For more than a century, Philadelphia’s been playing a game of musical chairs with statues around City Hall. And it’s sure to continue, so long as we continue to ask monumental questions.
Actually, sculptural comings and goings started a century before they cut the ribbon at City Hall. William Rush’s Nymph and Bittern stood for a time as one of the city’s earliest pieces of public art.
We’ve previously written about the monument to Major General Peter Muhlenberg, colonial preacher and Revolutionary War hero. In 1910, a “monster parade” preceded Mulhenberg’s dedication on the south side of City Hall. Everyone thought it would be there forever. While the heroic story didn’t change, location did—twice. Patriots paying respects to the general would have to track him down. For a time, Muhlenberg stood his ground at Reyburn Plaza. Then he trekking out to Fairmount Park, where he can be found today.
The replica Statue of Liberty temporarily occupied a patch of pavement during part of the first World War. For all that fanfare, and there was much, she’s long gone.
So much bronze has been in flux over the years, enough to suggest there’s no shame in being uprooted.
Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ stoic Puritan, a full-scale likeness of Samuel Chapin, a New England settler who died before Philadelphia was even a sparkle in William Penn’s eye, commanded the concrete at Penn Square from 1905. Maybe Saint-Gaudens’ knew something. His statue looks like he’s about to walk off his pedestal. And in 1920, “The Pilgrim” as Chapin became known, did take a hike, in a manner of speaking, also making his way to Fairmount Park.
Scientist Joseph Leidy came and went, too. If his biography, The Last Man Who Knew Everything, was correct, Leidy should have known enough to secure a permanent place of honor in the center or town. Find him today, still holding the jaw of an Ice Age lion amidst the dinosaurs at the Academy of Natural Sciences.
Curiously, there’s one figure, below, that remains. When 21st-century pedestrians even notice “Baldwin,” as the granite pedestal tersely explains, they have to wonder: “Who is this? Why is he here? Why should I care?” Baldwin’s story was good enough to justify his installation in 1902 across from his locomotive factory at Broad and Spring Garden Streets. (That place was something to behold, turning out a finished locomotive every two-and-a-half hours.) When the plant left town in 1928, rather than having its founder stare at the vacant factory, the powers that be moved Baldwin to the north side of City Hall.
And there he stands today.
Maybe it’s time to pose the monumental question in this case, too. Does Baldwin measure up to holding a spot on our most prime civic real estate?