Most Philadelphians are familiar with this commanding-looking statue of General George Washington, which sits in Eakins Oval at the base of the "Rocky Steps" in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Few Philadelphians know that it was given as a gift to the City of Philadelphia by the State Society of the Cincinnati of Pennsylvania.
The memorial was unveiled in 1897 in a grand ceremony attended by President William McKinley, the Governors of Pennsylvania and New Jersey, the French Ambassador, and a crowd of thousands. The military parade included nearly 12,000 soldiers, sailors, and guardsmen from the U.S. and France. This was followed by a lantern-lit parade of over 10,000 bicyclists ("wheelmen" were a powerful political and social force in 1890s America).
A book was published to commemorate the event, and we have scanned some of the pictures and the list of participants in the planning, eating, marching, and bicycling done in celebration of the unveiling. We have even included some of the shorter speeches. Enjoy!
The memorial was designed by sculptor Rudolf Siemering. The sculpture was originally located at the Green Street entrance to Fairmount Park, but it was moved in 1928 to its present location after construction of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway was completed.
In 1997, the Pennsylvania Society contributed to the restoration of the statue by the Philadelphia Art Commission. Over the years, the sculpture had loosened from its base, and the fountain had ceased to function properly. The restoration was completed in June of that year, 100 years after it was dedicated.
Here is a link to an audio discussion of the statue, featuring Robert Harris Sproat, past president of the Pennsylvania Society, whose great-grandfather was on the committees that presented the statue to the City of Philadelphia.
The bronze and granite sculpture features a uniformed George Washington mounted on a horse. Washington and his horse are poised on top of the fountain, facing southeast down the Benjamin Franklin Parkway towards Philadelphia City Hall. The face of the sculpture was made from an impression of the former president made while he was still alive. The lowest level of the monument features Native Americans and animals that are native to the United States.