A golden goddess topping Madison Square Garden

She was the second statue of Diana to grace the top of Stanford White’s Madison Square Garden, the sportsman’s playground with the glamorous roof garden that opened in 1890 on Madison Avenue and 26th Street.


But this figure of the gilded goddess was the most famous, a 13-foot huntress who balanced on one toe aiming a bow and arrow for 32 years.

Illuminated at night by electricity, her slender form, the work of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, could be seen as far away as New Jersey.


And it goes without saying that her nudity offended some New Yorkers, particularly Anthony Comstock, head of the self-created New York Society for the Suppression of Vice.

Newyorksocietysuppressionvicelogo“The naked figure immediately caused outrage in some, and delight in others; it became known as the Statue That Offended New York,” states Atlas Obscura. “Critics led by the moralizing Anthony Comstock demanded it be taken down, whilst others flocked to see the sensuous Diana, glittering in the sunlight.”

To shush the critics, White had Saint-Gaudens drape a pennant over the statue to obscure Diana’s private parts. It quickly blew off in the wind, much to White’s delight.

DiananytDiana scandalized some residents, and she was witness to a scandalous murder on the roof in June 1906.

That’s when White was shot dead by Harry Thaw, the jealous husband of showgirl Evelyn Nesbit. White had carried on a relationship with Nesbit since she was 16.

In 1924, Madison Square Garden was set to be demolished. Diana’s fate was hotly debated.

Some wanted her to grace the Municipal Building; others thought she should go atop the New York Life tower, which was replacing the Garden.

Where did she end up? In storage for six years, and then the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where she greets visitors in the entrance hall to this day.

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10 Responses to “A golden goddess topping Madison Square Garden”

  1. marckehoe Says:

    The New York Life tower is the structure that replaced Stanford White’s MSG. The building, completed in 1928 (Cass Gilbert, Architect) still stands. The former Metropolitan Life Insurance Company tower (Napoleon LeBrun and Sons, architects) is located at 23rd Street and Madison Ave.

  2. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Ah, thanks for the note–I’ll change in the text.

  3. SteveJay27 Says:

    The Philadelphia Museum recently completed a comprehensive restoration and regilding of the Diana statue.

  4. melly14 Says:

    If one wants to see another version, there is one on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art: http://www.metmuseum.org/collection/the-collection-online/search/11998?rpp=30&pg=1&ft=diana+goddess&what=Sculpture&pos=3

  5. manhattan resident Says:

    You’d think this statue could have stayed in New York?

  6. Rich T Says:

    The Philly museum site says the statue was supposed to be a weather vane, but that seems far fetched imho.

    • Do Da Says:

      No, the DIana figure was designed by White and St Gaudens to function as a weather vane on the globe which head bearings so it could turn, but due to it’s size the wind broke some of the extended drapery off so it was decided to fix it in one position.

  7. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Some accounts said it didn’t work as a weather vane, but that was the intention. It’s a lovely idea though!

  8. Do Da Says:

    According to the book on Stanford White the first version of Diana proved to be too big in scale and it was replaced by White with a slightly smaller version.
    Kind of just as comical was another project- a memorial or war memorial I forget- he and a young apprentice designed which had a large statue on top of a tall column was similarly too big in scale, White bit the cost on removing it, replacing it with a smalelr one and installing that because he was very unpleased with how big the first version done by the apprentice looked in comparison to the whole.

  9. Madison Square Garden’s massive bowling alley | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] happened in 1909,  when the Stanford White–designed arena was located on Madison Avenue and 26th Street, the second […]

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