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ALBANY (TNS) — The statue of the swashbuckling, caped Philip Schuyler has disappeared from its place in front of Albany City Hall. The old general no longer stands in the sunlight, but hidden in the apparent gloom of an unidentified warehouse.

Guilderland resident Dave Smith is concerned about the loss of history.

Not the story of Schuyler, a hero of the Revolutionary War. The story of George and Theodora Hawley.

It was George Hawley who came up with the idea of ​​erecting the Schuyler statue in 1923 to honor his wife Theodora, who had died the previous year. He brought the idea to then-Mayor William Hackett, who immediately recommended that the City Council accept the donation.

Of course it was. The bronze statue, sculpted by J. Massey Rhind, was erected in 1925, following a parade and “an elaborate ceremony,” according to a Times Union article at the time.

And there Schuyler stood for nearly 100 years, looking up Washington Avenue and guarding City Hall, until, as many readers know, in 2020, Mayor Kathy Sheehan ordered him to be taken down “as soon as possible.” The reason was Schuyler’s past as a slave owner and, Sheehan said, the pain the statue’s prominent placement caused some city employees.

“As soon as possible” turned into three years. The city took Schuyler down from his pedestal last June; a promised new location has not yet been announced, as the statue is in storage somewhere.

Smith, 79, a retired state employee who was born and raised in Albany, doesn’t want to revive the bitter debate over whether the statue’s removal was appropriate. He contacted me because he wants the Hawleys to be remembered.

“If you put aside the racial issues, it’s a story,” Smith said. “It’s a love story.”

Smith himself knew nothing of the couple until the argument. But he was fascinated by how the statue came to be, did some research and found in the donation evidence of a proud era in Albany’s history – a time when the rapidly growing city was determined to make itself more impressive and beautiful.

George Hawley, heir to a brewing fortune, actually hoped his donation would spark an initiative to adorn Albany with more monuments commemorating the city’s rich history. Schuyler, he thought, was the perfect starting point, given his achievements as a New York representative, U.S. senator, and important figure in the Revolutionary War.

“I believe that no greater patriot, eminent statesman, or nobler citizen can be found in the pages of our history,” Hawley wrote in a letter to Hackett. “His devotion to his country in the hour of its greatest need is worthy of imitation by the youth of the land, and no one will deny him the highest place in the hearts of his countrymen.”

Hawley, of course, did not mention slavery. His portrayal of Schuyler was free of errors and complexities.

In any case, the Hawleys were well known in the city at the time. Both came from prominent families, their 1892 wedding was considered “a notable occasion,” and they settled into a prominent mansion on Madison Avenue that now houses the Huether School of Business at the College of Saint Rose. (May it rest in peace.)

Described as someone who “cared little for the ordinary ceremonies of formal society,” Theodora was an accomplished musician whose death, according to the Times Union, “was mourned by thousands whose lives she had illuminated.”

The couple loved flowers and gardening and were known for donating bouquets from their famous greenhouses to the sick. Their 33 years of marriage were blissful, according to the Times Union, until Theodora died at age 53.

And so history buff George Hawley decided to honor his wife with the Schuyler statue.

A century later, that decision seemed odd to the Albany High School students commissioned by Sheehan to create the statue. According to a report by the Young Abolitionist Leadership Institute at the Underground Railroad Museum, “the teenagers wondered why a male statue that reminds viewers of the duties of man and citizen was deemed appropriate to honor a woman.”

This question was addressed and more or less answered in Charles H. Johnson’s speech at the unveiling of the statue, which was full of gender conventions of the time.

“This union of memories, the commemoration of the man in the memory of the woman, is the ideal and fitting human combination,” said Johnson, “for in life this virile, masterful man possessed the tenderness and compassion of a woman, and this woman combined with her sweet feminine personality the masculine virtues of courage and endurance.”

And so it was, until it wasn’t.

On Friday, the spot where the general had once stood was a circle of bare earth, devoid of plants, flowers or life. George and Theodora Hawley, lovers of beauty and gardens, would not approve.

(c)2024 Times Union (Albany, NY)

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