As mentioned in my previous post, today - October 29, 2010 - marks the centennial of the original dedication ceremony of the Fr. Corby statue at Gettysburg. The previous post described the fundraising efforts for the statue. Today's post will describe the crafting of the statue and newspaper coverage of the 1910 dedication.
You will learn much more about Fr. Corby and the statue in my forthcoming book, Notre Dame and the Civil War: Marching Onward to Victory (The History Press, Dec 2010).
The statue committee commissioned Samuel Aloysius Murray to craft the statue. A native of Philadelphia, Murray began his artistic studies at the ageof seventeen under the tutelage of the renowned American painter and sculptor Thomas Eakins. Murray was an ideal choice for the Father Corby statue: he had strong ties to Philadelphia’s Irish Catholic community,and by the turn of the century he had become one of America’s mostpromising artisans. His works won recognition at expositions in America and in Europe and are prominent in Philadelphia and Washington,D.C. His most ambitious piece, the Goddess of Victory and Peace atop the Pennsylvania State Memorial, shares the Gettysburg battlefield with his statue of Father Corby.
In 1910, Murray proceeded quickly with the model and with the final casting. The unveiling was scheduled for later in the year, but unfortunately the statue’s greatest patron did not live to see the day: General St. Clair Mulholland died on February 17, 1910. He literally worked on the statue until the day he passed, so concerned was he that his cherished project would fail. Henry A. Daily, a member of the statue commitee, remembered:
“a few hours before [Mulholland] died, he sent for me and I then assured him that the monument need give him no concernas I felt that the erection of the monument…was as certain as if the statuewas at that time in place.”
Trains began arriving in Gettysburg on Friday, October 28, 1910. That evening a “camp fire” was held in a town hall, where children from the local Catholic school sang songs such as “Tenting Tonight on the Old Camp Ground” and dignitaries such as University of Notre Dame president Father John Cavanaugh delivered speeches. By one o’clock onSaturday afternoon, as church bells rang, hundreds more visitors had arrived by train and had begun assembling on the battlefield (on Hancock Avenue) for the ceremony. Walter George Smith, a noted Philadelphia lawyer and master of ceremonies, declared:
We are assembled to commemorate an event unique in the history of the great Civil War…The pages of history glow with the records of deeds and heroism done on land and sea by officers, soldiers and sailors, who illustrated courage on both sides of the mighty conflict, and with fitting appreciation…the scenes they have immortalized have been marked by grateful people, but now for the first time a monument has been erected to perpetuate the memory of a deed done directly for the glory of God and the salvation of the human soul. Amid these triumphant monuments of soldiers we have placed the presentment of a priest…performing one of the most sacred functions of his office…We may hope that it will bring to the minds of every traveler upon this field for generations yet unborn…the name and deed of the heroic Chaplain.
After additional speeches and a benediction, a young girl pulled a flag covering the bronze statue of Father Corby, hat and gloves at his feet, left hand over his heart and his right arm raised in absolution. “There was no attempt at ostentation or display,” a local newspaper reported, “but as the folds of the Stars and Stripes dropped and revealed the figure ofthe revered father…the entire audience stood for a moment of silence in token of their regard, esteem and respect for the man whose memorywas so fittingly honored today.”