I enjoy finding the story behind the story and sculptor Jerome Connor is the story behind three well known sculptures in Washington DC.
The first sculpture can be found just off Connecticut Avenue, across from the Rhode Island Avenue & M Street, NW is a monument called Nuns of the Battlefield, which was commissioned in 1924 by the Ladies Auxiliary of the Ancient Order of the Hibernians to honor nuns who volunteered to care for the sick and wounded of the Civil War. The Arsenal Monument, another Irish intended monument and Nuns of the Battlefield are the only two Civil War-related monuments in the capital that suggest the role that women played in the conflict.
The idea for a national monument started with a Rhode Islander with the wonderful name of Dr. Ellen Ryan Jolly who was, at the turn of the 20th century, president of the Ladies' Auxiliary of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, (From 1912-1916) a new but large (56,000 members on its inception) and political powerful organization at the time.
For one year, Dr. Jolly researched the roles of Nuns in the American civil war and complied enough evidence to bring her case before congress to ask that a monument be built in their honor. Her campaign was championed by her Congressman, an Irishman named Ambrose Kennedy (A Republican of Rhode and not the Democrat from Maryland who shared his name)
The Congress, aware of the growing political clout of the Irish-American and Catholic communities, agreed and the monument was commissioned. One member of the House objected to the government paying for the statue, and according to Dr. Jolly, managed to have his objections recorded but not his name. He didn’t show up on the day of the vote saying he would be “away from Washington for the day” Later, at the unveiling, Dr. Jolly noted with a smile that the Congressman “is permanently away now”. Funding for the memorial was given on St. Patrick’s Day 1918.
It was unveiled in 1924, while the Hibernians held their second annual convention at the old Raleigh Hotel on 12th and Pennsylvania Avenue. (100,000 members showed up including Boston Mayor William Curley).
The unveiling before a crowd of 5,000, was one of three that month in the city. The other two were the First Division memorial by the Old Executive Office Building and the statue of another (although Ulster-Orange) Irishman, Francis Asbury, the first Bishop of the Methodist church in America.(Below)
The monument shows twelve nuns, representing the different orders who nursed the wounded of both North and south, are depicted in this statue. The upper inscription reads:
They comforted the dying, nursed the wounded, carried hope to the imprisoned, gave in His name a drink of water to the thirsty.”
The lower inscription reads:
To the memory and in honor of The Various Orders of Sisters who gave their services as nurses on battlefields and in hospitals during the Civil War.
The monument was intended to be placed in Arlington Cemetery but the war department objected (Too religious) and the piece was plopped down in front of Saint Mathew’s cathedral, to the objections of its sculptor Jerome Connor.
Connors, like his earlier counterpart Lot Flannery, was a quick-tempered, litigious, eccentric, proud and extremely talented. He was born on February 23, 1874 in Coumduff, Annascaul, Co. Kerry, Ireland, the sixth and youngest child of Patrick Connor and Margaret (Currane) Connor who operated a small mountainside farm even though his father was experienced as a stonemason. In about 1884, the family moved to Holyoke Massachusetts, where an elder son, Timothy, was already settled.
Two years after the family arrived, Jerome’s father died unexpectedly and Jerome, at age 16, found work as a sign painter, a stonecutter, bronze founder and machinist. “My father” he wrote “was a master of four trades, and it was the inheriting of those tendencies, along with a little extra will all my own, that enables me to do this work. I am self-taught…when I was a boy I used to steal my father's chisels and carve figures on the rocks in Kerry."
He worked as an assistant in the manufacturing of bronzes statues including the Fountain of Neptune bronzes at the Library of Congress. He also made his living as foundry-man, professional prizefighter, machinist, sign painter and stonecutter and served as a Japanese intelligence officer in Mexico.
The Nuns of the Battlefield tablet made his career and, heavily influenced by the work of Irish American sculptor Augustus St Gaudens. In 1916, Connor created the life sized bronze statue of the Irish national hero Robert Emmet which stands on Massachusetts Avenue between 24th and S Streets, NW, in a small park near the Irish embassy.
The statue (which is owned by the Smithsonian) was the first statue cast in the District of Columbia using native sand. Connor created the piece in his studio at the southeast corner of New Jersey and C Street NW, in a house that was said to have been a slave market at one time. When Connor worked there, there were still slave pens, cages in other words, in the basement. Connor based his likeness of Emmet on sketches done at the trial and from Emmet's death mask.
(The actual casting of the 7-foot-tall sculpture was done at the Washington Navy Yard in southeast DC) The statue was unveiled on June 28, 1917 as the centerpiece of the rotunda of the National Museum (Today its The National Museum of Natural History) President Woodrow Wilson attended the unveiling and tenor John McCormack sang two Emmet-inspired songs: “Oh, Breathe Not His Name” and “She Is Far From the Land.” The crowd wanted the American national anthem, but McCormack’s accompanist couldn’t play it in his key so a volunteer from the audience named Alice Burbage played it instead.
In 1950, the statue really didn’t fit into the museums floor plan anymore and was placed in storage until 1966 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising. Emmet was placed in a small triangle on Embassy Row (Massachusetts Avenue) not far from the Irish Embassy.
A copy of the sculpture was cast and placed in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park in 1919 and three years later the Congress authorized a replica as a gift to the National Gallery of Ireland which now stands in St. Stephen's Green in Dublin.
Connor was also commissioned to create the bronze statue of Bishop John Carroll, a
They prospered quickly and became one of Maryland’s original 18 land owning families as well as one of the largest real estate holders in the new world. They named most of their properties with the same name they had held in Ireland.
Charles Carrol was not only Maryland's delegate to the Constitutional Convention to sign the Declaration of Independence, he was also its only Catholic signature and the last to die, at age 92 in 1832.
Charles Carrol's Daughter, Mrs. Richard Caton, of Catonsville Maryland was the first Grand Dame of American society. Her three daughters, called the three Graces, became, respectively, the Duchess of Leeds, the Marchioness of Wellesy and the Baroness of Stafford.
Cousin David Carrol was a millionaire in his own right as well as Maryland's second largest land holder and was the States delegate to the first Constitutional Congress. His land holding by the way, included the grounds that the Capitol stands on today. And his home in Baltimore was said to be the finest in Colonial America.
John Carrol would become Americas and Baltimore's first Catholic Bishop. Included in his nationwide Domain were 50 Priests and 5 Nuns. An unabashed patriot, Bishop Carrol chastised his fellow Irish Americans for what he saw as their less than enthusiastic acceptance of the New Republic and implored them to sign written loyalty statements to the United States, an act he was widely criticized for. During the war, he and Benjamin Franklin embarked on the dangerous and failed plan to recruit French Canadian Catholics into the Colonist cause for freedom. Washington DC’s first mayor, American-Irish Catholic Robert Brent (born, circa 1763–died, September 7, 1819 was the son of Ann Carroll, and John Carroll’s sister.
The statue was unveiled on May 4, 1912 commemorating Carroll’s role as founder of Georgetown University. The enormous statue was placed on Georgetown's campus in Georgetown in Northwest Washington, D.C., between Healy Hall and the university's front gate at the intersection of O Street Northwest, and 37th Street Northwest.
A grand unveiling ceremony was planned. Hundreds were invited and the speakers would include Chief Justice Edward Douglass White, Cardinal Gibbons, Attorney General George F. Wickersham who was representing President Taft, Speaker of the House Champ Clark, and Baron Hengelmuller, Ambassador from Austria-Hungary and Dean of the Diplomatic Corps.
However at the last moment Connor told the University that the foundry hadn’t finished the statue so the school had a quick and dirty plater cast of the statue made, painted it brown and unveiled that in place of the real thing.
Brother James Harrington of the University recalled later that "Weeks later, in the dead of night, today's bronze statue was substituted for the spurious one and no one was the wiser."
Over time, it became a tradition for students to sit in the Bishop John Carroll lap or to place portable commodes there, so in 1934, the space beneath the chair was filled in with bronze books to discourage that.
Connor returned to Ireland in 1925 and opened his own studio in Dublin with a substantial advance sum to create a work for the memorial committee in New York to sculpt a memorial to the dead of the Lusitania. However he disappeared with the money and was not heard from for another 18 years.
On August 20, 1943, Connor, at age 67, was found deathly ill in his slum apartment and brought to the Hospital in Dublin where he died the following day, August 21, 1943, of heart failure. His friends formed a committee to have his work completed by another sculptor in order to "save Ireland's honor."
They also placed a plaque on Dublin’s Infirmary Road, overlooking Dublin's Phoenix Park, his favorite spot in the city. The plaque is engraved with a poem by Connor’s friend, the poet Patrick Kavanagh. It reads
He sits in a corner of my memory
With his short pipe, holding it by the bowl,
And his sharp eye and his knotty fingers
And his laughing soul
Shining through the gaps of his crusty wall