Havre de Grace's Lafayette statue is a tribute to United States' Bicentennial, city's name
By Staff report
Jun 21, 2017 at 7:49 AM
The Havre de Grace Historic Preservation Commission recently received an inquiry from someone from the American Friends of Lafayette, who is compiling a list of all the Lafayette statues in the United States.
"He wanted to know the name of the artist who created the Havre de Grace statue. I have compiled a lot of historical information on buildings in HdG but didn't know the answer. I do know, however, that David Craig has a lot of historical information on our city and he kindly sent me an email containing the information that I was able to forward to Andy along with a photo," Marita O'Connell, a commission member, wrote in an email.
O'Connell found out that the artist and creator of the statue of Lafayette in Havre de Grace was Gary Siegel, with the New Arts Foundry in Baltimore.
The following information was provided by Craig:
"In 1975 the federal government put out a plan to have an Independence Day Bicentennial to celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The bicentennial was to take place in 1976 and they asked the states to prepare their own plans. Then the State of Maryland asked local governments to do events. The City created a commission to handle this and my mother, Mary E. Craig, was the secretary on the Commission.
"I went to the Commission and presented the idea of erecting a statue to Marquis de Lafayette. Since I was a history teacher I knew a great deal about him and his importance in fighting in the Revolutionary War. The other interesting thing may be that [my wife] Melinda, [son] Randy and I were living on Lafayette Street! The Commission placed me in charge of it and I started the work.
"The first thing I did was approach the Maryland College of Art in Baltimore. They had future sculptors graduating. I was introduced to Gary Siegel and asked him to do it. He made a small (two foot high) clay copy of what he proposed and the Commission approved it. Then we looked for the possible site and I suggested the area where it is because that was where he [Lafayette] first entered Havre de Grace since that was where the ferry existed that took people across the no-bridge river.
Helped name city
"Another reason for doing this statue was because Lafayette played a major role in re-naming the city. Prior to 1781 it was known as Lower Susquehanna. It was not a municipality at the time. Then, a French army traveled through and camped here on their way to the future battle at Yorktown, Va. While it was here local residents suggested that the place be renamed to Havre de Grace since many people had told them that it looked like Le Havre, France. The French officers agreed and presented the idea to Lafayette and he agreed and was given the credit for the official suggestion. When the place was charted in 1785, becoming the second official municipality in Maryland with continuous existence, it was named 'Havre de Grace.'
"While Gary was working on the statue, I was working on the fund raising for it. It was going to cost $13,500 which today would be closer to $135,000. I first approached Joseph L. Davis American Legion Post 47 and they agreed to help me.
"The City made a major contribution and so did 'The Aegis.' I was able to meet with the ambassador from France, as well as Lafayette's great-grandson. I did not ask them for money but wanted them to know what the City was doing and see if they could attend when the statue was dedicated. The great-grandson could not and the Ambassador eventually sent a designee. He also came up with the idea to put the name of the person or business on the base of the statue if they made a certain dollar amount donation; many did and we raised the needed funds."
The dedication of the statute took place in November 1976, according to Craig, who said there were several speakers before the statue itself was unveiled.
"In the late 1990s when that section of the state road was being reorganized we had Gary come and u-grade the statue to ensure that it would stay in good shape. It was moved slightly and placed on a new base. That was also the year that we put up the flagpoles. I had suggested that on July 14, which the French say is a day they say is their 'Independence Day,' that we put up a French flag especially since at the cemetery in Paris where Lafayette is buried they fly a U.S. flag and strangely enough even Hitler did not have it taken down during World War II."
'This was perfect'
Siegel, now 65, said Craig contacted him and told him about the plans for a sculpture to honor Lafayette. Siegel was 24 years old at the time and had recently graduated from the Maryland Institute College of Art, or MICA, in Baltimore with a major in sculpture.
"I was looking to work in my field, so this was perfect," he said Tuesday.
Siegel said he conducted research on Lafayette and visited the future site in Havre de Grace to take measurements and used the data to create drawings.
"I think it's put up there for the future, so when people grow up with this it becomes part of the landscape; it becomes part of something they identify with the community," he said. "It becomes ingrained, it's like a family member – it's always there."
Siegel said he "found it really interesting" how Lafayette came to help the American colonies in their fight against Great Britain.
Harford County’s “Choose Civility” campaign kicked off with a breakfast event at the Water’s Edge Events Center in Belcamp on Wednesday.
"He pretty much could do what he wanted because he came with his own army," he noted.
"After the American Revolution ended the State of Maryland made Lafayette a citizen of the state and then when the U.S. Constitution was created in 1787-89 and Maryland endorsed it that made him a citizen of the U.S. and it did say that his male descendants would also be U.S. citizens even if they lived in France," Craig continued. "When I met his great-grandson he told me that he met with President F. D. Roosevelt in the 1930s and was given something from him.
"Lafayette did come back to the U.S. in 1824 and toured the country. He did visit Havre de Grace briefly during this tour, but there was not a great deal to see then because the city had not restored itself well since the British invasion and burning of the town on May 3, 1813.
"We were told in 1977 that the State Government organization for the Bicentennial declared the Lafayette Statue in Havre de Grace to be the best Bicentennial event of the year."
"It may also be good to tell whoever is involved that when Havre de Grace was created as a town in 1785 (it became a city in 1878) that it named several streets after France: Lewis, spelled wrong but named after the king; Bourbon, after the king's family name; Girard, after ambassador-type person to the U.S.; and Fountain, where the king sometimes lived. You may also want to know that while I was on the city council in the early 1980s we created a 'Sister City' relationship with Le Havre and I do have a copy of a letter from a Havre de Grace boy who fought in France in World War II, visited Le Havre and said that they were right we do look alike.
"I know this is more information than you requested, but perhaps the American Friends of Lafayette will find it interesting."
David Craig would go on to serve on the Havre de Grace City Council, serve as city's mayor on two separate occasions, serve a term in the Maryland House of Delegates and a term in the Maryland State Senate and nine and a half years as Harford County Executive from 2005 to 2014. He is currently executive director of the Maryland World War I Centennial Commission.
Siegel lives in Baltimore County near Reisterstown. He owns the New Arts Foundry in Baltimore City, which he founded in 1978.
Bronze statues such as that of the late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, former Baltimore Raven Ray Lewis and the "Fearless Girl," which stands in front of the "Charging Bull" sculpture on Wall Street in New York City, have been cast at the New Arts Foundry, according to The Baltimore Sun.
Siegel said he built the foundry to cast the Lafayette sculpture for Havre de Grace, but doing bronze sculpture casting for other artists in the Mid-Atlantic region at the foundry is the primary way he has made his living since.