The somber “Angel of Death” in Prospect Park

New York doesn’t lack for doughboy statues—a testament to the sacrifices made in the city while fighting World War I.

But the doughboy statue in a Prospect Park, nicknamed the “Angel of Death” for the somber, haunting angel beside the soldier, might be the most powerful war memorial in the city.

It’s at the southern end of the park near Parkside and Ocean Avenues, surrounded by a granite and bronze honor roll commemorating the 2,800 men and women from Brooklyn who died during the Great War.

In the center is our doughboy—rifle in hand, a bandage around his head—accompanied by a very Victorian-looking shrouded angel who appears to guide him into the afterlife.

“What makes this sculpture unique from other “pensive” Doughboy motifs is the angel behind him, either speaking or wrapping her protective wings around him to whisk him off,” writes Kevin C. Fitzpatrick in World War I New York: A Guide to the City’s Enduring Ties to The Great War.

“Her wings come over his head, and it appears he’s bent his head to hear her.”

Designed by Arthur D. Pickering and sculpted by Augustus Lukeman (he did the Straus Memorial on the Upper West Side), the Angel of Death honor roll was unveiled in 1921.

An estimated 35,000 Brooklynites attended the unveiling, and the ceremony was preceded by a march to the park of Gold Star mothers, Catholic priests, and hundred of Civil War veterans, says Fitzpatrick, all paying their respects to Brooklyn’s war dead.

[Photos Ephemeral New York]

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27 Responses to “The somber “Angel of Death” in Prospect Park”

  1. Tom B Says:

    I wonder if this statue offends anybody at the Mayor’s office. Not enough diversity, a religious content and honoring white men with guns (sarcasm).

  2. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    I’m sure he could find so-called experts to vouch that this is a “symbol of hate.”

  3. Velvethead Says:

    Good for you, ENY

  4. ganglerisgrove Says:

    Reblogged this on Gangleri's Grove and commented:
    I didn’t realize this existed. I want to go see it. I often visit military memorials in the Hudson Valley for my military dead. This one is stunning and in Brooklyn. I may have a day trip ahead of me soon. Hail our military dead.

  5. Ricky Says:

    The shrouded face of the angel is extraordinarily beautiful.

  6. Zoé Says:

    As angels have no gender – I don’t think this angel was meant to represent a “her”.

    This is called a ‘psychopomp’. Being that escorts a person/soul to the other world – in various cultures. Angels & Valkyries & Ferrymen & the goddess Holle etc. I’m really interested in this concept/belief through various Peoples.

    This is a very beautiful sculpture. Sadly I missed seeing it whilst living at the other side of the park for years. (Prospect Heights & later Park Slope).

  7. Joanie DEmic Says:

    Thanks for telling me about this site. I’ve never seen this statue on the south end of the park

    On Mon, Nov 6, 2017 at 12:04 AM, Ephemeral New York wrote:

    > ephemeralnewyork posted: “New York doesn’t lack for doughboy statues—a > testament to the sacrifices made in the city while fighting World War I. > But the doughboy statue in a Prospect Park, nicknamed the “Angel of Death” > for the somber, haunting angel beside the soldier, might be t” >

  8. Ryan Says:

    I really would love to see that in person next time I’m up that way. It’s chilling. Plus I would like to get a better look at what’s in the right hand of the spectral angel figure, I see flowers and possibly a piece of the broken rifle. But there is definitely a lot going on there symbolically. I haven’t seen many war monuments with that type of deeper imagery, they are usually fairly institutional and basic (especially the ones the military usually erects). I keep fixating on the broken rifle though. I can’t tell if it was intentional by the artists or if it’s missing a piece.

    • Zoé Says:

      Thanks for pointing that out Ryan; the broken rifle & flowers.

      The rifle was cast as broken. (I am a formally trained metalsmith). I’m sure this is to symbolise it’s uselessness in the Other World (Heaven etc.). And perhaps the physical brutality of war – even on the weapons of war themselves (?).

      The flowers seem to be poppies (?). I forgot what the significance of poppies are re. WWI – but British people wear them in their lapels (etc.) for commemoration. Perhaps there was the same meaning for Americans.

      As my grandfather fought on the side of Germany I’m not sure of the meaning of poppies. He was a bookish pacifist who was drafted & took part in the Christmas Truce. Begun by the Germans – who stopped shooting on Christmas Eve & came out of their trenches & exchanged gifts & songs & played football w/ the British soldiers. He said it ended after several days when all of a sudden they (his fellow Germans & himself) were being shot at again. The English had got word of what was going on & switched out their officers. He was so disgusted w/ war he threw his medal away that he had won for being wounded & nearly dying. After he recovered at home in Germany he was sent out to fight on the Eastern Front (Russia).

      Of course poppies are the source of opium also & hence morphine; which was used during WWI for pain on the fields of war. So it’s an interesting choice of flower for that reason as well.

      Does anyone know the significance of poppies to the British (and possibly Americans) re. WWI?

  9. Karol Gafkjen Says:

    Poppies are part of a poem from WW 1:

    In Flanders fields the poppies blow
    Between the crosses, row on row,
    That mark our place; and in the sky
    The larks, still bravely singing, fly
    Scarce heard amid the guns below.

    We are the Dead. Short days ago
    We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
    Loved and were loved, and now we lie
    In Flanders fields.

    Take up our quarrel with the foe:
    To you from failing hands we throw
    The torch; be yours to hold it high.
    If ye break faith with us who die
    We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
    In Flanders fields.

    • Zoé Says:

      Thank you Karol.

      “Take up our quarrel with the foe” was a prophetic line in this poem; given that WWI set the template for WWII.

      I can only think those Souls the poem was written for looking on would not have wanted further bloodshed; especially given that many of them had never wanted to fight in the first place.

  10. Ryan Says:

    As far as I know this is the poem that inspired the use of poppies for honoring the dead of wars, specifically the First World War:

    I don’t know if it goes further than that.Thanks for sharing.That’s more or less what I got out of the statue symbolically, and confirming that it was intentional makes it that much more beautiful to me. And thanks for sharing the story of your grandfather. I can definitely relate to his disgust. War is sometimes necessary, but it is not a glorious thing. Being an active participant in a conflict and understanding why is usually not a comfort. It’s a shame that generation had to go through what they did. It’s a bigger shame that the geopolitical situation that conflict created is still fueling further conflicts to this day and likely will into the future.

    • Zoé Says:

      Thanks for the link to the poem/explanation of poppies – Ryan.

      Here are a few other things of interest regarding my grandfather – which may be of interest to those interested in WWI:

      •He found a tiny dog that had wandered onto the fields in France & kept it inside his coat pocket throughout his time there. When he was wounded later it must have run away.

      •He lost his gas mask & sat there in the trenches w/ all his mates wearing theirs watching him to see if the mustard gas would kill him – but the wind blew the gas away from them.

      •He was shot in the lungs & lay there wounded whilst both armies – crossed back & forth over him.

      •He lay there anxiously waiting whilst African soldiers fighting for France went round the field smashing the skulls of dying & dead German soldiers w/ their rifle butts.

      My mother was telling me this story when I got older – describing this as cruelty – but I had seen a documentary describing the religion of these particular people. It described how they crushed the skull of the person to release the soul; otherwise they believed the person was trapped wandering the earth for eternity.

      Anyway my grandfather was terrified that they would come to him – but they didn’t.

      •Finally a German medic brought him to the hospital tent but he was left outside because the doctors did not think he would live. (Triage system).

      After a long time the young medic who had found him went to the doctors & told them my grandfather was still alive – so they finally operated on him.

      He’d only survived because his blood had merged w/ dried leaves he had fallen on (as it was autumn) & created a poultice/bandage which stopped the bleeding.

      •When he was sent back to Germany after being shot – both his parents had died. He was then sent to the Eastern Front. (Russia).

      •I’ve left out the description of how he witnessed his best friend die – as it is too gruesome & sad to tell here. (Not that some of the above is not; but this story is worse).

      •In WWII – during the Russian occupation of Berlin – he was taken off the streets for slave labour in Russia. He was let go after injuring his arm & walked all the way back to Berlin & then Frankfurt am Main. So his troubles did not end w/ the end of WWI. He was in his late 50s by then.

      •He was buried in my hometown on the CT Shore & a local veterans org would put an American flag on his grave once a year; assuming he’d been a US soldier despite his very German name. My mum thought that was really funny – since he’d been ‘the enemy’.

      I feel sorry for all these men who were drafted. I was so terrified that my brothers were going to be drafted into Vietnam; but the eldest got a low lottery number & the war ended before my other brother turned 18. My mother was fine w/ my eldest brother going to Canada if he got a high number. She didn’t even want them to fight back if they were hit in school. She told us to “walk away” in that case. She was so anti-war after experiencing it in Berlin. Luckily she was an only child – so nobody in my family was drafted by the Nazi govt.

      Thanks for your interest in my *Opa*. Aside from the Christmas Truce story; my favourite story of his is about the little dog he carried round in his uniform coat!

  11. trilby1895 Says:

    Zoe, thank you so much for this story. I, as well, am interested in family history; it’s up to “us” to gather all information we can while relatives are still alive and then pass it on to our children, cousins. All of the narratives you contribute to Ephemeralnewyork are wonderful to read and I look forward to more!

    • Zoé Says:

      I’m w/ you 100% Trilby. I think it’s so important to tell individual stories when it comes to war history. Especially for these men in the trenches; who were rarely – if ever – interviewed. After their grandchildren – who will remember these things? About small dogs kept in coats & leaves forming poultices. I will probably write his memories down & give it to several museums. (God willing).

      Due to anti-German sentiment demonisation of German soldiers many Americans don’t realise that German men were drafted in WWI & WWII. And in WWII even young boys at the end of the war. (Which freaked out some US soldiers when they realised they were shooting at children). My grandfather was not the only book loving pacifist there.

      To divert from the somber theme of Ephemeral’s post a bit; my grandfather would have thought the internet was the best thing ever! He was very into new *gadgets* – according to my mum. xx

      • trilby1895 Says:

        Zoe, It seems that you are as interested in the human, as well as historical, aspects of World Wars I and II as I am. Have you watched “Joyeux Noel”, a most wonderful movie about the “Christmas Truce” during WW I when German and Allied soldiers brokered a spontaneous truce amongst themselves to celebrate their mutually-Christian holiday. Especially interesting, also upsetting, were the unexpectedly censorious reactions of military officials, clergy, as well, at this spontaneous breakdown of bloody conflict; showed the true story of how war is often fought by poor youth in the interests political, military, commercial agencies, for me, a real eye-opener. “War Horse” was another WW I true story that was so horrifically graphic I can’t bring myself to watch it a second time, highly unusual for me because when it comes to worthwhile movies, I will watch over and sometimes over again. Your grandfather must have been a joy to know, learn about; the little dog story, also leaves used as poultices, wouldn’t those be wonderful scenes in an upcoming movie?

      • Zoé Says:

        If it was the fictional film for cinema on The Christmas Truce I didn’t see it Trilby. I did see a documentary about it which was probably on PBS or the History channel or A&E in the 90s or very early 00s.

        I’ll look for it online Tril. However the account I described about it in this thread describing my grandfather’s recollections was told to me by my mother – before I had seen or read anything about it.

        The description I gave here of what my Opa said re. the English brass in London ending it after getting word of what was transpiring – by switching out their officers (to the despair of my pacifist grandfather & his mates… who may or may not have been pacifists themselves…) – was confirmed as truth by the documentaries. (Something not always the case when it comes to family stories). Not that I doubted his recollection or my mother’s telling of it. (My family has a very strong oral tradition of storytelling).

        To clarify dear Trilby: the leaves were never deliberately made into a poultice/bandage. He had been shot through the lung & completely immobilised (hence both armies literally running back & forth over him – before he was left lying there whilst the African soldiers for France went round smashing wounded & killed soldiers skulls). He was bleeding out seriously & happened to have fallen on a thick bed of autumn leaves. They created a poultice. When he was finally brought to the German hospital tent by the young German medic – it was the doctors who told him afterward that the leaves had created a poultice/bandage & stopped the bleeding & thus saved his life.

        Trees are sacred to us. Evergreen called Tannenbaum & Oak tree which attracts Lightening & on which sacred Misteltoe grows & which is thus Thor’s tree & Yew trees from which Bows were made & thus symbolise ‘protection’ & Runen (ancient alphabet) were cut from bits of Trees to throw to tell fortunes. Also as life depended on them for everything; warmth for Fire & furnaces for making knives etc. & cooking & housing etc. Germany was covered w/ forest & they were like the reindeer to the Sami & Buffalo to Plains Indigenous. My family are ancient animists. (My grandmother a ‘Krauterfrau’ = Herbwoman who believed/practised a form of Baltic region animism passed down). We believe everything is alive & nothing ‘dead’ – that everything has a Spirit/Life from God. I believe the Leaves saved his life. Something sacred/intentional & not accidental. Hence I thank God & the Leaves/Trees for saving my Opa’s life by making themselves a poultice for him & allowing my mother & then me to come into the World. God willing.

    • Zoé Says:

      & thanks Trilby1895! Because there are other words I have heard regarding my “narratives” that have been less kind than yours… lol… They go better w/ wine…

  12. David H Lippman Says:

    Very moving and sad statuary.

  13. fivethousandsuns Says:

    Thanks for pointing this out. For years, this has been my favorite public art work in NYC. First time I saw it, I was mesmerized. What makes the angel especially haunting for me is that she seems to be wrapped in hospital gauze (yes, I know it’s meant as a shroud, but to me it seems medical), and the utter sadness that emanates from the two figures.

  14. David Morgan Says:

    You won’t believe how I found your site – I follow a FB page called ‘Dirty Old 1970s New York’ and you came up in the suggestions!

    For Australia, WWI was a shattering experience. In a country of 5m people, 300,000 men, all volunteers, served. Nearly 60,000 – 20% – died. April 25, the date when the Anzacs landed at Gallipoli in 1915, is a national holiday – arguably Australia’s real national day. On the 50th anniversary in 1965 the eminent historian Geoffrey Searle wrote that ‘Two generations of Australians have had it drummed in from rostrum and pulpit that we became a nation on 25 April 1915 or at least during the First World War.’

    The writer Frank Dalby Davison describes visiting Sydney’s distinctly art deco Anzac Memorial early in WWII and gives a very Australian take:

    Rayner Hoff’s sculptures for the Anzac Memorial were initially controversial.

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