Last week, the New York Times produced a beautiful feature that serves as a monument to monuments, of sorts, highlighting the often-forgotten statues, plaques, pillars and benches that mark Important Sports and Important People across New York City.
The story plucks 10 lesser-known monuments for recognition, like the Lithuanian Flyers Memorial in, yes, Lithuanian Square, Brooklyn. After Charles Lindbergh's famous trans-Atlantic flight in 1927, other pilots caught "Atlantic fever," including Steponas Darius and Stasys Girenas who attempted to fly from Brooklyn to Lithuania but crashed over Germany. In their home country, the men are celebrated as heroes, their images plastered across stamps and currency; their names etched upon bridges, streets and schools. Here, they're remembered with a small aluminum plaque a few blocks from the BQE.
Lithuanian Square, a tiny park in Brooklyn, celebrates two men who are "bigger than George Washington" in their home country, via NYC Parks
With over 800 such monuments in New York City, some public spaces are becoming too crowded with granite-chisled memories; Central Park designer Frederick Law Olmstead apparently warned planners of this back in the 1870s. A few parks even have moratoriums on new monuments, and it turns out it's not as easy to get a marker for history as it used to be: Over the last 20 years, fewer than 60 new memorials have been approved by the city. Some folks who made the cut include Harriet Tubman and Eleanor Roosevelt, who help to balance out a list which is almost exclusively men.
Perhaps there will come a time when we won't need physical reminders of history. Using geolocation on our phones, we can already discover plenty about what happened there before. Instead of gazing at a giant marble head, we can read a story or watch a video, look at old photos and follow a map. Maybe someday there will be memorials for memorials.
Do monuments still matter? In case some of our most interesting city markers might be fleeting, perhaps we should highlight some of our favorites. What's the strangest, coolest, or most bizarre monument in your city? Maybe it's tucked away beneath a freeway overpass or down an overgrown alley, easily ignored, or so obvious and out-in-the-open we're oblivious to it. What's a memorial that no one remembers, but shouldn't be forgotten? [New York Times]
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