Heroic Proportions

In 1924, the Hartford City Commission asked Evelyn Longman to sculpt a memorial honoring the city’s Spanish American War veterans. Daniel Chester French, the creator of the Lincoln Memorial, recommended her for the job, and Longman, as she wrote to a friend, was “quite thrilled at the opportunity of having an important public monument in Hartford.” Evelyn had married Loomis’ first headmaster, Nathaniel Horton Batchelder, in 1920 and relocated her studio from New York City to Windsor.

Longman proposed a design and explained its historicity to the commission: “I feel that any adequate Spanish War memorial must express the idealism of our national purpose, [and] explain the historical importance of the conflict … .” The monument’s centerpiece is an idealized figure, in the artist’s words, “bearing in her extended right hand the torch of liberty and in her left a shield with the stars and stripes.” This interpretation of the war as a noble effort to ensure democracy for Cuba was consistent with many Americans’ opinions during the early 20th century. Historians have since presented alternate narratives refocused on America’s economic and political intentions in Cuba.

Longman worked for more than two years on the project in her Windsor studio, sending the model plaster casts in November 1926 to the American Art Foundry in Astoria, New York. There the final full-size bronze monument was cast. Earlier in the process, smaller scale models of the central female figure were crafted, and one was cast in bronze.

More than 15,000 gathered at Bushnell Park on May 22, 1927, for the monument’s dedication. A “long and colorful parade” preceded the ceremony, and, as described by The Hartford Courant, “two great American flags as if moved by unseen hands slowly undraped from about a statue of heroic proportions, then suddenly caught by an eager breeze, swept clear and revealed … Hartford’s newest memorial.” Spectators responded with “a great burst of applause” and a standing ovation for Longman. Warren Archibald, minister of Hartford’s South Church attended the dedication and wrote to Longman, telling her “how deeply … moved and impressed I am with this inspiring figure … . [I]t has a noble ancestry in the expression of thought & feeling.” The Batchelders watched the newsreel film of the dedication at Hartford’s Strand Theater the next week and placed a photo of the monument on their 1927 Christmas card. Two years later, Longman received an honorary membership from the local Spanish War Veterans’ organization.

In 1949, Longman donated the small bronze model to The Chaffee School for display in the new classroom building, Sellers Hall. Originally known as “Columbia Holding the Torch of Enlightenment,” the sculpture acquired the nickname “Minerva.” From time to time, students decorated the sculpture with clothing and flowers, and Minerva took up residence in a dedicated alcove. Two decades of The Epilogue include images of smiling Chaffee girls posed for club photos around Minerva. In 1970, the sculpture moved to the Island campus with The Chaffee School. Some alumni will recall the day that members of Committee X dressed in togas and escorted Minerva across campus to a new alcove home in Chaffee Hall, where it can be found today.

Two sculptures of dramatically different sizes were born of the same artistic and historical inspiration. One inspired awe, while the other a more playful intimacy.