Puffles and Honey are in the Bronx and they are not lost!
They left the island of Manhattan to visit the Hall of Fame for Great Americans, an outdoor sculpture gallery, located on the grounds of Bronx Community College in the Bronx, New York City. The Hall of Fame was the vision of Dr. Henry Mitchell McCracken, a chancellor of New York University who sought to build a pantheon of great Americans on what was then NYU’s uptown campus. When the Hall of Fame opened in 1901, there were 29 inductees, including George Washington, the first and only unanimously elected member. Since then, scientists, politicians, inventors, artists and scholars have been added. The Hall of Fame for Great Americans was the first official Hall of Fame celebrating the people who helped form the identity of the United States. It was conceived in an era when fame had not yet morphed into celebrity, when fame was still renown and contribution to society.
The Hall of Fame attracted national attention in the early years, the elections to induct members were covered by the national press, and it was even mentioned in “The Wizard of Oz” – The Munchkins tell Dorothy:
From now on you’ll be history.
You’ll be hist, you’ll be hist, you’ll be history.
And we will glorify your name.
You will be a bust, be a bust, be a bust
In the Hall of Fame!
The Hall of Fame for Great Americans outlived its glory years ago. Also, the University Heights section of the Bronx has never been a tourist mecca. At the risk of stating the blinking obvious, the Bronx looks nothing like Manhattan! Its last class of inductees, in which a board of 100 distinguished electors chose from candidates nominated by the public, was in 1976 – Clara Barton, the founder of the American Red Cross; Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis; Luther Burbank, the horticulturist; and Andrew Carnegie, the philanthropist. They were never ennobled with bronze busts or plaques, because by then the campus had gone bankrupt and had been sold to Bronx Community College, which still maintains the site. The last installation of a bust was Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s in 1992, a ceremony 19 years in the making. One wonders what the contemporary students of this school – who are mostly black and Latino – think of the Hall of Fame. Of the 98 members enshrined in it, only two are black and there are no Latinos, no Native Americans, Jews or even Catholics.
The first recent major event celebrating the Hall of Fame took place in October 2015 when Bronx Community College participated in the Open House New York Weekend.
The Hall of Fame is a breezy 190 meters long open-air neo-classical colonnade with a vaulted ceiling, wrapped around the back of two college halls and a library. Designed by the celebrated architect Stanford White and financed by a gift from Mrs. Finley J. Shepard (Helen Gould) to New York University, the Hall of Fame was formally dedicated on May 30, 1901.
The complex of three buildings adjoining the Colonnade – Gould Memorial Library, the Hall of Languages and Cornelius Baker Hall of Philosophy – were also designed by Stanford White and bear a close conceptual relationship to the Colonnade, with the library as the central focus. These three buildings were among the first constructed on the University Heights campus – Language Hall (1894), Gould Memorial Library (1899) and Philosophy Hall (1912).
The bronze busts that line the Colonnade are original works by distinguished American sculptors. Among the master sculptors represented here are Daniel Chester French, sculptor of the Lincoln Memorial; James Earl Fraser, whose work includes the figures of “Justice” and “Law” for the U.S. Supreme Court, and Frederick MacMonnies, whose reliefs grace Fifth Avenue’s Washington Arch. The Hall of Fame’s 98 portrait busts have been called “the largest and finest collection of bronze busts anywhere in [the US].” The categories of occupation or endeavor represented in the Hall of Fame are authors, educators, architects, inventors, military leaders, judges, theologians, philanthropists, humanitarians, scientists, statesmen, artists, musicians, actors, and explorers.
The Colonnade was designed with niches to accommodate 102 sculptured works and currently houses the busts and commemorative plaques of 98 of the 102 honorees elected since 1900. The large bronze plaques beneath the busts were designed by the Tiffany Studios, providing the person’s name, years of birth and death, and an inscription of significant statements made by the man or woman honored – but no information about who they were, or why they were so great. The well-heeled visitors of the early 20th century didn’t need to be told that, for example, Elias Howe patented the sewing machine, or that Lewis Agassiz came up with the idea of the Ice Age. But today’s visitors are at a loss, something that the founders of this Hall never foresaw.
Among those represented in the Hall of Fame are a few scientific pioneers: Alexander Graham Bell, Samuel F. B. Morse, Thomas Alva Edison, Albert Abraham Michelson (the first American to receive the Nobel Prize in science), George Westinghouse; two astronomers: Simon Newcomb and Maria Mitchell; and two great American physicists: Joseph Henry and Josiah Willard Gibbs.
Bronx Community College is working on a $25-$50 million campaign to renovate Gould Memorial Library, which the neo-classical Hall of Fame colonnade surrounds. A portion of the money would go toward developing space in the library where new members to the Hall could be added. The interior of the Gould Memorial Library is richly decorated in marble, stone, mosaic, wood, bronze, and Tiffany glass, and features one of the most breathtaking rotundas in the city.
The Hall of Fame and Gould Memorial Library were designated City Landmarks in 1966, with the library interior following in 1981.
The Bronx has another marvel, the Bronx High School of Science, one of the top schools in New York and the country and the high school with the highest number of Nobel Prize winners among its graduates in the US! Founded in 1938, the first graduating class was in 1941. Within 10 years, 5 graduates would later be awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics. Two others joined them for a total of 7. The eight Nobel Prize winner is in chemistry.
Leon N. Cooper ’47, Brown University awarded the 1972 Nobel Prize in Physics
Sheldon L. Glashow ’50, Boston University, awarded the 1979 Nobel Prize in Physics
Steven Weinberg ’50, University of Texas at Austin, awarded the 1979 Nobel Prize in Physics
Melvin Schwartz ’49, Columbia University, awarded the 1988 Nobel Prize in Physics
Russell A. Hulse ’66, Princeton University, awarded the 1993 Nobel Prize in Physics
H. David Politzer ’66, California Institute of Technology, awarded the 2004 Nobel Prize in Physics
Roy J. Glauber ’41, Harvard University, awarded the 2005 Nobel Prize in Physics
Robert J. Lefkowitz ’59, Duke University, awarded the 2012 Nobel Prize in Chemistry
The American Physical Society recognized Bronx High School of Science as a Historic Physics Site. The Society recognizes several sites a year as Historic Physics Site. Some sites chosen have been the California laboratory where the first working laser was constructed, the site in Shelter Island, NY, where a 1946 conference on quantum mechanics was held, and many research universities, with Bronx High School of Science being the first high school recognized.
The Bronx High School of Science is one of three special schools in New York that ended up at the centre of bitter political battles that culminated in the Hecht-Calandra Bill in 1971, which mandated that admission to these three schools be decided “solely and exclusively by taking a competitive, objective and scholastic achievement examination”. The bill was later amended somewhat to encourage minority students to apply – “The special schools shall be permitted to maintain a Discovery Program to give disadvantaged students of demonstrated high potential an opportunity to try the special high school program without in any manner interfering with the academic level of those schools”.