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Gloversville statues honor Littauer, others

April 25, 2014
By PETER BETZ , The Leader Herald

We drive past them frequently, one located downtown in front of old Estee high, the others at Kingsboro Park, but how often have we taken any real notice of Gloversville's prominent statues and the men they honor, Lucius N. Littauer, Dr. Elisha Yale and Horace Sprague? Nor do we ask how these finely crafted sculptures got where they are, or what skilled artists crafted them.

Erection of the statue honoring Lucius N. Littauer had its origin in 1927 when Gloversville businessman W. Ellison Mills formed an "observance committee" of Chamber of Commerce volunteers to promote a "Littauer Day" honoring the Littauer family, and Lucius Littauer in particular, for the gift of Nathan Littauer Hospital and many other charitable contributions to Gloversville.

The Aug. 31, 1927, Amsterdam Evening Recorder related, "The idea of paying special tribute to the Honorable Lucius N. Littauer, the city's foremost benefactor, which originated in the mind of Judson Zimmer, was enthusiastically received at the outset and the eleven prominent business and professional men assembled at yesterday's conference discussed tentative plans for launching the movement." The committee must have worked quickly, since the date for Littauer Day was fixed as Sept. 28.

The history of Gloversville's several Littauer Days is not the subject of this article, but for the fact that the erection of the Littauer statue was a direct byproduct. Lucius Littauer evidently felt deeply honored by this 1927 tribute event. Although he had already given much to the city, he very quickly announced yet another gift, Littauer Pool.

The Oct. 27, 1927, a Morning Herald editorial lauded Littauer for announcing he would now fund a municipal swimming pool. The editor remarked, "This time it is a swimming hole that Gloversville's benefactor would provide. What a boon to the youngsters - and to the older ones for that matter - such a swimming place would be!" Littauer Pool was officially dedicated at 1928's Littauer Day, following speeches and a large parade from downtown Gloversville to the West Street site.

At this point, Gloversville's community leaders decided it was high time to show Lucius Littauer the city's appreciation. On Dec. 11, 1928, the Morning Herald headlined, "Board Approves Statue Tribute to L. Littauer."

"The Gloversville Board of Education adopted a resolution consenting to the erection of a life-sized monument of Gloversville's leading citizen at the corner of the high school property." The request to erect the statue at that location came from the Littauer Day Committee. "Immediately after the tremendous ovation accorded him (Mr. Littauer) on Littauer Day a year ago, plans were formulated for such a monument. It is estimated the cost will be $30,000.00."

Who would sculpt it? "Already a part of the work has been completed by Victor Frisch, well-known sculptor of New York. A model in clay was exhibited at the meeting last night." Frisch, the paper added, had been a student of Rodin.

June 22, 1929, was a banner day of celebration in Gloversville when Lucius Littauer's life-size bronze statue was unveiled on the Estee campus before a cheering crowd.

"A large parade with music by the Estee Marching Band and Drum Corps preceded the unveiling." From a follow-up article, we learn the entire event was filmed. "The cameramen filmed the parade just before it turned the corner at the High School. Mr. Littauer will be shown speaking his appreciation." One can't help wonder what became of that.

While covering the statue's unveiling, the Morning Herald observed that it was unusual for a man to be so highly honored while still living.

Usually, statues were only erected after someone was long dead. So it was in the cases of two other Gloversville memorials, those dedicated to Dr. Elisha Yale, first Presbyterian pastor of Kingsborough, already deceased almost 80 years, and Horace Sprague, principal of Kingsborough Academy, dead 72 years.

Perhaps it was the successful erection of Lucius Littauer's statue that caused Mrs. Ruth Parsons to include in her will a donation of "not less than $20,000 and not more than $30,000, from which will be reared the memorials to Dr. Elisha Yale and Schoolmaster Horace Sprague, both dominant figures in the early life of Kingsborough Settlement."

While the Lucius Littauer statue's sculptor, Frisch, was a respected artist, Elisha Yale's statue sculptor, Augustus Lukeman, was also much acclaimed. Of him, the Morning Herald of April 21, 1932, observed, "The fact that Augustus Lukeman is modeling the Yale statue has aroused considerable interest in art circles. Art lovers are watching with interest to see how a great contemporary sculptor will manage a theme." Lukeman was a good fit because his specialty was creating memorials of historical people and events. He was already well known for his Kit Carson Memorial in Trinidad, Colorado and the Stone Mountain Confederate Soldier Memorial in Georgia.

Both the Eisha Yale statue and the stone tribute to Horace Sprague were dedicated the same day, June 16, 1932. On that occasion, the Morning Herald thoughtfully observed, "The chief significance of the dedication today of two monuments is recognition of the faith that church and school, working in close cooperation, can cause great changes in the life of a community."

Few if any Gloversvillians who attended the Littauer, Yale and Sprague monument dedication ceremonies remain living, but the memorials remain to remind us of the important contributions made by those whom they honor.

Peter Betz, a former Fulton County historian, lives in Fort Johnson.



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