To artist Frederick MacMonnies, it probably sounded like a crowd-pleaser.
Commissioned in 1915 by the city to create a sculpture for City Hall Park, he carved a 55-ton piece of marble into “Civic Virtue”: a figure of a strapping young man holding a sword while standing astride two beautiful women, who symbolized vice and corruption.
“It represents virtue rising or overcoming temptation,” said Macmonnies.
But even before the 22-foot statue was unveiled in the park in 1922, it was under fire. Women’s groups claimed it was demeaning to have virtue represented by a male figure, while women were equated with vice.
MacMonnies found the argument ridiculous and blamed “literal” minded people who didn’t think allegorically. “Temptation is usually made feminine because only the feminine really attracts and tempts,” quoted the Times.
Mayor Hylan thought it was “a travesty of good taste,” but the statue went up anyway, earning the nickname “Rough Guy” because of his naked, chiseled, somewhat caveman-like features.
Throughout the 1920s, petitions were filed to have Civic Virtue removed, and in the 1930s, with City Hall Park set for a beautification project, Parks Commissioner Robert Moses stated that he wanted it gone.
By 1941, rumor had it that Mayor LaGuardia was tired of seeing Civic Virtue’s muscular butt from City Hall. The statue was banished to Queens Borough Hall, where it languished for seven decades.
Last year, Civic Virtue, falling apart and still lacking respect, found a new home: Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, where officials plan to restore it.
[Photo at right: from the Bridge and Tunnel Club]