In a recent essay for Lit Hub, Andrew Shanken, author of The Everyday Life of Memorials, writes about the origins and meanings of the memorials of Central Park. Click here to learn more about his book. Click here to read the full essay. An excerpt appears below:
“We hear quite a lot about those honorific structures, statues, sculptures, plaques, and other objects that serve as memorials, an oddity for a period so willing to forget. Memorials are also commonly encountered as sites of political contestation, places where people go to raise awareness—or to raise hell. The Robert E. Lee equestrian statue in Richmond is a terrific example of the first, while the Lee equestrian statue in Charlottesville is a sad reminder of the second. Both are now gone. Damnatio memoriae can backfire and become an aide memoire.
While memorials are well understood in these two roles—as commemorative and political devices—most of the time they are neither. Most often they are just there, in the way, turned off, or enveloped by the quotidian. Birds rest on generals’ heads. Teens cavort on their steps. Rush hour commuters race around them like any obstacle separating them from their appointments.”