Independence Flagpole

Independence Flagpole

Independence Flagpole: Effects of Tyranny

Above: Effects of Tyranny

Independence Flagpole: Effects of Liberty

Above: Effects of Liberty

About the subject 

The base of this flagpole is easy to miss but worth examining. On its south side is the entire Declaration of Independence, cast in bronze, with the names of all the signers. On the west side, a series of reliefs shows the effects of tyranny. On the east, the reliefs show the effects of liberty, culminating in a woman holding an infant whose head is "haloed" with thirteen stars, representing the original American states.

Admittedly there are flaws in the execution of the relief - some of the anatomy and foreshortening aren't as they should be. But given how rare it is to see a work celebrating political freedom (compare the postures and emotions of the figures on the east side with the downtrodden figures on the west), I'm willing to excuse quite a lot.

Background

Charles F. Murphy, after whom this flagpole base is (not) named, was born in a tenement on the Lower East Side in 1858, and became the leader of New York's Democratic political machine, Tammany Hall, in 1902. He was influential (ahem!) in the careers of Mayors Gaynor and Hylan, Governors Dix, Sulzer and Alfred E. Smith, and Senator Robert F. Wagner. Widely regarded as the most effective Democratic machine politician in the city's history, he died in 1924 with an estate of $2 million, the sources of which (notes the Encyclopedia of New York, p. 783) "remain unclear." For more on Murphy's power base and financial resources, see the entry in American National Biography.

This flagpole stands on the site of an earlier flagpole raised by the Tammany Society, whose last headquarters were at the southwest corner of Union Square East and 17th Street. (Note the red Tammany cap in that building's pediment.) Murphy's friends and followers wanted the new flagpole named after him, but others objected that a memorial to such a man was inappropriate in a park that included Lincoln, Washington and Lafayette. The flagpole was finally raised in honor of the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

Further reading

"America for Me," by Henry Van Dyke (1852-1933)

‘Tis fine to see the Old World, and travel up and down
Among the famous palaces and cities of renown,
To admire the crumbly castles and the statues of the kings, -
But now I think I’ve had enough of antiquated things.

So it’s home again, and home again, America for me!
My heart is turning home again, and there I long to be,
In the land of youth and freedom beyond the ocean bars,
Where the air is full of sunlight and the flag is full of stars.

Oh, London is a man’s town, there’s power in the air;
And Paris is a woman’s town, with flowers in her hair;
And it’s sweet to dream in Venice, and it’s great to study Rome;
But when it comes to living there is no place like home.

I like the German fir-woods, in green battalions drilled;
I like the gardens of Versailles with flashing fountains filled;
But, oh, to take your hand, my dear, and ramble for a day
In the friendly western woodland where Nature has her way!

I know that Europe’s wonderful, yet something seems to lack:
The Past is too much with her, and the people looking back.
But the glory of the Present is to make the Future free, -
We love our land for what she is and what she is to be.

Oh, it’s home again, and home again, America for me!
I want a ship that’s westward bound to plough the rolling sea,
To the blessed Land of Room Enough beyond the ocean bars,
Where the air is full of sunlight and the flag is full of stars.

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