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The Hall of Fame for Great Americans: Emerson, Irving and Washington

The Hall of Fame for Great Americans: Emerson, Irving and Washington

By E. V. |

A New York City landmark designed by the architectural firm of Stanford White, the Hall of Fame for Great Americans is located on the leafy campus of Bronx Community College high above the Harlem River. The architectural style of the landmark, created in 1900, is Classical Revival. Right behind it stands the Gould Memorial Library, also designed by Stanford White. Being the first of its kind, it gave birth to all the different halls of fame that we come across today in popular culture. In its time, nominations to the Hall of Fame for Great Americans were very serious and made the national news. When you first enter the outdoor site, you see two tall columns and a sign that reads, “MIGHTY MEN WHICH WERE OF OLD, MEN OF RENOWN.”  As you walk through the semicircular structure, the altitude of the spot above the Harlem River provides a pleasant breeze. The busts, which are slightly elevated, seem to stare down at you as you walk by.

The colonnade currently houses 98 busts of Great Americans. One might think that the Americans chosen were predominantly generals and politicians, but this isn’t so. The nominees were elected in different categories such as teachers; authors and editors; businessmen; inventors; missionaries and explorers; clergymen and theologians; scientists; and politicians and statesmen. Ralph Waldo Emerson, an essayist, lecturer, and poet, was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1900, and his sculpture was created by Daniel Chester French. Emerson delivered the speech “The American Scholar” at Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1837. In this speech he addressed American college students about the responsibility of representing “man thinking”; therefore, they must come up with their own ideals. Emerson suggested that instead of following the same path of old traditions, these students should form their own paths.

Washington Irving, an American legend to this day, was inducted in the category of author and writer. Also inducted in 1900, and his sculpture was made by Edward McCarten. Irving was the first American writer to gain international recognition for his work. The short story “Rip Van Winkle” is set during the Revolutionary War. In the story, Rip is tired of his nagging wife, magically falls asleep for 10 years, and wakes up after the War. Upon waking, he is confused to learn that he is now a free American citizen. Rip then assimilates to his new life and sort of misses his nagging wife, who represented England and is summed up in the phrase “petticoat government.”

In the bust of Booker T. Washington, the famous African American leader and educator, Washington’s fierce gaze reveals the determination that defined his life. Washington was nominated and inducted in the category of teachers in 1900. His 1895 speech “The Atlanta Exposition Address” created a lot of controversy. The speech asked whites to permit African-Americans to join the workforce as manual laborers, such as mechanics and farmers, occupations which as former slaves they already had experience performing. With the now famous phrase “cast down your bucket where you are,” Washington advised African-Americans to build a future in the South. Former slaves didn’t have the education and advantages that white elites had. Therefore, they couldn’t climb the ladder without sacrifices. Washington himself experienced many hardships to be able to put himself through school. He came from nothing and became a national figure. He also advocated for education and advised African-Americans to get educated so they could earn more political power. At the same time, many thought his advice to African-Americans encouraged an attitude of submissiveness.

We only start appreciating the treasure we once had when we no longer have it. As a former student of Bronx Community College, I’ve visited the Hall of Fame numerous times. I used to sit between the busts looking out to the Harlem River, enjoying my lunch in the company of this beautiful view. At the time, I saw the Hall of Fame as a great place to have a bite to eat or study for finals. Now I reflect on the significant landmark that I used to sit on without realizing it. The busts do the job of keeping you company when you’re alone. At the same time, you learn about men and women who have impacted this country. If it wasn’t for these heroes, the America we know today wouldn’t exist. I really appreciate that teachers and authors were nominated and chosen as Great Americans. As a future teacher, I know that educators and writers have an immense impact on the youth of the country.

Works Cited

“Booker T. Washington.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 2001. Web. 5 May. 2016.

Dolnick, Sam. “A Hall of Fame, Forgotten and Forlorn.” The New York Times [New York] 4 Dec. 2009. Web.

Dunlap, David W. “An Opulent Bronx Library in Decay, and in Search of a Purpose.” The New York Times [New York] 18 Nov. 2015. Web.

“The Hall of Fame for Great Americans.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 2001. Web. 5 May. 2016.

“Ralph Waldo Emerson.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 2001. Web. 5 May. 2016.

“Sunday Outing; A Scenic Overlook on Great Americans.” The New York Times [New York] 27 Jan. 1991. Web.

“Washington Irving.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 2001. Web. 5 May. 2016.

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