There are certain monuments that are so identified with the United States and so ingrained in our consciousness that it’s hard to believe they weren’t always there. But the Statue of Liberty and especially Mount Rushmore are relatively new to the country.
In the 1920s, a man stood gazing at Cougar Mountain in South Dakota. It was an ancient part of the landscape of the Black Hills of South Dakota, but the man looking at the mountain so intently had a vision of something very different.
The idea of a Mt. Rushmore that featured faces carved into the granite face gazing at the horizon was first conceived by Doane Robinson, a South Dakota historian. Senator Peter Norbeck of South Dakota sponsored the project and secured government funding.
Robinson, wanted the mountain to feature Old West persons of importance, specifically Buffalo Bill Cody, Lewis and Clark, Sacagawea, and Crazy Horse. The sculptor that designed the monument as we know it was Gutzon Borglum. He decided the heroes of the Old West would not have the broad appeal of popular U.S. presidents, and the final design featured the visages of Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt. There was no doubt the presidents were appealing to Borglum; he named his own son Lincoln.
It took 14 years to complete. This may seem like a long time, but carving in granite is not easy. To give you an idea of the scale, each president’s head was 60 feet tall. The project officially began construction in 1927, and by 1939 the presidents’ faces were complete.
Borglum planned for each of the presidents to be depicted down to the waist, but when the funding fell through, the project was declared complete on Halloween of 1941. Gutzon Borglum had died seven months earlier, still expecting the presidents to be depicted from head to waist.
Fun fact: Crazy Horse still got his rock memorial, and just 17 miles away. Construction started in 1948 but it’s not finished and may never be. The Crazy Horse memorial is huge already, but the planned dimensions are 641 feet long and 563 feet high. The arm of Crazy Horse will be 263 feet long and the head 87 feet high; 45% larger than the presidents’ faces on Mount Rushmore.
The Statue of Liberty is now one of the most famous symbols of America. But the French who gave it to us meant it to symbolize the friendship between our great countries, so it is a symbol of both friendship and liberty. Not a bad combination!
Frédéric Bartholdi designed the Statue of Liberty in France, The colossal statue had to be dismantled to transport it to New York. It arrived in more than 300 pieces of copper and iron in New York City Harbor in 1885.
The torch-bearing arm of the Statue of Liberty was displayed at Philadelphia’s Centennial Exposition in 1876 and then at Madison Square Park at 23rd Street from 1876-1882 to generate funds to pay for labor needed to reassemble the Statue labor. It cost 50¢ to climb to the torch balcony!
The Statue of Liberty was inaugurated on Liberty Island, New York in October 1886.
Like everyone who will see this, I was born long after the Gilded Age ended. So how is it possible that I feel so nostalgic for these days of beauty and grace? I think I must be a ghost.
Today, I have for you pictures of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City at the turn of the century. There are also a few photos from the 1910s from a Senate inquiry into the sinking of the Titanic that was held at the hotel, and a couple of photos of women with their dogs from the first meeting of the American Pomeranian Club.
All photos courtesy the Library of Congress, except where marked.
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The beautiful Waldorf Astoria, which billed itself as the finest hotel in the world.
The Thirty-third street entrance
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The Waldorf Astoria had apartments. This room, with the carved mahogany canopy bed, fireplace, and lovely decor is called the Francis I bedroom.
This room is not quite so lavish as the others, though still quite beautiful. It’s labeled Room 212.
The Marie Antoinette Room. Can you imagine?
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The Public Areas
The Myrtle Room. I’m not sure what this was used for. I could imagine private parties, or maybe meetings?
The charmingly-named “Peacock Alley” was a three hundred foot long corridor connecting the Waldorf and Astoria Hotels. It gained fame in the early 1900s as the spot where the fashionable women of New York City paraded their fashions and jewelry for their peers. (Getty Images)
This one I find to be puzzling. It’s called the Ladies Hairdressing Room. There are three vanities for the room– not just from the angle the photographer captured, but the whole room. I’m guessing it might be a small room outside of a ballroom where women could freshen up?
Though it seems a little impractical even for then, it makes me think of how very over-crowded our cities are today.
A lavish, private dining room
The Billiard Room. Can’t you just see men with mustaches and top hats smoking cigars in here?
A reception room. I imagine this was used for smaller parties and events.
The Palm dining room: This room is so beautiful. Look. At. The. Chandelier.
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Notable People (1910s)
Senate Hearing on the Sinking of the Titanic. There is an arrow pointing to J. Bruce Ismay, the high-ranking White Star Line official. Passengers who came to testify at this hearing said they heard Ismay pressuring the ship’s captain to travel faster. Ismay, of course, was one of the lucky people to get a seat in a lifeboat.
“Miss M. Kennedy and Buttercup” at the American Pomeranian Club meeting
Mrs. George Peabody and Mauchi at the American Pomeranian Club meeting. That is a real hat Mrs. Peabody has on.
Charles James Laffin, was born in Australia in 1867. While still a youth, he traveled to far-away New York City, where he thrived in the New World. The precocious Laffin earned his degree in medicine from Bellevue Hospital Medical College when he was 21. He often traveled between Canada and the US. It was on one of these trips that he met Mary Andrus. He married her the following year, and shortly after that, Laffin was ordained as a minister.
This last achievement led the Laffins to take a fateful step.
There was a great deal of sickness on the western coast of Africa, of both natives and missionaries, and not enough doctors to manage. Bishop Taylor personally appealed to the brilliant young doctor to go to Africa and use his talents to help the sick. Laffin and his wife agreed.
In 1894, Charles and his wife Mary had been living in Liberia for a few years. Overall, the couple appeared to be happy and Mary wrote enthusiastically to friends about their work there.
But the move had been hard on Mary. At 27, Charles had lived on three continents and he adjusted somewhat easily to the new climate, but Mary’s fevers caused her to be violently ill. Like many other non-natives, she was susceptible to diseases to which locals appeared to be immune. She was ill several times during her three years in Africa.
In late 1894, Mary became ill again and was diagnosed with African fever, a mosquito-borne illness with malaria-like symptoms (fever, chills, flu).
This time, the fever was lethal, and Mary died on Nov 3, 1894. Her body was buried in Liberia. Grief reduced Laffin’s immunity and he contracted the African fever. “He was for many weeks out of his mind,” a New York paper later explained.
The doctor decided he could no longer stay in Africa, and determined he would practice medicine in the United States. He arrived in New York City in September 1895. The brilliant doctor was hired at the Loomis laboratory of Bellevue Medical college. At some point, he became ill again with the African fever, but recovered quickly.
On June 25 1896, Dr. Laffin was remarried in Nova Scotia, this time to Clara Freeman. Their registry entry revealed his new wife was 35 years old and had never been married. Laffin noted he was a 29-year-old widower. Clara’s brother, a minister named Lemuel Freeman, was a witness. The wedding was in Nova Scotia for the sake of Clara’s family, but the couple immediately returned to New York and rented a fashionable residence on Madison Avenue. They settled down to what promised to be a quiet life.
But on Thursday, November 26, five months and one day after their marriage, their apparent serenity was shattered.
Dr. Charles Laffin was arrested on the charge of assault for inflicting shocking cruelty upon his wife, the papers reported breathlessly. The doctor was taken to Bellevue Insane Pavilion for psychiatric evaluation– the same hospital where he was employed as a physician. When questioned, the doctor claimed his wife was the best in the world but her allegations were lies. He said their marriage was perfect– when his in-laws were not present.
Reverend Lemuel Freeman appeared in New York and spoke with reporters. He said Dr. Laffin’s lunacies began on his sister’s wedding night. “Her body is covered with scars and bruises inflicted by him. His rage was devilish! He beat his wife, and one of his pet tortures was to dislocate her joints and snap them back into position. Several times he held her by the throat upon a bed until she was black in the face.”
Though he claimed Laffin was insane, Freeman hinted at drug abuse as well, saying the doctor ingested arsenic and morphine. The most recent fit of insanity was triggered when Mrs. Laffin prepared to visit a friend who lived nearby. Laffin was convinced she was meeting a man and insisted on going with her. When they arrived at her friend’s home, Dr. Laffin grew more agitated. According to Freeman, Laffin pulled a knife from his pocket and threatened to murder his wife in the presence of her friend. That evening, the doctor apparently beat his wife for three hours.
Freeman said he took his sister away. New York sided with Clara but didn’t believe the doctor was to blame: “It seems a very sad case, but apparently the insanity is entirely due to the fever,” The New York Standard concluded. Bellevue Hospital, however, determined Laffin was not insane and probably never had been cruel to his wife. They released him on December 5. He had been there nine days.
When Dr. Laffin returned to their home on Madison Avenue, Clara was not there to greet him. In fact, he would never see her again.
As devastated as he was, Laffin must have been grateful to be free. Less than a decade earlier, journalist Nellie Bly had faked insanity to be admitted to Bellevue. When she was released, she published Ten Days in a Mad-House which detailed horrible details about her experience there. “What, excepting torture, would produce insanity quicker than this?”
Dr. Laffin’s brilliance appeared to falter. He left the Loomis lab, and was rumored to have been fired for incompetence. He was an expert witness at the Jennie Bosschieter murder trial and was believed to be an ineffective witness.
At last Laffin left New York and moved to New Jersey. In 1902, he petitioned for divorce from Clara, on grounds of desertion. He claimed Clara was bitter at the lack of “wealth style and prominence” she expected and deserted him “without provocation” in 1896.
In 1905, Laffin married again. His new wife was named Alexandra, and she was 15 years his junior. They were apparently happy but after living in New Jersey for 10 years, they moved to the city of Gallup, New Mexico. The doctor was employed as a government physician at Fort Defiance, Arizona- 30 miles away. Two years later, the world was in the throes of the Spanish flu pandemic, which would eventually kill between 50 – 100 million people.
The doctor caught the flu and treated himself, pushing himself to get out of bed as quickly as possible. Many people at Fort Defiance were seriously ill with the flu and there was no other doctor. On the first morning he was able, Laffin went back to work. He returned home late that evening, deadly tired.
He had overestimated his strength. Dr. Charles Laffin died the following evening.
The doctor left behind a mystery. Did he go temporarily insane and torture his second wife? Or did Clara and her brother invent the whole story?