“One day the Great European War will come out of some damned foolish thing in the Balkans.”
―Prince Otto von Bismarck (1815–1898, German Chancellor 1871–1898). Bismarck made this prediction in 1888.
And so it was. One hundred years ago today, 28.June.1914, the irreversible march toward world war began when Serb nationalist Gavrilo Princip assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, and His Imperial Highness’s wife Sophie during their formal visit to Sarajevo.
Because of isolationist sentiments, the United States entered the Great War late in the proceedings, seeing combat between 1917 and 1918. Following the end of the First World War, cities and communities across America commissioned memorials to their doughboys. The Chelsea Doughboy, honoring the young men from Chelsea, the Manhattan neighborhood immediately to the north of Greenwich Village, is one of nine such memorials placed in small local parks around New York City.
Standing in Chelsea Park on Ninth Avenue at West 28th Street, a bronze doughboy seems to be marching along a road in France or Belgium. The young man, with his rifle at the ready, appears to be windblown with his coat’s right flap flying up over his shoulder. The 14-foot-tall gray granite stele is chiseled with the dedication, “To the Soldiers and Sailors of Chelsea.”
Dedicated on the 7th of April 1921, this memorial was placed amongst the working-class tenements between the Hudson River and New York City’s Garment District. At a cost of $10,000, the Chelsea Memorial Committee made a gift of this monument to the City. Architect Charles Rollinson Lamb (1860–1942) designed it; the bronze doughboy is the work of Philip Martiny (1858–1927).
Martiny, a native of Alsace, France, studied with and was an assistant to America’s premiere Beaux-Arts sculptor, Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848–1907). Martiny received many public commissions in New York City. He sculpted another bronze figure that is part of a memorial which honors local New York City soldiers who fought in the Great War. The Abingdon Square Doughboy is one of my favorite public park bronzes. This dynamic work of art can be seen during the Greenwich Village Walking Tour when we stop in Abingdon Square Park.
The origin of the word doughboy describing an American soldier remains in question. It was first used by the British in the late 18th and early 19th centuries to describe soldiers and sailors who would have been familiar with the fried dough dumplings called doughboys.
In the United States, the nickname came into common usage during the Mexican-American War (1846–1848), and was widely popularized during World War I (1914–1918), referring to infantrymen. Speculation says that the term was connected with the soldiers’ uniforms, which had large globular brass buttons, shaped like doughboy pastries.