Friday, May 2, 2014

Commemorating George

In the early twentieth-century, Annapolis lawyer and amateur historian George Forbes would give lectures using vintage photographs of Annapolis that he had collected over the years. When one picture of Edwin White’s Washington Resigning would appear on the slideshow’s projector, Forbes would read a speech from his lecture notes on the history of the painting, and wouldn’t be able to resist adding, “Something should be done to commemorate this scene either by marking the place with a star, where Washington stood; by erecting a statue of him thereon, or in a way which I think better still, and which I urged in an address before the Municipal Art Society, to reproduce the entire scene in wax, after the works of Eden Musee, and Madam [Tussauds] in London.”[1]

Forbes was far from the first person to believe that the momentous occasion of Washington’s resignation needed to be immortalized in the room where it took place. Though perhaps not as eclectic as Forbes’ wax sculpture scene, people over the years have come up with a multitude of creative ways to immortalize the resignation.

Plastic mannequin of George Washington - one of the most recent incarnations of a tribute to the resignation. Gift of the Maryland Society of Senates Past and the Colonial Dames of America, Chapter One, Maryland State Archives, MSA SC 1545-808.

The first consideration of a permanent fixture to commemorate Washington’s resignation came in 1824. The House of Delegates resolved that a committee would be appointed to “contract for, superintend, and procure a marble statue of George Washington, to be placed in the Senate Chamber of this state upon the very spot where he resigned to the assembled congress of the United States.”[2] Among the committee members was Charles Carroll of Carrollton, one of the last living witnesses to the resignation, who would undoubtedly serve to give some historical accuracy to the placement and design of the marble statue. However, whether because of budget or the issue of spacial practicality in a still functioning legislative room, the idea of the statue was tabled. In 1837, the resolution for a marble statue appeared again, this time with the Governor requesting “Horatio Greenough, or any other distinguished sculptor, to perfect the said statue,” only to be tabled again.[3] Ultimately, a marble statue of Washington never appeared in the Old Senate Chamber.

One statue of Washington did pay a visit though. In 1860, a bronze statue copied after one by Jean-Antoine Houdon was brought to the Old Senate Chamber and placed on the spot where Washington stood so that members of the legislature could view it and consider purchasing it. Despite the urgings of Colonel Kimmel, who had urged the idea of a Washington statue for years, Maryland did not purchase the $10,000 copy and it was sent on to St. Louis.[4]

Even after the desecration of the Old Senate Chamber, where much of the room was altered, rumors persisted of commemorative marks for Washington. One Baltimore Sun article in 1893 suggested, “It is said that beneath the present crimson carpet that covers the floor there is a mark designating the spot where Washington stood,” though no evidence of this mark was ever discovered.[5]

One of the most famous, and enduring monuments to Washington came from the Daughters of the American Revolution in the spring of 1915. The Peggy Stewart Tea Party Chapter marked the spot where Washington was said to have stood with a bronze plaque. This plaque, which was unveiled to the sound of “church and fire bells” throughout the city, remained in the Old Senate Chamber for nearly one hundred years until the most recent restoration, making it one of the most memorable aspects of the Old Senate Chamber to many modern visitors.

Bronze plaque placed by the Daughters of the American Revolution in 1915, Maryland State Archives.

The most recent incarnation of George Washington in the Old Senate Chamber is a plastic statue, created in the 1980s. The mannequin (which you can still visit today in its new home in the Archives Room of the State House) is dressed in a uniform that exactly replicates the one he would have worn to resign his commission on December 23, 1783. For decades, schoolchildren and adults alike have enjoyed posing with the moveable statue, placed near the Peggy Stewart plaque on the floor of the chamber.

But why do people over the centuries feel such a need to commemorate history with physical objects? Perhaps Mrs. Daniel M. Garrison in her welcoming remarks for the Peggy Stewart Tea Party Chapter’s dedication of the 1915 plaque best provides the answer. "It is with that idea of inculcating a patriotic spirit amongst our people that many places associated closely with our history have been marked with tablets,” she said, “...that the chance wayfarer may see, and seeing, recall to mind sacrifices that our forebears were called upon to make, that our nation might live."[6]

Don’t think that we have forgotten our own commemoration of the resignation in the Old Senate Chamber restoration! We are excited to have a bronze statue of Washington, depicting the moment of his resignation. After centuries of exhibits, this bronze will be the first time a statue of Washington will be permanently installed in the Old Senate Chamber. Don’t forgot to pose with your piece of Washington history when the Old Senate Chamber reopens in December 2014!

[1] George Forbes Lecture Notes, MSA SC 182-02-06, slide 204.
[2] Proceedings of the House of Delegates, 1823 Session, Archives of Maryland, p.50.
[3] Proceedings of the House of Delegates, 1837 Session, Archives of Maryland, p.367-368.
[4] “The Legislature,” Annapolis Gazette, 9 February 1860.
[5] “Old Senate Chamber: As It Was When Washington Resigned His Commission,” Baltimore Sun, 10 April 1893.
[6] “Marking the Spot Where General Washington Resigned His Commission,” by Mrs. Weems Ridout, The Patriotic Marylander, March 1916.

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