The Hall of Fame for Great Americans

A Biography of Stanford White's Forgotten Memorial

  • Author(s): Gerami, Sheila
  • Series:
  • Imprint: University of Tennessee Press
  • Publication Date: 2024-03-29
  • Status: Available in Hardcover
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The Hall of Fame for Great Americans provides a window into the cultural changes taking place in the United States from the turn of the twentieth century into the twenty-first. This book is the first examination of the institutional and social history of America’s first hall of fame, from its dynamic opening in 1901 through its protracted decline in the late twentieth century and its brief return to relevancy in the early twenty-first century.

It also examines in depth what is arguably the least studied project of Stanford White, one of the most distinguished architects of the Gilded Age. Originally designed for New York University’s new campus in the Bronx, the Hall of Fame once housed ninety-eight bronze busts of men and women deemed “great Americans” within its elegant colonnade, including the likes of George Washington, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Booker T. Washington, Susan B. Anthony, and Robert E. Lee.

The Hall was conceived when the Great Man theory dominated American thought. However, as times changed, challenges to ideas concerning greatness and heroism grew, and heroes once celebrated were scrutinized for their flaws. The monument is now a shell of its former glory and largely forgotten, and the NYU campus that once housed the colonnade was eventually sold to Bronx Community College.

In 2017, following the violent demonstrations in Charlottesville, Virginia, by white supremacists attempting to prevent the removal of a monument to General Lee, Andrew Cuomo, then governor of New York, thrust the Hall of Fame back into the limelight by ordering the busts of Lee and Stonewall Jackson to be removed. This action joined a national trend to remove monuments deemed offensive. Gerami argues that the rise and fall of this institution mirrors the nation’s changing conception of what comprises a hero. This biography of a public art memorial answers questions about the importance of art history and the cultural evolution of what it means to be great in America.

SHEILA GERAMI received her MFA from the Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts at Bard College and her PhD from the Graduate Center at the City University of New York.