Soviet Union.

One of the most potent symbols of the influence of old-school Soviet politics on the country was the statue of Vladimir Lenin, Marxist revolutionary and first Premier of the Soviet Union.  Statues to Lenin were ubiquitous in the Soviet Union, and many statues still exist.  According to The Daily Mail, over 100 monuments to the leader have been toppled as of this writing.  This particular Lenin became a so-called “reclining Lenin” on December 8 of last year.  He also lost his head.  Better monuments losing their heads than people, I suppose.

Paul Bunyan in Bangor, Maine

Paul Bunyan Bangor, Maine

This week we travel to the northeastern United States.  This Paul Bunyan in Bangor, Maine.  The fiberglass statue of the legendary lumberjack is 37 feet tall and stands on Main Street of Bangor, a town once known as the lumber capital of the world.  The statue was designed by J. Normand Martin and built by New York-based company Messmoor & Damon in 1959.

The legend of Paul Bunyan is much older.  Bunyan is a legendary giant lumberjack in North American folklore of the mid-19th Century.  He is often seen with his companion Blue Ox “Babe,” who is also gigantic.  It was in the 20th Century, however, when Bunyan’s legend began to grow.  Bunyan’s giant stature and trusty Babe herself were concocted for an advertising campaign for the Red River Lumber Company of California in 1916.

Bangor is one of many U.S. towns that lay claim to being the birthplace of Bunyan–and many of them have erected statues and monuments to the mythic lumberjack.  Oscada, Michigan; Bemidji, Minnesota; Brainerd, Minnesota; Bay City Michigan; Wahoo, Nebraska; Eau Claire, Wisconsin all lay claim to the title.  Kelliher, Minnesota is home to Paul Bunyan Memorial Park, purporting to be Bunyan’s grave.  Rib Mountain in Wisconsin also lays claim to being the lumberjack’s final resting place.

Statues of the lumberjack, both with and without Babe, abound in the U.S.  A brief list includes: Klamath, California along Highway 101, Muncie, Indiana; Portland, Oregon; and the previously mentioned Eau Claire.