A statue of explorer Christopher Columbus in Bridgeport’s Seaside Park has stared into Long Island Sound for nearly 45 years.
The statue, by sculptor Clemente Spampinato, depicts Columbus, with a map in one hand, standing at the bow of a ship. The statue stands on a black base, with a larger white pillar behind it.
The statue also appears to have suffered some vandalism during its tenure in the park, with a hole that looks like it was caused by a bullet between the explorer’s eyes.
A granite stone mounted in front of the statue lists the dedication date on Columbus Day in 1965. The inscription has undergone some inelegant editing since, with one or two words being chiseled off the stone.
A cannon captured from a Spanish warship has been mounted in Bridgeport’s Seaside Park to honor the service of local residents during the Spanish-American War.
The bronze cannon, which faces southeast into Long Island Sound, was cast in Seville on December 13, 1794, according to a date inscribed near the cannon’s neck. We assume the intricate base, which could use a good rust treatment, is also original. The green patina that covers part of the cannon has been worn away from the top of the muzzle and the handles by generations of children climbing and sitting on the cannon.
Immediately behind the cannon is a memorial plaque that was cast in 1913 from metal salvaged from the U.S.S. Maine, which sank in Havana Harbor in 1898. The plaque, designed by sculptor Charles Keck, is one of 1,000 that were cast. So far, we have seen identical plaques on display in Naugatuck and Norwich.
As you can see from a vintage postcard, which bears a 1922 postmark, a ship’s mast and cannonballs were mounted behind the cannon. We couldn’t find a reference to the mast’s removal, but donating cannonballs that were decorating war monuments to scrap drives was common during World War II.
(The postcard was sent in January of 1922 from Bridgeport to Adrian, Mich. In the card, “Aunt Roz” promises her nephew they’ll visit the park when he comes to Bridgeport that summer.)
The last image demonstrates what you get when you poke a camera down the barrel of a cannon mounted in a coastal park.
The first statue erected in Bridgeport’s Seaside Park honors local industrialist and Civil War hero Elias Howe, Jr.
The monument was dedicated in 1884 to honor Howe, who invented the first practical sewing machine and built a Bridgeport factory to build the machines. Several inventors created similar machines about the same time as Howe, but he was awarded the U.S. patent for his device after several years of litigation.
The Howe statue faces southeast, toward the western end of the park (the Perry Memorial Arch is visible in the background of the first image in this post). Howe is depicted with a cane in one hand and a hat in the other.
In addition to his industrial success, Howe was known in Bridgeport for his patriotism during the Civil War. He enlisted as a private in the 17th Regiment of the Connecticut Volunteer Infantry, and donated money to help equip the unit.
In the statue, a regimental service medal appears on the left breast of Howe’s overcoat.
The regiment’s training ground would later form the basis of Seaside Park.
The monument was sculpted by Salathiel Ellis, who also created statues of Abraham Lincoln and portrait painter Gilbert Stuart.
Bridgeport honors the local men who served in the Civil War with an elaborate monument in Seaside Park.
The monument features a large, granite base with several decorative elements that narrows into a shaft topped by a bronze allegorical figure representing the United States. The monument’s side feature bronze statues depicting an infantry soldier and a sailor.
A plaque on the front (southeast) face reads “Dedicated to the memory of the heroic men of Bridgeport who fell in the late war for the preservation of the Union. July 1876.” The plaque also features the conclusion of the Gettysburg Address.
Plaques on the other faces list approximately 180 local residents killed in the war, along with their unit, as well as their date and place of death.
The plaques are replacements for the originals, which apparently were removed sometime before the early 1990s (when the Connecticut Historical Society examined the monument as part of its survey of the state’s Civil War Monuments). We’re not sure, but we’d guess the plaques were cast from aluminum. Many of the decorative elements on the lower sections of the monuments base are also fiberglass replacements that generally match the monument’s bronze elements. (We chose not to risk arrest by exploring the upper decorative elements.)
The empty, arched niche between the two figures originally held a marble statue, representing Liberty, that was removed due to deterioration. The marble statue is visible in the second vintage postcard at the bottom of this post.
The monument stands on the former training grounds of the 17th Regiment of the Connecticut Volunteer Infantry. The popularity of venturing to the coast to watch the troops train helped lead to the creation of Seaside Park after the war.
Bridgeport has honored the memory of circus showman, mayor and philanthropist P.T. Barnum with a statue at the intersection of Iranistan Avenue and Soundview Drive in Seaside Park.
The P.T. Barnum statue, which faces south, depicts a seated Barnum with a book in his left hand. An inscription at the bottom of the base lists his name, and the front of the monument bears the years of his birth and death, as well as a Latin dedication we were unable to translate. We entered the phrasing into several online translation sites, and learned that it refers to Barnum’s kindness, but couldn’t get more specific than that.
Born in Bethel, Barnum operated museums in New York City before launching his circus career. He also served as mayor of Bridgeport, and established the circus’ winter headquarters in the city. Barnum was also instrumental in the founding of Bridgeport Hospital and the local water utility, and when Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo was established in 1920s, retired circus animals formed part of the collection.
The statue was created by Thomas Ball, who was also responsible for a variety of public monuments including three George Washington statues. The Barnum statue was cast in 1887, and stored by the circus until Barnum’s death.
Bridgeport’s Barnum Museum has an extensive collection of Barnum, circus and local historical artifacts.
Seaside Park is a fitting location for a Barnum statue, since the showman built a series of mansions on land that he would eventually donate to the city to expand the park. Several streets in and around the park were named after Barnum mansions.
Barnum is buried in Bridgeport’s Mountain Grove Cemetery.
Update (Aug. 6) — As you can see from the vintage postcards below, the monument was originally a bit more elaborate than it is today. The older card (with the handwritten message across the bottom) carries a 1907 postcard and shows the monument’s base was originally covered with four large bronze plaques decorated with allegorical figures. The plaza surrounding the monuments also featured four large urns.
In the more recent postcard, which we estimate dates to the 1960s, the urns have been removed but the bronze plaques remain attached to the base of the monument. We’re assuming the plaques were stolen at some point, and the modern inscription was added to the base.
Source: Bridgeport, A Pictorial History, David W. Palmquist, The Donning Company, 1981.
The Perry Memorial arch in Bridgeport’s Seaside Park stands at the park’s main entrance, at the foot of, naturally enough, Park Avenue.
The granite archway was dedicated in 1918 to honor William H. Perry, who had served as superintendent of the Wheeler & Wilson Manufacturing Company, a sewing machine producer that would later be acquired by Singer.
Perry had also been president of the city’s Parks Commission, and his will left money for the creation of a gateway to Seaside Park.
The front (northwest) face of the monument, facing away from the park, bears the inscription “Perry Memorial Arch” and the dedication date near the top. Further down, set on the center support between the two arches, is a large bronze plaque depicting a luxuriantly bearded Perry standing with an allegorical figure. A dedication at the bottom of the plaque explains the arch was dedicated to Perry’s memory by his wife, Harriet Adeline Perry.
The southeast face of the arch bears a similar dedication, with some biographical information about Perry’s life.
The archway also bears a number of decorative elements. Grass can be seen growing from several ledges in the monument’s upper sections.
The Perry archway was designed by archietect Henry Bacon, who also designed the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., and a number of other public scupltures and monuments.
Seaside Park was created in 1865 on land that had been used as a training ground by the 17th Regiment of the Connecticut Volunteer Infantry. Later donations, including land from circus showman and Bridgeport mayor P.T. Barnum, would expand the park to more than 300 acres spread along a 2.5 mile shoreline.
Bridgeport’s elaborate Civil War monument, Barnum statue and other monuments will be highlighted during the rest of this week.
A large bronze and granite monument in Bridgeport’s Mountain Grove Cemetery honors local Civil War dead buried in distant battlefields.
The Pro Patria (“For One’s Country” in Latin) monument was dedicated in 1906 by the local Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) post, with funding help from the state. The front (south) face of the monument features a large granite plaque that depicts an infantryman and a sailor standing with heads bowed.
The plaque, in five columns, lists the name, rank, regimental affiliation, and date and place of death of local residents killed in the war and not returned for burial. A dedication along the bottom reads “In loving memory of those who did not return.” A scrolling ribbon along the top of the plaque lists the battles of Fort Sumter (S.C.), Vicksburg, Mobile Bay, Antietam, Gettysburg and Appomattox.
The monument was created by Bridgeport sculptor Paul Winters Morris, who also created the Abraham Lincoln bust on New Milford’s green.
The monument, topped by a bronze sculpture of a soldier’s hat, coat and sword, stands at the front of a GAR plot containing 83 graves of Civil War veterans buried after the war. The corners of the GAR plot are marked by pyramids of cannonballs, which is uncommon in that most cannonballs that were incorporated into Civil War monuments were later removed during World War II metal drives.
On the 65th anniversary of the D-Day invasion, the city of Bridgeport dedicated a new memorial honoring the 550 local residents lost in World War II.
The new monument, made from polished black granite, was dedicated during a ceremony Saturday morning that featured World War II veterans and local officials who gathered on the Broad Street side of McLevy Hall.
In the video at the top of this post, you can watch the unveiling of the monument Saturday morning. A bit later, you’ll see the placement of a wreath in front of the monument by Bridgeport mayor Bill Fitch and his father, who served in a destroyer during the Normandy invasion on D-Day.
Standing near the monuments to World War I and the Vietnam War, the World War II memorial bears the dedication “to those who made the ultimate sacrifice so that others would live.”
The monument also features three panels listing local residents killed in the conflict, as well as two panels with images from the war.
The panels listing the local heroes are framed by two small waterfalls symbolizing the war’s Atlantic and Pacific theaters. The waterfalls feed a small pool just above the monument’s base. At night, the monument is lit by a series of small lights embedded in the monument’s frieze.
The monument also honors the contributions of Bridgeport’s large manufacturers and employers to the war effort. For instance, the Corsair airplanes featured in the upper third of the far-left panel were manufactured in the city. In addition, 37 local companies are listed on the four panels that comprise the monument’s base (The fact that many of the companies listed on the monument have left Bridgeport, been acquired or closed altogether reflects the shift of manufacturing away from the northeastern United States and, eventually, out of the country).
The monument was designed by U.S. Navy Commander Ted Grabarz, who spoke during the dedication ceremony.
During the dedication ceremony, a block-long section of Broad Street was closed to traffic and filled with seated veterans and family members. People also watched the ceremony from the plaza in front of the City Hall annex building across the street.
The reasons for the long delay after the war’s conclusion to build a World War II monument aren’t clear. The effort gained momentum about four years ago when a committee was formed by the previous mayoral administration, and the current mayor maintained the project’s momentum.
The area around the monument was renovated into a tasteful plaza that includes a walkway of memorial bricks honoring local veterans. The monument’s organizers say additional bricks will be installed in time for Veterans’ Day ceremonies.
McLevy Hall in downtown Bridgeport, which traces its roots to 1854, once featured a hall that hosted a speech by then-Senator Abraham Lincoln on March 10, 1860.
McLevy Hall, near the corner of State and Broad streets downtown, was originally built to serve as the Fairfield County Courthouse. Portions of the building contained offices for the city of Bridgeport. An auditorium known as Washington Hall used to be part of the complex, and was the site of Lincoln’s final political speech in the early stages of the 1860 presidential campaign.
Lincoln came to Bridgeport as part of a speaking tour of New England immediately after his February 27 speech at New York’s Cooper Union outlining his opposition to the expansion of slavery into new U.S. territories. From New York, Lincoln spoke at several locations in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut before arriving in Bridgeport early on Saturday, March 10.
During the day, Lincoln hung out with local officials and delivered his address early in the evening before taking a 9:07 train back to New York. What the honorable gentleman from Illinois said in Bridgeport was not recorded. Most likely, his remarks had similar anti-slavery themes as his remarks in New York and New Haven, which were transcribed and published in local newspapers.
Lincoln’s speech is commemorated in a 1911 plaque on the State Street (south) side of McLevy Hall, near the front entrance.
The vintage postcard below was mailed from Bridgeport to New Haven in 1909.
The building, which today is used as a City Hall annex and contains several municipal departments, was renamed McLevy Hall in memory of Jasper McLevy, a Socialist who served as Bridgeport’s mayor from 1933 until 1957.
The building’s grounds also host the city’s World War (1933) and Vietnam (1983) monument. The plaque on the front of the World War monument appears to be a replacement.
David W. Palmquist, Bridgeport: A Pictorial History, The Donning Company, 1981