Spending Veterans Day with the Doughboy
Ever since Ralph Lee staged the first annual Halloween parade in the courtyard of Westbeth in 1973, October 31st has been a day of heavy reveling in Greenwich Village.
But that’s been covered. And anyway, today is Veteran’s Day, not Halloween, so what’s the connection? Well, fifty-two years prior to Lee’s first parade, on the afternoon of October 31st, 1921, a different kind of procession marched the Village streets to Abingdon Square, where over 20,000 people witnessed Mayor Hylan’s unveiling of the Abingdon Square Doughboy to commemorate those lost in World War I (Veteran’s Day actually began in 1919 as “Armistice Day,” commemorating the end of World War I on that date). It was reported that over 200 Gold Star Mothers (those who lost their sons in World War I battle) were in attendance that day.
Ninety years later, Off the Grid reflects on this enduring symbol of the bravery of Greenwich Village’s veterans.
The doughboy (nickname for “soldier”) honors those servicemen from the Village who gave their lives while serving in combat during the war. It is one of nine doughboy statues erected in NYC’s parks (fun fact: the same model posed for the Chelsea doughboy statue at Ninth Avenue & 28th Street). You can read about many of the Village’s World War I servicemen through the online exhibition of the Greenwich Village Bookshop door.
Said the Mayor at the ceremony (as per the NY Times), “I accept this statue so singularly expressive of the spirit of Abingdon Square… As we gaze upon this noble figure, it will ever remind us of the high purposes of a free nation and be a summons to follow the flag that gives to all beneath its protecting folds the right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. Of all who went forth at the call of their country, none brought more lustre to the shield of America than the men from this quarter of our city, of which Abingdon Square is the center.”
According to the NYC Parks Department, which oversees the statue, no one knows for sure from where the term “doughboy” was derived. “It was first used by the British in the late 18th and early 19th centuries to describe soldiers and sailors. In the United States the nickname was coined during the Mexican-American War (1846–1848), and was widely popularized during World War I (1914–1918) to refer to infantrymen.” The Parks Department restored the statue in 1993.
The Abingdon Square Doughboy was sculpted by Philip Martiny, who for many years worked out of a studio in the Village’s own MacDougal Alley. Martiny’s list of commissions was long and impressive (among other works, it included 24 statues on the Surrogate’s Court), but the Abingdon Square Doughboy was one of his last. The year of its completion, Martiny awoke paralyzed on his right side. The stroke would signal the end of his career; he died a few years later.
To read about other places that memorialize those served our nation, see our post on Memorial Day in the Village.