“God would never be cruel enough to create a cyclone as terrible as that Argonne battle. Only man would ever think of doing an awful thing like that.”
—from “The Diary of Alvin York” by Alvin C. York (1887–1964), how he remembers 7.October.1918
The Battle of the Argonne is among those listed on this monumental flagstaff’s base, which honors the members of the United States Army and Navy. World War I soldier and sailor veterans stopped at this monument during their 1924 parade on Fifth Avenue. The parade was New York City’s official welcome home for these men to receive the honors and praise accorded returning servicemen. For Memorial Day 2018 we focus on a memorial monument honoring American servicemen who died in the Great War, World War I.
Designed by Thomas Hastings (1860-1929), a founding principle of the notable architectural firm Carrère and Hastings, the flagstaff is located at the southwest section of Madison Square Park; the flagstaff reaches a height of 30 feet. Its bronze and Milford pink granite base measures 17’9″ high, 22′ wide and 22′ deep.
Carrère and Hastings have to their credit many well-known and much-admired buildings in New York City—1910’s Lunt-Fontanne Theatre; the New York Public Library from 1911; the Henry Clay Frick House, which now is the setting for the Frick Collection of 1914; Manhattan’s Grand Army Plaza in 1916; the Standard Oil Building from 1926; and across the country—The Commonwealth Club, Richmond, Virginia of 1891; Paterson City Hall, Paterson, New Jersey in 1896; Vernon Court, Newport, Rhode Island from 1898; and the 1901 Whitehall, home of Henry Flagler, in Palm Beach, Florida.
The massive stepped pedestal is inscribed with the names of major battles sites from the First World War. Paul Wayland Bartlett (1865-1925) sculpted the decorative bronze portion of the flagstaff’s base, featuring buffalo heads, flower garlands, and wings. Mr. Bartlett’s crowning achievement is The Apotheosis of Democracy. This is the title given to the figural grouping in the pediment of the House of Representatives Building to the U.S. Capitol at Washington, D.C. Begun in 1908 it was completed eight years later.
Dedicated on Armistice Day 1924 the flagstaff is where the wreath-laying ceremony takes place just before New York City’s annual Veterans Day Parade—the largest in the United States—begins its march up Fifth Avenue. During a 1927 parade celebrating his solo, non-stop flight across the Atlantic, aviator Charles Lindbergh (1902–1974) placed a memorial wreath at the flagstaff monument.
Originally the flagstaff was made of Oregon pine; but during a 1976 renovation it was replaced with a metal one. At the top is a star-shaped luminaire, a tribute to those who gave their lives in the Great War, is lit at all times. The lights inside the star are wired in such a way that if one circuit fails, another one will be used.
New landscaping around the flagstaff, begun in the spring of 2018, will give the monument the prominence it deserves. The plaza will serve as a new entrance to Madison Square at 24th Street. It is expected to be completed for the Veterans Day Parade on November 11, 2018, marking the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day.
Wanamaker Department store heir and Professional Golfers Association (PGA) founder Rodman Wanamaker (1863–1928), who purchased more bonds during the First World War than anyone else in America, commissioned the flagstaff at a cost of $25,000. The winner of the annual PGA Championship, one of golfing’s four major tournaments, is awarded the Wanamaker Trophy.
Between 1870 and 1940 Milford, Massachusetts and the neighboring town of Hopkinton became the quarrying centers for pink granite, much sought after as a building material. This is the stone used for the Eternal Light Flagstaff’s base. At the height of its demand more than 1,000 men worked dozens of quarries around the two towns. Although this Proterozoic igneous rock is still quarried in Hopkinton it is known as Milford Pink! Other notable sights in New York City that use the stone prominently are the 1869 American Museum of Natural History; 1895 Brooklyn Museum; the 1899 University Club of New York; the 1910 Pennsylvania Station, demolished in 1963; and the 1912 Main Post Office.
IN MEMORY OF THOSE / WHO HAVE MADE / THE SUPREME SACRIFICE / FOR THE TRIUMPH OF / THE FREE PEOPLES / OF THE WORLD
ERECTED / TO COMMEMORATE / THE FIRST HOMECOMING / OF THE VICTORIOUS / ARMY AND NAVY / OF THESE UNITED STATES / OFFICIALLY / RECEIVED BY / THE CITY OF NEW YORK / ON THIS SITE / ANNO DOMINI MCMXVIII
’TIS THE / STAR SPANGLED BANNER / OH LONG MAY IT WAVE/ O’ER THE LAND / OF THE FREE / AND THE HOME OF / THE BRAVE
AN ETERNAL LIGHT / AN INSPIRATION / AND A PROMISE OF / ENDURING PEACE / THIS STAR WAS LIGHTED / NOVEMBER XI MCMXXIII
Read our other articles about memorial monuments to soldiers and sailors who have fallen in the line of duty during the Great War.
World War I Memorials, Part One
World War I Memorials, Part Two
World War I Memorials, Part Three
Washington Square Memorial Flagstaff
Father Duffy in Times Square
Doughboys in Bronze
The Eternal Light Flagstaff is located in Madison Square Park, the third stop on our Five Squares and a Circle Tour. What other memorials are in Madison Square? Take the Tour; Know More!
ALL PHOTOS AND TEXT, EXCEPT CREDITED QUOTES, © THE AUTHOR 2018