Gone Bust

I t’s easy to miss the empty pedestal near the summit of East Rock. Situated on a patch of grass where Farnam Drive meets its first overlook and turns toward the summit, the granite pillar is marred with graffiti. Bolt anchors are still embedded in the pocked side that faces a sweeping view of the city. Two weathered bolts protrude from its top, suggesting something was once mounted there. Look a little closer, and you’ll be rewarded with two more clues to the earlier life of this mystery monument. Carved into the stone base are the names “Enid Yandell, Sculptor” and “Richard H. Hunt, Architect.”

It turns out a bust of New Haven mayor Henry Gould Lewis once sat on this perch, looking over the shoulders of passersby who had stopped to sit on a nearby bench and beyond toward West Rock. The sculpture was a bearded, strong-browed, slightly romanticized likeness of Lewis, wearing a jacket with wide lapels and a serious expression.

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An 1844 graduate of Yale Law School, Lewis served as New Haven’s mayor from 1870 to 1877 and again from 1883 to 1885. New Haven’s Saturday Chronicle remembered him as “an active force in the creation of the East Rock park commission”—the park was created by special act of the city legislature in 1880, during his tenure—and a champion of creating a park on West Rock as well. According to historian Rollin G. Osterweis in Three Centuries of New Haven (1953), Lewis was instrumental in bringing a sewage system to the city and spearheading the drive to construct a new building for New Haven Hospital, precursor to Yale New Haven Hospital. He “advocated the establishment of a ‘City Department of Charities and Corrections,’” which eventually led, after his death, to a Department of Charity. He also promoted the establishment of a public library. Before being elected mayor, Lewis served on the New Haven Common Council and the Connecticut House of Representatives. He was also president of the New Haven Wheel Company, part of the local carriage trade. For good measure, he championed the reintroduction of squirrels into New Haven’s parks.

His bust was installed in East Rock Park around 1894, a few years after the former mayor died of pneumonia on Christmas Day, 1891, at age 71. It’s unclear how the young sculptor Enid Yandell, who hailed from Louisville, Kentucky, was chosen for the commission. She was a contemporary of Lewis’s daughter, Josephine Miles Lewis, the first graduate of the Yale School of Fine Arts and the second woman ever to graduate from Yale, and both studied in Paris in the 1890s, though Lewis was a painter. Sculpture was “still an emerging field for women” in the 1890s, writes Yandell biographer Juilee Decker, but Yandell rejected “the strictures of ‘female sculpture’” and worked “like a man.” By the time of the Lewis commission, she had already received acclaim for her life-sized statue of Daniel Boone, installed near the Kentucky building at the 1893 Chicago world’s fair. In fact, Yandell is best known today—when she is remembered at all—for her “ubiquitous” statues and busts of Boone. “Because neither the sitter [Boone] nor representations of him were extant,” Decker writes, “Enid created a sculpture… that became his visage. In other words, she actualized an idea of what people believed Daniel Boone looked like.”

The Lewis bust appears to be one of Yandell’s “figureens.” “Even as they aimed at likeness,” Decker writes, “they were also often imbued with an expressive quality, in keeping with the emergent Art Nouveau style, as well as the emotive qualities found in the work of contemporary French sculptors.”

Richard H. Hunt, the architect who designed the pedestal for the Mayor Lewis Monument, was the son of Richard Morris Hunt, whose 1895 obituary in The New York Times called him “one of the foremost architects of the United States.” The elder Hunt designed several Newport and New York City mansions and major buildings in New York, the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty and two buildings at Yale: East Divinity Hall (now demolished) and the Scroll and Key Society Building.

The younger Hunt, like Enid Yandell and Josephine Lewis, studied in Paris in the late 1800s before returning to New York and a career at his father’s firm. He completed the design of a wing at the Met based on a sketch by his father, according to his own New York Times obituary in 1931, and designed buildings at Sewanee University and Vanderbilt University and several “country homes” for wealthy Americans. He opposed “the unrestrained development of the skyscraper as a formidable obstacle to the orderly and beautiful growth of the city.”

What happened to the Mayor Lewis Monument remains a mystery, though longtime New Haveners might be able to shed light on when it disappeared, sometime in the mid-20th century. It is mentioned in the 1940 city parks report, but by the 1980s, with East Rock Park in serious disrepair, chances are it was gone. In 1986, New Haven Advocate reporter Mickey Mercier wrote that “after decades of neglect, [the park] has fallen victim to serious vandalism, crime, litter and maintenance problems.” Lesley Mills, executive director of Parkfriends, noted “blatant dumping” and observed, “The park fixtures need to be virtually indestructible, because people will take sledge hammers to reinforced concrete picnic tables.” In a 2009 New Haven Independent piece, Stephen Kobasa speculated that both the bust and its accompanying plaques were “pilfered, probably to be melted down in some salvage yard crucible.”

Lewis’s New Haven parks legacy endures, even if his bust does not. As for the sculptor, you need only travel as far as Rhode Island to see what Yandell left behind. Her bronze statue Chief Ninigret (1914) sits on a boulder in Watch Hill near the bay and serves as a fountain, with water streaming from the mouths of fish he holds in either hand. And her 20-foot-tall The Struggle of Life (1901), better known as the Carrie Brown Memorial Fountain, stands in Providence’s Burnside Park. Both were restored in recent years, the holdings of cities that took better care.

Written by Kathy Leonard Czepiel. Image 1, of the Lewis bust in 1907, provided courtesy of the New Haven Museum. Images 2 and 3, of the empty pedestal today, photographed by Kathy Leonard Czepiel.

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About Kathy Leonard Czepiel

View all posts by Kathy Leonard Czepiel
Kathy Leonard Czepiel is Daily Nutmeg's associate editor. She's also a fiction writer, writing teacher and book club troubleshooter. Her perfect New Haven day would involve lots of sunshine, a West Rock hike, a concert on the green and a coffee milkshake.

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