A West Side statue for firemen—and their horses

New York is a city of monuments and memorials—to veterans, victims of tragedies, heroic citizens, and countless individual residents.

But the 1913 Firemen’s Monument at Riverside Drive and 100th Street might be the only memorial that honors human heroes as well as their equine counterparts.

It sits on a stunning hillside overlooking Riverside Park. “This monument is said to have had its origins in the remarks of the Right Reverend Henry C. Potter at the funeral of Deputy Fire Chief Charles A. Kruger in 1908,” states the NYC Parks website.

Kruger was killed when he plunged into a burning basement while fighting a fire on Canal Street.

“Bishop Potter said that while there were many memorials to public and private citizens there were none ‘to our brave citizens who have lost or will sacrifice their lives in a war that never ends.'”

The firefighter part of the monument has a solemn sadness to it. “Made of Knoxville marble, the monument is a sarcophagus-like structure with a massive bas-relief of horses drawing an engine to a fire,” states NYC Parks. (The original bas-relief was replaced by a bronze replica in the 1950s.)

“To the south and north are allegorical sculpture groups representing ‘duty’ and ‘Sacrifice.'”

Sharp-eyed monument lovers will recognize the model for the sculptures; she is Audrey Munson, who modeled for countless city memorials.

The memorial to horses came later. “In 1927, the ASPCA added a second tablet to the sarcophagus in memory of fallen fire-horses,” states the Riverside Park Conservatory.

By the 1920s, horses no longer did the city’s hard work—pulling streetcars, ambulances, and wagons; hauling away garbage and snow; and galloping to the aid of New Yorkers in need of the police and firefighters.

But this monument—and some of the remaining horse drinking fountains, one of which still exists in Riverside Park at 76th Street—is a lovely reminder of how the city owes its fortunes to the hard labor of horses.

How did horses handle hot summer days? With horse showers and special hats, thanks to efforts of the ASPCA.

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6 Responses to “A West Side statue for firemen—and their horses”

  1. Benjamin Feldman Says:

    Read the tragic story of sculpture model Audrey Munson here https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Audrey_Munson
    and visit her beautiful form in Straus Park’s memorial to the Strauses who went down with the Titanic, at 106th and Broadway near the Firemen’s monument. The inscription from Samuel II will choke you up in honor of this couple’s bond until death..

  2. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Yes, it’s heartbreaking: https://ephemeralnewyork.wordpress.com/2013/04/15/the-titanic-love-story-of-isidor-and-ida-straus/

  3. MaryDowns Says:

    Attilio Piccirilli’s work first caught my eye with the lovely “Fragilina” at the Met. It was that “discovery” that led me to look more closely at his sculptural work for the Maine Memorial and Riverside’s Firemen’s Memorial.
    Is it known if he can be credited with the bas-relief work as well? Whoever the artist, he or she impressively captured the dedication and danger faced by these heroes.
    Thank you for yet another interesting post. I look forward to each one!

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Glad you enjoyed this! I’ve done some more research in old newspapers on the monument, but nothing indicates whether the Piccirillis executed the bas relief.

  4. Zoe Says:

    What happened to the original bas relief section (that was replaced by bronze) — erosion or cracked or removed to serve as a monument elsewhere?

  5. A garden rises where a fireman died by arson | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] Parks Department control in 1999. Shady, leafy, and with brick paths inside, it’s one of many firefighter tributes throughout the […]

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