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Eternal Light Flagstaff

History

This text is part of Parks’ Historical Signs Project and can be found postedwithin the park.

This monumental flagstaff honors those victorious forces of the United States Army and Navy who were officially received at this site following the armistice and the conclusion of World War I.  The monument was commissioned by department store magnate Rodman Wanamaker at a cost of $25,000.

The massive stepped ornamental pedestal, made of Milford pink granite, is inscribed with dedicatory tributes to those who served their country in World War I, and lists also the names of significant battle sites.  It was designed by Thomas Hastings (1860-1929), whose architectural firm Carrere and Hastings was responsible for many notable buildings, including the New York Public Library. The lavish decorative bronze cap at the base of the flagstaff includes garlands and rams heads, and was sculpted by Paul Wayland Bartlett (1865-1925), a student of French master sculptor Auguste Rodin.  The monument supports a star-shaped luminaire at the top of the pole, which is intended to be lit at all times as an eternal tribute to those who paid the supreme sacrifice. 

The eternal light was illuminated on Armistice Day, November 11, 1923, and the monument dedicated the following spring on June 7, 1924. The original wooden flagstaff, towering 125-feet tall, was said to be hewn from a century-old tree culled from “the virgin forests of Oregon and transported over the Rocky Mountains.” The overall effect was described in the opening day program as expressing “the desire of the donor that it should stand out by its simplicity.”

The monument has been repaired and upgraded on several occasions. Most recently, in 2017 the luminaire was refurbished by the Madison Square Park Conservancy, which in 2018 also oversaw the removal of the fences that had confined the monument as well as the redesign of the surrounding plaza which now provides a hospitable park entryway. The Eternal Light continues to serve as the site where the annual citywide official Veterans Day ceremony takes place and the Veterans Day parade embarks up Fifth Avenue. 

Eternal Light Flagstaff Details

  • Location: South west side of park
  • Sculptor: Paul Wayland Bartlett
  • Architect: Thomas Hastings
  • Description: Flagstaff with ornamented base
  • Materials: Bronze and Milford pink granite
  • Dimensions: Flagstaff H: 30'; Base H: 17'9" W: 22' D: 22'
  • Cast: 1924
  • Dedicated: 1924
  • Donor: Rodman Wanamaker
  • Inscription: East face:
    TO OUR HEROES / 'TIS THE / STAR SPANGLED BANNER / OH LONG MAY IT WAVE/ O'ER THE LAND / OF THE FREE / AND THE HOME OF / THE BRAVE / YPRES-LYS / AISNE LYS / SOMME DEFENSIVE / SOMME OFFENSIVE /

    West face:
    OISE-AISNE / ST. MIHIEL / CAMBRAI / AISNE-MARNE/ VITTORIO-VENETO/
    MEUSE-ARGONNE / SOMME OFFENSIVE / CHAMPAGNE-MARNE / MONTDIDIER-NOYON/ THIS STAR WAS LIGHTED / NOVEMBER XI MCMXXIII/

    North face:
    IN MEMORY OF THOSE / WHO HAVE MADE / THE SUPREME
    SACRIFICE / FOR THE TRIUMPH OF / THE FREE PEOPLES / OF THE WORLD/

    South face:
    ERECTED / TO COMMEMORATE / THE FIRST HOMECOMING / OF THE
    VICTORIOUS / ARMY AND NAVY / OF THESE UNITED STATES / OFFICIALLY
    RECEIVED BY / THE CITY OF NEW YORK / ON THIS SITE / ANNO DOMINI
    MCMXVIII /

Please note, the NAME field includes a primary designation as well as alternate namingsoften in common or popular usage. The DEDICATED field refers to the most recent dedication, most often, butnot necessarily the original dedication date. If the monument did not have a formal dedication, the yearlisted reflects the date of installation.

For more information, please contact Art & Antiquities at (212) 360-8143

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