Firemen’s Memorial

  • Sculptor: Attilio Piccirilli
  • Architect: H. van Buren Magonigle
  • Dedicated: 1913
  • Medium and size: Overall approximately 24 x 35 feet, not including the flight of steps from Riverside Drive. Bronze relief (8 x 19 feet); two groups in marble (approximately 8 feet)
  • Location: Riverside Drive and West 100th Street
  • Subway: 1 to 103rd Street

Firemen's north end

Firemen's south end

Croton Water Project

In 1835, the Great Fire destroyed 674 buildings in lower Manhattan. Not coincidentally, one of the greatest boons to New York’s firefighters was completed 7 years later, in 1842: the Croton Water Project. A series of dams and aqueducts brought water from 50 miles north of the city to a huge reservoir at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street. From there, it was pumped underground through Manhattan. Soon the number of buildings destroyed by fire in Manhattan sank from hundreds at a time to a handful.

George Morris (author of "Woodman, Spare that Tree") wrote a poem in 1842 that became a hit song in New York: a rare musical celebration of an engineering triumph.

Water leaps as if delighted,
While her conquered foes retire!
Pale contagion flies affrighted,
With the baffled demon, Fire!
Water shouts a glad hosanna!
Bubbles up the earth to bless!
Cheers it like a precious manna
In a barren wilderness.  

A Brief Visual History of Firefighting in New York

Firefighting 1750

Above: 1750

Great Fire 

Above: The Great Fire of 1835; the tall building just right of center is the Merchants Exchange, which held a sculpture of Hamilton

Ericsson relief

Above: Steam-driven fire engine, 1840 (from the base of Ericsson)

Fire engine 1869

Above: Fire engine at Union Square in 1869, passing Washington

Fire tower

Above: Fire towers, 1874

Firefighting 1898

Above: Firefighters in 1898

Firefighting 1911

Above: Firefighters in 1911 - just before the Firemen’s Memorial was dedicated


Above: 1913, the year the Firemen’s Memorial was dedicated

Attilio Piccirilli

Piccirilli (1866-1945) was a member of a family of Tuscan stonecutters whose studio was in the Bronx. The Piccirillis carved for Daniel Chester French (including the Continents at the Customs House and the Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial in Washington), and for John Quincy Adams Ward (including the New York Stock Exchange pediment), plus works such as the lions outside New York Public Library, 1911 (Fifth Avenue at 42nd Street), parts of the Washington Arch, ca. 1895-1918, and the Pulitzer Fountain, 1916 (Fifth Avenue at 58th Street).

Of Attilio's own design are the sculptures on the Maine Monument and the Firemen's Memorial, both 1913, as well as Youth Leading Industry and Joy of Life at Rockefeller Center, ca. 1936 and 1937 (636 Fifth Avenue and 15 West 48th Street, respectively), the pediments of the Frick Art Reference Library (71st Street off Fifth Avenue), and the doors of the Riverside Church (Riverside Drive at 122nd Street). Brooklyn has Indian Literature and Indian Law Giver, ca. 1900 (Brooklyn Museum). The Bronx has Columbus (East 183rd Street, Crescent Avenue and Adams Street - worth the trip) and Outcast, 1908 (Woodlawn Cemetery).

Cross References

  • On the devastating fire in 1776, during the British occupation, see Nathan Hale.
  • The Great Fire of 1835 is mentioned in Hamilton (Central Park).
  • After the demise of Bishop Potter, the committee to erect a firemen’s memorial was headed by Isidor Straus, who died a few years later on the Titanic. Audrey Munson is said to have been the model for the women on either end of the Firemen’s Memorial, as she later was for the figure of Memory on the Straus Memorial. The death of Kruger was reported in the New York Times, 2/15/1908.
  • The highest decoration for valor awarded by the Fire Department of New York is the James Gordon Bennett Medal, established in 1869 and given annually for the most outstanding act of heroism. I’ve been unable to find out whether it was originally sponsored by James Gordon Bennett Sr. or Jr. The two of them were both active in running the New York Herald around that time. See the Bennett Memorial.
  • Mentioned in the discussion of what memorials would be like without figures: Maine Monument, Father Francis P. Duffy, and the East Coast Memorial (Battery Park). For a survey of memorials to soldiers, firemen, and policemen, see Dianne L. Durante, From Portraits to Puddles: New York Memorials from the Civil War to the World Trade Center Memorial (Reflecting Absence).
  • Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan has a discussion of why representational art has such a powerful effect, plus a short quote from The Scarlet Pimpernel: A New Musical.

Copyright (c) 2013 Dianne L. Durante