Yorktown Day

October 19, 2015

Today is the 234th anniversary of the victory at Yorktown, Virginia, in 1781, which effectively concluded the American War for Independence.

Monument to the Alliance and Victory, Yorktown

Victory Monument at Yorktown

During the summer of 1781 General Lafayette and a relatively small force in Virginia skirmished with the British troops in the south under the command of General Cornwallis. Toward the end of summer the British decided on a different strategy and Cornwallis pulled his forces back to the coast near Yorktown, unaware that a formidable fleet of French war ships, sent by Louis XVI, was on its way to Chesapeake Bay. Recognizing the opportunity to overwhelm the British in the south, General George Washington and the Comte de Rochambeau hurried to Virginia, bringing American and French troops from the north. The combined land forces, together with the French fleet, encircled the British in a siege at Yorktown. Cornwallis soon realized he had no choice but to surrender his forces.

Monument to the Alliance and Victory, Yorktown

“Erected in pursuance of a resolution of Congress adopted October 29 1781 and an act of Congress approved June 7 1880 to commemorate the victory by which the independence of the United States of America was achieved”

The Continental Congress acknowledged the significance of this victory and immediately in October 1781 authorized the construction of a commemorative monument, which it described as a “marble column, adorned with emblems of the alliance.”

Victory Monument at Yorktown

Monument to the Alliance and Victory
Yorktown Monument Commissioners, 1881
R.M. Hunt, Architect Chairman
Henry Van Brunt, Architect
J.Q.A. Ward, Sculptor
Oskar J.W. Hansen, Sculptor of Liberty, 1957

Work on the monument, however, did not begin until nearly a century later.

The cornerstone was laid as part of the centennial Yorktown Day celebration in 1881.

While the Monument to the Alliance and Victory was still under construction, the architect responsible for the design, Richard Morris Hunt, was selected to design the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty.

Pedestal of the Statue of Liberty, designed by Richard Morris Hunt

Pedestal of the Statue of Liberty

Richard Morris Hunt

Richard Morris Hunt

Hermione-Lafayette 2015

June 15, 2015

After a 31-day crossing of the Atlantic, the Hermione arrived in Yorktown, Virginia, on Friday, June 5. There were many festivities in Yorktown, reminiscent of the joyous greeting the original Hermione received in 1780. The Hermione will make 12 stops before returning to France: Yorktown, Mount Vernon, Alexandria, Annapolis, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, Greenport, Newport, Boston, Castine, and Lunenburg, Nova Scotia.

Hermione-Lafayette tour ticket


The Hermione in Yorktown

This beautifully hand-crafted ship was built in France as a replica of the 18th century ship that brought the Marquis de Lafayette back to America in 1780, during the American War for Independence. Lafayette had returned home to France to convince Louis XVI to send more aid, soldiers, and war ships to assist the Americans.

Hermione-Lafayette 2015

L’Hermione 2015

The crew, which includes many volunteers, trained for months in preparation for sailing across the Atlantic.

Graceland Cemetery

May 28, 2015

A couple of people have asked me recently whether it is all right for admirers of my father to visit his grave. Yes, certainly – I am glad friends and admirers visit. The cemetery also welcomes visitors. I only ask that, if you want to take flowers, please take cut flowers. The cemetery does not allow visitors to dig or plant in the ground.

A Walk Through Graceland Cemetery

A Walk Through Graceland Cemetery, guide to Graceland Cemetery by Barbara Lanctot, published by the Chicago Architecture Foundation (2011)

The Chicago Architecture Foundation publishes a nice guide to Graceland Cemetery. The book includes a map of the garden-style cemetery and descriptions of selected gravesites. A number of architects and engineers are buried at Graceland, including William Le Baron Jenney, Louis Sullivan, Daniel Burnham, and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Bruce Graham’s memorial stone is next to my father’s gravesite.

This is the description for my father.

Fazlur Khan, in A Walk Through Graceland Cemetery, A Chicago Architecture Foundation Tour

A Walk Through Graceland Cemetery, A Chicago Architecture Foundation Tour

Fazlur Khan, in A Walk Through Graceland Cemetery, A Chicago Architecture Foundation Tour (on pages 50 & 51)

The entrance to Graceland Cemetery is located at 4001 N. Clark Street. There is an office just inside the entrance where you can ask for directions (call about hours, the phone number is (773) 525-1105). Also, if you’re interested in the Chicago Architecture Foundation guide, the office has the book for sale.

In October 1886 the Statue of Liberty was unveiled in New York Harbor, bringing to completion a 21-year journey from conception of the idea to inauguration of the monument. The idea for an American liberty statue, to be collaboratively built by the French and the American people, was first suggested in France in 1865, at the end of the American Civil War. The French sponsors waited several years for the right moment to announce their idea for this ambitious project and to commence fundraising in France. In the years that followed, the design was finished; funds were raised, first in France and then in the US; the statue was constructed in Paris, then disassembled (with each piece labeled so the structure could be easily re-constructed in the US) and packed into crates; the 210 crates were shipped from France to New York Harbor, where a pedestal had been prepared on Bedloe’s Island (now Liberty Island); and the 151’-1” tall statue was erected. On October 28, 1886, after long anticipation, the Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World was joyfully unveiled on Bedloe’s Island. Near the end of a day filled with ceremony and festivity, President Stephen Grover Cleveland accepted and inaugurated the statue on behalf of the people of the United States. A deity “greater than all that have been celebrated in ancient song,” he remarked of this unprecedented symbol of a vision of life founded on liberty, opportunity, and justice, “she holds aloft the light which illumines the way to man’s enfranchisement.”

Happy anniversary Lady Liberty!


I was quite surprised to read, in a review of a new book about the Statue of Liberty, that little has been written about the statue!  I wondered, how could a book reviewer not know about my book, when Enlightening the World is even cited in the notes as a source?  The review was written by Eric Liebetrau of Kirkus Reviews, which provides a marketing service for authors; i.e., a book review and promotion. Now I wonder, is this becoming an acceptable, even common, practice in the industry?

The review also reminded me of how differently people interpret history. My telling of the statue’s story in Enlightening the World: The Creation of the Statue of Liberty differs significantly from this new book’s.

Here is a letter I wrote to the Boston Globe, which printed the Kirkus review:

Statue of Liberty’s story is viewed from many vantage points

In his review of “Liberty’s Torch” by Elizabeth Mitchell (“The sculptor and the statue,” g, July 19) Eric Liebetrau suggests that Mitchell fills a void in literature about the creation of the Statue of Liberty. Mitchell’s book is actually the latest in a series of recent books.

One of the interesting features distinguishing these books is each author’s interpretation of the statue’s story. Mitchell’s skepticism about the sculptor’s motives reflects the disbelief that Americans displayed even as the statue was under construction. This viewpoint downplays the inspirational experience of the sculptor’s first, 4-month-long visit to the United States, when he committed the next 15 years of his life to realizing an American liberty figure. It also questions the strength of French admiration for America’s Founding Fathers and what they achieved.

Yet there is no denying that the primary sponsor in France, Edouard Laboulaye, the man who shepherded the statue from idea into construction, dedicated his career to teaching US history, wrote a three-volume history of the United States, translated Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography, and – a full decade before conceiving of a liberty statue – wrote an engaging political novel based on the theme that “one is never cured of a yearning for freedom.”

Carol Harrison’s piece in the NY TImes features Édouard Laboulaye, the primary sponsor of the Statue of Liberty (he shepherded the statue from idea to construction). I appreciate her citing Enlightening the World as a source for her article.


From Harrison’s article:

“The survival of the Union at a great cost, including especially the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, spurred Laboulaye to imagine a monument commemorating French and American commitment to freedom. Famously, the Statue of Liberty was born at Laboulaye’s dining room table in an 1865 gathering. Among the guests was Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi, a sculptor whose ambition to build a modern colossus became part of Laboulaye’s project to erect a monument to liberty. A monument built by French and American efforts would act as a reminder of the “sympathy” between the nations; it would celebrate the survival of American liberty and perhaps remind French subjects of the Emperor Napoleon III of the peril to their own.”

Statue of Liberty, designed by Auguste Bartholdi, in Carol Harrison's Opinion piece Dr. Lefebvre's American Dream about Edouard Laboulaye

March 11, 2014

I could not help feeling a tinge of disappointment on hearing that the Sears (now Willis) Tower has lost its title as tallest building in North America to One World Trade Center in New York. But I was pleased that the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat executive director, in announcing the height of One World Trade Center, recalled the building designers’ early vision of a spire and beacon honoring the Statue of Liberty. The spire of One World Trade Center “which holds the beacon light,” he said, “shining out at the symbolic height of 1,776 feet, is especially poignant – echoing the similarly symbolic beacon atop the Statue of Liberty across the water.” In fact, in early drawings of 1WTC the designers showed the spire rising at one side of the tower (rather than centered on the roof).


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