The Maine Monument at Columbus Circle is one of the most beautiful in Manhattan. Architect Harold Van Buren Magonigle, and sculptor Attilio Piccirilli, there provided us with an object lesson in memorial design that is more important and more relevant now than ever. What it does, and what all monuments should do, is very simple: it tells a story that we have a duty to remember.
The monument was built in memory of the 258 American sailors who perished when the battleship Maine mysteriously exploded in the harbor of Havana, Cuba, an event which provoked the Spanish-American War. It is composed of a central pylon and four gatehouses which together effectively form a gate to Central Park. Completed in 1912, it continues to hold its own, despite recent contributions to the Circle.
The pylon has a ship’s prow in front set in a pool of water. The heroically scaled allegorical figure Columbia Triumphant stands on top, and Victory stands out front. The four sides of the pylon provide a place for other allegorical figures.
The sculpture group in front is entitled: “The Antebellum State of Mind: Courage Awaiting the Flight of Peace and Fortitude Supporting the Feeble.” Peace stands over Courage to her right, and Fortitude to her left. The young lad in front holds his hands in the sign of victory. The prow of the ship is guided by dolphins, as though Nature herself were an ally. And it is modeled on the ancient Roman battleship with its prominent ram, as if to embody the ideals of the Roman Republic which inspired the constitution of the United States.
This monument is far from mute–it speaks, it informs us, and with poetry. It employs elegant rhetoric to enlighten us of the grave issues that were at stake in this event in the life of the body politic: the just war, the courage and fortitude required to pursue a just cause, and just rule in the wake of a hard-won victory. This ballad in stone and bronze is beautifully designed to help generations remember the Maine.