A century ago, the U.S. Congress passed a resolution authorizing the construction of a giant statue to pay tribute to American Indians. It was to be built on the grounds of Fort Wadsworth, on Staten Island, one of the boroughs of New York City, and with a height of 165 feet would have been taller than the Statue of Liberty.
In 1913, President Wlliam Howard Taft joined a delegation of 32 Indian chiefs and other dignitaries for a groundbreaking ceremony that saw the chief executive digging up dirt with an ancient axe-head made from a buffalo bone. Following a flag-raising, the chiefs then signed a “Declaration of Allegiance to the United States.”
The statue was never built, but according to a story at SILive.com, a Native couple who live on Staten Island are trying to make it happen. The statue was a sort of premature memorial — “to honor what was thought to be a vanishing race,” says Margie Boldeagle. “Now it’s taken on a different light. It would show that we are still here.”
Boldeagle and her husband, Robert, are not proposing anything like the colossus planned a century ago. They would like to see a 25-foot statue built on the fort grounds. They say they have a sculptor and donors for the million-dollar project lined up. The National Parks Service (NPS), which has maintained the fort since it was closed in 1994, won’t allow the Boldeagles’ project, arguing that the 1911 declaration issued by Congress authorized the Secretary of War and the Secretary of the Navy — not the NPS — to construct the monument.
The monument originally planned was the brainchild of Rodman Wanamaker, whose father had founded Wanamaker’s department store in Philadelphia. As related in an article in American Heritage, the pomp and circumstance went beyond the Presidential visit; a sort of publicity tour ensued:
The excursion was given the cumbersome title of the “Rodman Wanamaker Expedition of Citizenship to the North American Indian,” and at each stop the Fort Wadsworth flag-raising ceremony was re-enacted. Indians along the way cheerfully signed the Declaration of Allegiance, as well, then gathered around an Edison phonograph to hear a message from the Great White Father himself—Taft’s successor, Woodrow Wilson: “Because you have shown in your education and in your settled way of life, staunch, manly, and worthy qualities of sound character, the nation is about to give you distinguished recognition through the erection of a monument in honor of the Indian people, in the harbor of New York.”
The project was shelved with the outbreak of World War I. Whether the Boldeagles, founder of the Red Storm Drum and Dance Troupe, can make their version of it a reality remains to be seen; although they have the support of some local politicians, the agencies that control the facility seem uninterested. John Warren, public affairs specialist for Gateway National Recreation Area, which oversees Fort Wadsworth, told SILive that national parks are about preservation, and “not places where people can put up statues and memorials.”
The photos below, from the Library of Congress, were taken at the groundbreaking ceremony on February 22, 1913. In the first, President Taft reads a statement; the two images that follow are of the Indian chiefs gathered for the occasion.