Sunday, January 27, 2013

Reusing, Reducing and Recycling Since 1776

Today, there are countless monuments throughout the city of New York. Monuments celebrating achievements by individuals & groups, some honoring the memory of those whole have given the ultimate sacrifice and others that display the grandeur of the city. These monuments are dedicated to New York natives, American heroes and events that have dot the landscape of our past. Heck, there is even an entire street dedicated to being a monument, it's better known as the Canyon of Heroes. But there is one monument that is perhaps the most famous New York City monument, and no one has seen it for the last 237 years. The site where this monument once stood is passed by thousands of people on a daily basis, the painting that depicts the monument is also just as famous and it is the first example of recycling in American History. The monument I am talking about is that of King George III's monument that once stood at Bowling Green. Never heard of it? Well there's a reason, it's called the American Revolution.

So in short here is why there was a gigantic statue of King George in Bowling Green; he was the God damn King of England that's why. But seriously, he was the King and New York was the crown jewel of his American colonies. The statue was built in 1770. Why? Well after Parliament placed some big time taxes on the colonies the discussion of Independence began to grow across the colonies. So, the jolly ol' King decided he'd try to curb some of that Independence rubbish, and had parliament repeal the Stamp Act. In return the colonists, mainly those dirty Tories, felt the need to honor the King with this ridiculous statue. The statue itself was pretty impressive though. Roughly weighing around 4,000 pounds and stood a little over 2 stories high.It depicted the King in Romanesque garb and mirrored the famous Equestrian Statue of Marcus Aurelius.  However, as we know the chummy relationship between us and them, didn't last too long.
By 1773 the statue became a prime target 18th century versions of Banksy and other graffiti artists. The powers that be quickly passed anti-graffiti laws to stop the vandals, and even put up a protective cast-iron fence, which is the actual fence still at Bowling Green today. Yet over the next few years angry colonists would hop the fence, climb up the statue and draw a mustache on the King George's gold clad face. The statue's days were number as 1776 rolled around. The War of Independence was getting started, the colonies were being swept by the inspiration of Thomas Paine's Common Sense, the British evacuated Boston, there were skirmishes and battles throughout the colonies, the Second Continental Congress was in session, the Liberty Bell rang for the first time and oh yea, there was that little thing written by Thomas Jefferson storming out of Philadelphia, you've probably heard of it, the Declaration of Independence. Now, it did take some time for the Declaration to spread through the colonies, but it hit New York first. So to inspire the city of New York and mainly his troops George Washington had the Declaration read aloud on July 9, 1776, where today New York City Hall is located. And this was the beginning of the end for Georgie Boys statue.

By now the crowd was all hopped up on Liberty & Freedom, so naturally they went looking for British stuff to trash. Lead by the Sons of Liberty, the crowd marched down Broadway, unopposed of course, and had their eyes squarely locked on that disgustingly gaudy monument to that British swine sitting on his big pile of money that he wrongfully took through the unjust taxes levied on the Americans. Ok, maybe I just got a little carried away, but come on how could I not. So as the crowd  gathered at Bowling Green the goal was to topple the statue as a sign of defiance. Once the two ton statue was pulled down, the head of King George was removed and marched through the streets of New York on a pike, but at the end of the day is was recovered by those despicable Loyalists. The fate of the statue is somewhat of a mystery surrounded by folklore. Legend has it the statue, along with the decorative post finials that surrounded the monument, were shipped to a Connecticut foundry and was turned into 42,000 musket balls, all which would be used by the Continental Army. The monuments pedestal  was then used as a tomb and later be used as part of two different mansions front steps. So you can see that nothing from the statue was left to waste, making this perhaps the first steps of the going green movement. But is there anything left today of the statue? And if so, where is it?

Today, not much is left of the statue. The base was rediscovered in 1880 during renovations to one of New York's finest homes, that of Cornelius Van Vorst . Upon discovery it was handed over to the New York Historical Society. The statue itself only remains in a few fragments, also located at the NYHS. Roughly eight pieces survived.  The pieces are made up of parts from George's sash, the horses body and also part of the horse's tail. The parts all have traces of the gold gilding that once covered its lead base.That is all that's left. A few small lead pieces of lead, a slab of 18th century concrete, and the memory of a memory. Today, Bowling Green is one of New York's oldest parks, visited by daily by tourists from around the world, crisscrossed by people working downtown in the financial district and a hang out spot for students in the local schools, but do any of them know what took place there in the summer of 1776, or it's importance? It was a true act of defiance by the citizens of New York, an example of the toughness of the citizenry and defines a turning point in which the Revolution would then never be stopped. Again, the events that took place that day are slowly being forgotten today, however that day defines Revolutionary America's attitude towards the British and how the Declaration & the events of 1776 really sparked and fueled the Revolution, put more important the citizens of New York and the long road the city had ahead of it.

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