“… with your support and that of our millions of non-Jewish friends, we will drive the last nail in the coffin of bigotry and fanaticism that has dared raise its ugly head to slander, belie and disgrace twentieth century civilization.”
—Samuel Untermyer (1858–1940)
The quote above is from the tail end of an address that Samuel Untermyer delivered on WABC Radio, August 6, 1933; the following day it was printed in the New York Times. He was speaking of Adolph Hitler and his Nazi regime. He was one of the first to alert the general public to the menace posed by the German Chancellor. Mr. Untermyer learned of Hitler’s “bigotry and fanaticism” while on holiday in Europe. He called upon Americans to boycott all German goods and transportation. The boycott failed; but Mr. Untermyer deserves credit for his willingness to sound the alarm early on.
We have a more playful reminder of another side of Mr. Untermyer, his great love of beautiful things. It is the Untermyer Fountain. Topping it is “Three Dancing Maidens,” a dynamic work of art sculpted by Walter Schott (1861-1938) in Germany before 1910.
The bronze maidens frolic on a limestone base in the center of an oval-shaped pool. This is the ideal spot for this work of art because the maidens’ dresses appear to cling to their skin as if they are soaked from the fountain’s water. In late April and early May this garden is filled with tulips. In the fall the flowers beds are planted with multi-colored asters.
The Untermyer Fountain, located in the French-styled garden of Central Park’s Conservatory Garden located at Fifth Avenue and 105th Street, is named for Samuel Untermyer, an American lawyer and civic leader. His sons made a gift of it to the Park seven years after their father’s death in 1940. The sculpture stood at the center of a pool of water. It was ringed by the carriage path that was at the front entrance to Mr. Untermyer’s mansion, Greystone, located in Yonkers, New York. The house and grounds were purchased from Samuel Tilden, a former New York State governor. Upon Mr. Tilden’s death in 1886 his estate funded the creation of public libraries in New York City, Yonkers and New Lebanon, New York.
“Three Dancing Maidens” shows three young women, holding hands in a circle. As a fountain ornament it is ideal; because it appears as if their dresses cling to their bodies, soaked by the fountain’s water. The fountain is made up of three jets; there is one on either side of the bronze and one in the center of the limestone base.
Born in Lynchburg, Virginia, Samuel Untermyer moved to New York after the Civil War. Guggenheimer & Untermyer was the name of the law firm where he was a partner. He was the first American lawyer to charge a fee off one million dollar for one case. He invested his money wisely, becoming extremely wealthy.
With his wealth he entered into a friendly, one-sided competition with his friend John D. Rockefeller. After visiting the Rockefeller estate, Kykuit in Pocantico Hills, New York, he was determined to create the largest and most spectacular garden in the world! He even hired William Welles Bosworth, the same architect who had designed the garden for Mr. Rockefeller at Kykuit, meaning lookout in Dutch. Mr. Untermyer began his gardening competition in 1915.
Although “Three Dancing Maidens” no longer graces the Untermeyer Gardens, you can visit the grounds. The size of the gardens has been reduced from 150 acres with 60 greenhouses, employing 60 gardeners, to 43 acres. It is a stunning achievement, not far from New York City. The mansion on the estate was demolished in 1948.