Date of Degree

9-2015

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

Art History

Advisor(s)

Harriet F. Senie

Abstract

The period between the Civil War and World War I was the first great age of public art in the United States. Outdoor sculptures were a part of a larger attempt to construct a didactic environment where shared American ideals could inspire and uplift citizens. It was within this climate that Dr. Henry MacCracken (1840-1918), Chancellor of New York University from 1891-1910, conceived the Hall of Fame for Great Americans (HOF) as part of a City Beautiful campus designed by Stanford White (1853-1906) in the Bronx. This dissertation is the only comprehensive examination of the HOF, beginning with its conception and ending with its decline. The memorial officially opened in 1901 and belongs to a public art tradition defined by nineteenth-century values that emerged after the Civil War. This tradition emphasized patriotism and good citizenship, coupled with a veneration of heroes prompted by the sacrifices of the war. The HOF was realized over the course of the twentieth century; it was the country's first hall of fame and a unique institution on a college campus.

The HOF (now part of Bronx Community College) houses ninety-eight bronze portrait busts representing differing categories of honorees such as statesmen, lawyers and judges, military, scientists, educators, and authors. Although no longer in the limelight, the HOF remains an exceptional collection of Beaux-Arts portrait busts that reflects the values of the Gilded Age, when the nation was taking its place as a world leader. Many factors contributed to the waning of interest in this monument including changing concepts of heroes and heroism, the rise of modernism, and the decline of the Bronx location of the memorial. The HOF reveals the values of those who conceived of it, funded it, participated in its elections, and celebrated its honorees. This research furthers understanding of the elaborate matrix involving the conception, patronage, creation, and reception of what was once a major American monument.

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