Vintage Views: Distinctive shadows of my youth

  • The Daniel Webster Statue is pictured on the grounds of the New Hampshire State House in Concord where it was dedicated on Jan. 17, 1886. WENDY SPAIN / For the Monitor

For the Monitor
Published: 7/2/2022 4:02:52 PM
Modified: 7/2/2022 4:00:13 PM

When I was just a young child wandering the town of Concord, my thoughts were always with the history of this place that I lived. I wandered the cemeteries where many of my ancestors rested eternally. I climbed Rattlesnake Hill and swam in the cold spring fed quarries not fully aware of the fact that my grandfathers before me spent their days there as quarrymen. I walked along the great Merrimack River where my ancestors once found relief from the summer heat. I visited the many old shops and buildings along Main Street where my ancestors rode the trolley a century before. Yes, I walked about this little town called Concord with great anticipation in my youth, this place where I wondered about those who came before me.

One of my favorite stops during my summer travels was the New Hampshire State House yard, this grand place that boasted old statues of people that I did not know. On sunny afternoons I would stand in the shadows that these great men cast across the yard as the afternoon slowly turned to evening. I read the words that were engraved on the monuments and often wondered who they were and what they did to have a statue erected in their image. Such an innocent thought for this young boy decades ago, this young boy that still lives within me, inquisitive until the end. As the years passed, I researched and researched every aspect of Concord history that I could find. I visited my family members at the Old North Cemetery and Blossom Hill, wondering what it was like to live in the Concord of long ago.

As most us of realize when we become adults, there are only so many minutes in one day. We become educated, we marry and we have children. We strive to build a successful career and then work the extra hours that might result in a promotion, so that we can work longer hours for a few extra shillings. It is a natural process and for better or worse it is just what we do. As I aged, that little boy that lived within returned in some shape or form, I started thinking about history a little more each year. The years have been good to me and my family and I now have the opportunity to delve deeply into the history of Concord. Not just the published history that we read in a book but a history that can be related to. It was with these thoughts in mind that I ventured back to the New Hampshire State House yard recently, I found the same monuments honoring the same men and began researching the history surrounding some of these people that were so revered by our ancestors.

I visited with our dear friend Daniel Webster this week, this great man that resides to this day in front of the New Hampshire State House. The Statue of Daniel Webster is a work of art, detailed and mesmerizing. It was dedicated in a ceremony at the New Hampshire State House yard on Thursday, June 17, 1886. It was presented to the State of New Hampshire by Benjamin Pierce Cheney from Boston. The ceremony surrounding the dedication of the Webster Statue is simply amazing, it was attended by over 30,000 people on this day and given full civic and military honors. People arrived in Concord for the dedication from all over the United States with the governors of five states attending. There were scores of dignitaries in attendance while the New Hampshire National Guard, three regiments of infantry, one field battery and a full troop of calvary were brought into line. The Amoskeag Veterans, Manchester Cadets, High School Cadets were special escorts for our governor followed by the National Guard. The parade marched the streets about our town up Main Street and halted at the New Hampshire State House where guests passed between lines of soldiers to enter the dedication. Judge George Nesmith was a dear friend of Daniel Webster and mounted the raised platform with some assistance at his advanced age. Gilbert Marston relieved the judge and continued the ceremony as orator after orator, governor after governor and friend after friend read their tributes to the man they honored this day in 1886.

The Daniel Webster Statue is bronze and was designed by Thomas Ball of Florence, Italy. Castings were made in Munich for this eight-foot-tall statue weighing 2,000 pounds. The base is a light bronze 32- by 30-inches and supporting the stately figure of Daniel Webster. Webster himself is arrayed in an old-style dress suit with his large coat closed around him and buttoned by two single buttons. His lapels are broad with a rolling collar disclosing a plain shirt bosom. The trousers are full and flowing and the vest buttons can be seen below the coat. His neck is dressed with a stock and broad turned down collar.

The pose is so very stately, eloquent in my opinion for this man from centuries ago. His arms remain forever at his sides with his thumb and index finger opened and the remaining fingers slightly closed. In his left hand he firmly holds a manuscript that is partially open with his head so very lifelike.

The base was cut from Rattlesnake Hill and carved by local quarryman John Fox, following the Boston architects plans in detail. The granite base is a single stone, 9 feet square and weighs 11 tons. The plinth is 6½ square feet, 4 feet high and weighs 13 tons. The entire height of the base and statue is 17 ½ feet and cost $12,000 in 1886. The engraving is particular and informing; Daniel Webster is cut and polished on the front with the other three sides telling the observer that Webster was born on Jan. 18, 1782, in Salisbury, N.H., the date of the gift presentation on Jan. 18, 1886, and the date of his death on Oct. 24, 1852, at Marshfield, Mass.

Presented by Benjamin Pierce Cheney to the State of New Hampshire Jan. 18, 1886 on the anniversary of the day that Webster was born 104 years prior in Salisbury, N.H. The dedication ceremony was held six months later on June 17, 1886.

It is here that I stand today in the shadows of my youth, still fascinated by the history that surrounds each and every one of us. History hidden in plain sight that beckons the inquisitive to discover more.

Vintage Views is a local history column that explores Concord and its surrounding towns. It runs every week in the Sunday Your Life section. The author is a historian and not a member of the Monitor’s staff.

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