Chester Arthur: the statue that kept losing its glasses

Sculptor: George Edwin Bissell
Architect: James Brown Lord
Dedicated: 1899

When serving as the 21st president of the United States, Chester Arthur exceeded all expectations. This was due in large part to the fact that nobody expected that much . . .

One of the least-remembered presidents, he was known during his lifetime to be an exceptional dresser, a bon vivant, and a connoisseur of the finer things in life . Nicknamed the “Gentleman Boss” or “Prince Arthur”, he owned 80 pairs of trousers.

Chester Arthur was elected in 1880 to serve as vice president under James Garfield. Arthur was expected to be little more than a political pawn for the powerful New York political boss Roscoe Conkling (whose statue graces the other end of the park). In 19th-century politics the title of vice president led to no further career prospects—it was essentially a political dead-end! Unless the president happened to be assassinated, that is . . .

After James Garfield was assassinated by a mentally unstable individual less than four months into his presidency, Chester Arthur assumed the title of US president. And to everyone’s great surprise, Chester Arthur proved to be an honest and capable leader.

When he died, a monument was erected at his gravesite in Albany. But amazingly, the funds initially collected for the gravesite monument proved sufficient to build another monument—this time in Madison Square Park, which is in close proximity to Arthur’s former residence .

The monument depicts Chester Arthur standing up from his armchair; he holds a book in his left hand, suggesting that he was interrupted from his reading. It’s quite possible that the sculptor captured the moment when Chester Arthur had just learned of James Garfield’s death and that he, Chester A. Arthur, just became the 21st president of the United States.

Arthur’s right hand held his reading glasses . . . but not for long. Pretty soon after the statue was unveiled, some thief stole the presidential glasses. The sculptor, George Bissell, attempting to restore the integrity of Arthur’s monument, made another pair . . . which were also stolen a few years later! Bissell created yet another pair, but after the third pair of metal glasses were stolen, the sculptor gave up. Chester Arthur’s right hand remains empty to this day.

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