While arguments continue across the world regarding the fate of various racist monuments, one sculpture has been a source of discussion since its unveiling back in 1922, uprooting it from its home twice.
Civic Virtue Triumphant Over Unrighteousness was created by Frederick William MacMonnies between 1909 and 1922, commissioned by Mayor George McClellan to stand in front of City Hall. It was sculpted in France, and had to be buried twice to avoid being destroyed during World War I.
The main body of the statue depicts a male nude (based on an Italian bicyclist) standing with a sword above the bodies of two writhing women. The man is meant to represent civic virtue; the two women, vice and corruption. It was controversial from the start, due to its presentation of the female figures. That aspect felt especially inappropriate, given the recent passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which gave women the right to vote.
The sculpture stood in front of City Hall until the administration of Fiorello LaGuardia, who hated it—especially the sight of the statue’s rear end as he left work. When Queens erected its borough hall in 1941, he offered the statue to Queens Borough President George Harvey, and the statue was moved to Kew Gardens. But even then it drew protests from time-to-time, and eventually fell into disrepair.
By 2012, Anthony Weiner even joked about selling the statue off on Craigslist, but instead the president of Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery, Richard Moylan, offered to take the sculpture. It was moved to the cemetery in 2013, to stand among works from McClellan’s contemporaries like Daniel Chester French and John Quincy Adams Ward.
Know Before You Go
The statue is located in the northeast section of the park. If entering from the 5th Avenue gate, follow Battle Avenue and turn left on Hemlock Avenue, then right on Garland.