This post is by AHMC Cataloger Noa Kasman.
The American Historical Manuscript Collection (AHMC) includes a folder of material related to poet, dramatist, and philosopher, Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller (1759-1805), better known as Friedrich Schiller. While cataloging the collection, I was surprised to learn that Schiller’s monument was the very first in Central Park.
It was dedicated by a committee of German-Americans in November 1859 to celebrate the centennial of Schiller’s birth. The dedication ceremonies lasted three days, from November 9th to the 12th. Simultaneous commemorations took place in other countries and states, “from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from the Gulf of Mexico to the copper mines of Lake Superior, wherever a number of Germans were united, for a worthy celebration of this great day.” The AHMC’s Friedrich Schiller collection includes two pamphlets produced for the festival.
The first pamphlet in the collection, Dr. R. Solger’s Prize Poem at the Celebration of the Centennial Birthday of Frederick Schiller, is dated November 10, 1859. It includes Reinhold Ernst Friedrich Karl Solger’s award-winning poem in German and English. Wm. Aufermann, Chairman of the Schiller Committee, inscribed this pamphlet to the New-York Historical Society.
The second pamphlet, Signification and Celebration of the Centennial Birth-day Anniversary of Frederick Schiller in the City of New York on the 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th November 1859, includes a frontispiece of Schiller by H.B. Hall, biographical information, and advertisements. Festivities detailed in the program include instrumental concerts and vocal performances, banquets and balls, readings and living statue performances, and the crowning of a bust of Schiller.
The New-York Historical Society’s Museum holds a commemorative medal struck for the event:
In addition to materials related to the festival, the AHMC collection includes an 1862 notice from “The Schiller Committee,” announcing the erection of the Schiller monument in Central Park.
Although the bust was dedicated in 1859, it was not physically installed in Central Park until 1862. Following the festival, the bust was put on exhibition at the International Gallery. A New York Times article published in 1860 suggests that the Committee responsible for completing the monument had subscribed $250 to construct the monument pedestal.
Upon completion, the Schiller monument was placed in the Central Park Ramble. The Schiller Committee’s notice locates the monument in the Ramble near bridge No. 21.: “Dasselbe steht im Ramble, an der nordwestlichen Seite des See’s, in der Nähe der Brücke No. 21.”
The New-York Historical Society has various depictions of the monument in the Ramble, from chromolithographs and albumen photoprints to stereographs:
In Guild and Perkins’ 1864 book, “The Central Park,” Fred A. Perkins describes the bust’s location as “well selected” for honoring Schiller:
Rough rocks, and wild trees and vines stand around, rude and untamed by human art, as the nature-loving poet would have had them; and before him the lake lies broad and open for sunlight or storm. Silent and calm, he seems to gaze thoughtfully upon the waters and skies. And along the pleasant footpath close before, the throng of enjoying visitors passes by; the same humanity which he studied and felt and knew so deeply, so strongly, and so well; so that the memorial of the mighty dead poet is daily begirt with the themes of his song. (Perkins 53)
Schiller’s monument was one of many donated to Central Park from the mid 19th to mid 20th century. In “Central Park, An American Masterpiece,” Sara Cedar Miller writes that sculptures like the Schiller monument were donated by “newly arriving ethnic groups” looking to honor “their folk heroes, cultural leaders, and political figures.” The Schiller monument was joined by sculptures of national heroes, leaders, and figures like Ludwig van Beethoven, Thomas Moore, Robert Burns, Giuseppe Mazzini, José Martí, Simon Bolívar, and Hans Christian Andersen. At the same time, war memorials and sculptures of animals (like “Tigress and Cubs” and “Balto“), soldiers, founding fathers, and American cultural figures (like the “Indian Hunter” and “The Pilgrim”) were added to the Park. Collectively, these sculptures memorialize an American identity and national past along with the multicultural identities of America’s growing immigrant communities.
Schiller’s monument can now be found on the Central Park Mall, where it was moved in 1955.