by Nicole Meldahl
"This is a statue of a worthy man and a gift of a worthy San Franciscan. May it inspire us, in peace and in war." --Mayor James Rolph, at the dedication of the General John J. Pershing statue in Golden Gate Park, November 11, 1922.
Location: Golden Gate Park, Music Concourse
Artist: Haig Patigian (Armenia, 1876-1950)
Benefactor: Dr. Morris Herzstein (Germany, d. 1927)
Dedicated: November 11, 1922 - Armistice Day
Inscription: "In tribute to General Pershing and the victorious armies of the United States and her co-belligerents during the World War 1914-1918. Presented by Dr. Morris Herzstein, 1922."
The story behind the General John J. Pershing statue tucked just off the Music Concourse behind the Francis Scott Key Monument in Golden Gate Park feels like the beginning of a tall tale, the kind that meanders but is worth the wait at the end. It goes: an artist, a doctor, a politician, and a newspaperman all walk into a bar…
Alright, maybe not THAT kind of story. However, this a statue that remembers not only the first great world war, but also a beloved military man with tragic ties to San Francisco. It was commissioned by a philanthropic surgeon, an immigrant from Germany seemingly determined to prove himself patriotic as his country of choice fought his fatherland, but it became a reality thanks to the tireless promotion of a (recently) controversial Congressman. Both of these men, as well as the prolific Bay Area sculptor responsible for the bronze piece, also had significant ties to the M.H. de Young Memorial Museum nearby. So, what we thought we be a simple story about a statue turned out to be a much larger tale about how San Francisco survived and chose to remember World War I; it's a story that holds meaning beyond the figure memorialized in bronze.
General John J. Pershing
John J. Pershing, a native of Missouri, graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and went out into a world of war. In one way or another, he was connected to most major conflicts of the late 19th- and early 20th-centuries: the Sioux Wars in the 1891; the Spanish American and Philippine-American Wars from 1898-1902; the Russo-Japanese War in 1905; the Mexican Border War from 1910-1919; World War I from 1917-1919; and World War II, as an outspoken advocate for military aid to the United Kingdom as early as 1940.
At the beginning of 1914, he took command of the 8th Brigade at the Presidio of San Francisco where his wife, Helen, and their four children - ;Mary, Francis, Anne, and little Helen - ;settled. He almost immediately deployed to Fort Bliss, Texas in the Spring of 1914 as tensions escalated between the United States and Mexico. Tragically, his family was finalizing arrangements to join him at the border when a fire broke out at the Pershings' Presidio home in the early morning hours of August 27, 1915; his wife and three daughters died from smoke inhalation, but his son survived. His sister and son joined him in Texas as he embarked on the Mexican Punitive Expedition in which he's best known for spearheading the capture of Pancho Villa. The prestige of this campaign put his name at the forefront as the United States prepared to enter World War I. After the sudden death of Major General Frederick Funston, Pershing's superior in Mexico who was initially tapped to lead our troops abroad, he was selected as Commander of the American Expeditionary Forces (A.E.F.).
We won't delve into a military history here but the way in which he conducted himself and the AEF in World War I earned him international acclaim. In comparison with other high-ranking officers, there was a humanness about him and Pershing often personally impacted those he met. The death of his young wife and daughters endeared him to many, and several Bay Area women who served as Telephone Operators with the U.S. Army Signal Corps in France during the war, like Mildred Lewis, made reference to his kind, sad eyes. This ability to connect with people is directly responsible for his statue in Golden Gate Park.
Pershing crossed paths with Congressman Julius Kahn and his personal physician, Dr. Morris Hertzstein, in Chaumont while the pair were on an official trip to France visiting "the scenes of war" shortly after the Armistice and the adjournment of Congress that year. Congressman Kahn recalled the impression Pershing left on Dr. Herzstein. "We learned what a tremendous thing he had done in insisting the American soldiers sent to fight must fight as an American army, and in gaining his end despite the determined attempts of the British and French to have the Americans fight as subordinated units of their forces."[i] Details like this weren't yet known to civilians at home due to wartime censorship, and Dr. Herzstein was "deeply impressed with what General Pershing and other forces under his command had done and done without full realization of it by our people at home."[ii] This is when he decided to erect a monument to Pershing and his A.E.F. in San Francisco.
Dr. Herzstein commissioned a well-known local sculptor named Haig Patigian to begin work on a statue that would be years in the making. Dr. Herzstein was patient, and the sculptor had to balance this work with unforeseen complications and additional commissions. The son of missionaries, Patigian was born in Armenia in 1876 and came to California with his family at the age of 15, settling in Fresno where he worked as a vineyard laborer and a sign painter. He moved to San Francisco in 1899, enrolling at the Mark Hopkins Institute and earning wages in the art department at the San Francisco Bulletin. The first decade of the 20th-century was marked by hardship for Haig as the Patigian family lost four members to consumption and the city was devastated by the 1906 earthquake and fire. He left San Francisco and moved to Paris, where his work was critically well-received, returning at the end of 1907 to marry Blanche Hollister - ;daughter of the late Dwight Hollister, a wealthy California pioneer and former member of the California Legislature.
The pair lived in a home on Russian Hill known as "The Gables" and Patigian's career gained traction from his Van Ness Avenue studio. He became a popular member of the Bohemian Club and made a living from his art, to the confusion of a registration clerk who took pause when Patigian listed his profession as "sculptor" while registering for the primary election in 1910. (The clerk asked if he meant to put down "stone mason" instead, and Patigian indignantly corrected him.) He sketched and painted but primarily worked in bronze and marble, producing traditional sculptures well as architectural adornments. He was hired to design large spandrals and four heroic statues mounted to the exterior of the Palace of Machinery at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition (PPIE) in 1915. Although this was torn down at the close of the fair, his architectural work can still be seen on the exterior pediment of the former Metropolitan Life Insurance Building (now a Ritz Carlton Hotel) at 600 Stockton.
As Word War I came to a close, a worldwide influenza pandemic took hold of civilians and soldiers alike - ;spreading the war's casualties beyond the battlefields. Entire sections of local cemeteries show the impact of this virus in the Fall and Winter of 1918. In late December of that year, Patigian was admitted to St. Mary's Hospital with symptoms of the influenza in critical condition, and he wouldn't recover until February of 1919.
The Greatest War Exhibit in the West
Meanwhile, Congressman Kahn and Dr. Herzstein were focused on memorializing the Great War beyond the mere erection of a statue. Dr. Herzstein was well-off; since arriving in California from Germany in the 1890s, he supplemented his income as a successful surgeon with money earned from the acquisition and sale of property in San Francisco. He traveled liberally throughout Europe where he also liberally purchased fine art, antiquities, and other decorative artifacts. He was a member of the San Francisco Club's Golden Gate Park Memorial Museum (as the de Young Museum was then known) endowment committee, and, as such, was an active donor. In 1916, he donated a life-size figure of Cleopatra and a sculpture of Jeanne d'Arc by the Italian sculptor Rafaello Romanelli, as well as a bronze reproduced by Chiurazzi of Naples from the original by Giovanni Balogna in the Bargello Museum at Florence. But his donations showcased a range of collecting, everything from pottery shards from Cyprus to an ancient Hebrew manuscript of the Book of Esther.
In February 1919, just as Patigian was recovering from influenza, M.H. de Young announced plans for a new building to replace the original 1894 structure that had been heavily damaged in the 1906 earthquake. The end of de Young's announcement was marked with the presentation of a "beautiful floral piece" from Dr. Herzstein with the inscription, "From one of many grateful citizens."[iii] Louis Christian Mullgardt, known for his work at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition (PPIE), was the primary designer for the new building and he hired PPIE colleague Haig Patigian to design architectural sculpture work for the tympanum. As plans for his new building progressed, M.H. de Young also made plans to expand and refresh exhibitions within the museum. This included a comprehensive collection of war trophies and souvenirs collected by Congressman Kahn and Dr. Herzstein while reviewing A.E.F. battlefields in France that was jointly donated to the Museum by both men.
In June of 1920, Dr. Herzstein and de Young toured the Museum for a better part of a Saturday afternoon, "arranging for the proper display of the gift."[iv] Before these pieces would find a permanent home in the "New de Young," the arms and armor collections were removed from display in the "Old de Young" to make room for the newest acquisitions. Numerous crates from France had already arrived and were waiting to clear customs. Crates filled with arms, armor, trench warfare weapons, cannons, munition wagons, airplanes (many parked in front of the museum for a time, capturing the curiosity of park visitors). Amongst other artifacts, their collection also included "paper costumes worn by the Germans in default of other clothes," war maps showing the Western Front and Parisian defenses during air raids, and a German propaganda leaflet dropped from "Boche aeorplanes" over American lines.[v] M.H. de Young contributed his own pieces to the exhibition, notably reproductions of Ferdinand Gueldry's crayon drawings commissioned by the French Government to document the atrocities of war.
Heralded as "the most complete and detailed war exhibition in Western America," it was a large draw for veterans and their families; and if newspaper reports are to be believed, veterans were so moved that they "forgot time and place and gave dramatic descriptions of battles in which they played a part."[vi]
The Statue's Dedication
After working in secret on Dr. Herzstein's commission for two years, Haig Patigian's statue of General John J. Pershing was announced to the public in August 1922. The San Francisco Chronicle describes it quite well. Sculpted from photographs, General Pershing's "right hand hangs easily at his side and the left is raised a little to the level of his belt, holding in a firm grip a handful of papers. At his feet is a battered German helmet, giving a touch of action to the composition and balancing the figure." His face frozen with "the characteristic expression of alertness and energy" and his stance "full of controlled poise and ease. Differing from many stiff and inexpressive statues of military leaders, the Pershing statue is marked by a sense of life and animation."[vii] In fact, many of General Pershing's personal acquaintances would remark on Patigian's skill in capturing their friend. At the unveiling, West Point classmate General E.B. Smith would say, "That face, that figure, speak to me. That's John Pershing."[viii]
By mid-October, the eight-foot gilded bronze piece was in place atop a five-foot pedestal of California silver granite (although it remained covered until the dedication ceremony). Plans were in progress to unveil the statue on Armistice Day, November 11, 1922 during a city-wide commemoration. Following the war, General Pershing had been promoted to General of the Armies of the United States - ;the highest rank possible in the U.S. Army, a position created specifically for him. He was not only still alive, unlike the subjects memorialized by other monuments in Golden Gate Park, but very much in demand and there was speculation as to whether or not he would make the journey to see himself set in stone. Congressman Kahn, Mayor James Rolph, and Major General Charles G. Morton, commander of the 9th Corps Area, all began a campaign to convince General Pershing to attend the ceremony. Congressman Khan assured local press that "every pressure [would] be brought to bear" to bring General Pershing to San Francisco, but the San Francisco Chronicle was appropriately pessimistic, noting that "Pershing…is as modest about appearing with the statue of him as Dr. Herzstein has been about getting the statue set up."[ix]
On the morning of November 11th, everything was in place. The organizing committee had asked San Franciscans to decorate their homes and businesses with gold star and other service flags from the U.S. and her allies. A large military parade with troops from the Presidios of San Francisco and Monterey, sailors from Yerba Buena and Goat Islands, and marines from Mare Island marched to the Pershing statue. They were escorted by a squadron of airplanes from Crissy Field and reviewed by high ranking military and naval men, city and State officials, and other dignitaries in the park stadium. Thousands were on hand to watch the festivities.
General John J. Pershing, however, was not on hand - ;preferring instead to address the National Civic Federation in New York that day. Veterans from three wars encircled the veiled bronze figure with a ring of flags, and VIPs like Patigian, Dr. Herzstein, Mayor Rolph, and Park Commissioner William F. Humphry stood on the platform waiting to begin. "The crowd moved up and around them like a tide, pressing close and filling in the open space."[x] Trumpeters sounded a call to attention and all in attendance observed a moment of silence at 11:00am. Then Reverend Joseph P. McQuaide, chaplain of the 62nd Artillery and the 1st California Volunteers, pronounced the invocation and Federal Judge W.W. Morrow spoke, reading messages from the President of the United States and the Secretary of War before introducing Dr. Morris Herzstein.
In his speech, Dr. Herzstein advocated for preparedness and spoke of his trip to France with Congressman Khan. Specifically, he remembered seeing the American flag pitched in a battlefield, "unfolding its stars and stripes, waving in the morning breeze, keeping watch over our boys on the Rhine. With bowed head I acknowledged the mighty power of this Nation, proud to be an adopted son of this country." He went on to utter a hope for the future. "The best blood of…our allies, intermingled with ours, has been shed in the battle field. May it cement a perpetual friendship and bring the world everlasting peace."[xi] He finished by saying: "To you General Pershing, for the distinguished service you have rendered your country…in memory and as tribute to you, to the veterans of this country and the veterans of our allies this statue is dedicated," and it was unveiled.[xii] The granite pedestal was simply inscribed: "In tribute to General Pershing and the victorious armies of the United States and her co-belligerents during the World War 1914-1918. Presented by Dr. Morris Herzstein, 1922."
Mayor Rolph accepted the statue on behalf of the City of San Francisco, saying "This is a statue of a worthy man and a gift of a worthy San Franciscan. May it inspire us, in peace and in war," and Humphrey accepted it on behalf of the Park Commission.[xiii] There were addresses by de Young, who extolled the greatness of the park with a sort of back-handed compliment. "I am sure that the majority of you do not appreciate our Golden Gate Park enough, and really it is hardly possible to appreciate it until one has traveled the world over and seen what they have in other places."[xiv] Then Congressman Kahn took the stage and applauded Dr. Herzstein as "a citizen of the new mode" for supporting the park in life and not with a post-mortem bequest.[xv] He also urged preparedness in support of a bill he had just introduced in the legislature, and excused General Pershing's absence, which he believed was a reaction to the traumatic memory of losing his wife and daughters here in 1915. He then took credit for the subsequent use of stone building materials in the Presidio following that tragedy. It's as true yesterday as it is today, that politics are always in play.
Festivities continued into the evening at a large celebration hosted in the Civic Auditorium. The crowds dispersed and Pershing was left alone where he still stands today, his kindly eyes affixed on his creator's other contribution to Golden Gate Park - ;the brand new de Young building across the way.
The Final Act
Congressman Julius Kahn died on December 18, 1924 following a long illness. Dr. Morris Herzstein, his friend and physician for decades, cared for him in his final days and then served as an honorary pallbearer alongside notable San Franciscans, among them Sigmund Stern, Herbert Fleishhacker, James Phelan, and Daniel Koshland. Just after the funeral, Dr. Herzstein suffered a stroke and his paralysis was complicated by pneumonia in February 1925. Newspapers tracked his health daily for a week and he did survive, but was much diminished. In February 1926, the San Francisco Chronicle published a poem titled "A Fine Spirit is A Lasting Tonic":
"You may break,
You may shatter
The vase if you will,
But the scent
Of the roses
Will hang round it still,'
Wrote a poet
Long and long ago,
And these words come back
And hover around
As a body sits
In a big easy chair
In the apartment
Of Dr. Morris Herzstein
Up on Sutter street
And lets fall the eyes of him
On the old doctor,
A little bit shattered
By flight of time
And a little bit broken
By a life of hard work,
But sweet with the scent
Of old ambitions
And new enthusiasms
He takes what comes
With a philosophical grin
And looks forward
With an engaging smile
To the soon-coming day
When he'll be up and away
On the rolling air
Of wide balloon tires
To the cutdoors of blossoms
And sun-shining skies
And little soft breezes
In his summer home
In a California valley."[xvi]
House-bound for the rest of his life, he finally succumbed in October 1927. "He died leaving a host of friends, after a long and useful life. In the practice of medicine, he not only ministered to the sick but he gave to them during their illnesses kindness and encouragement, always doing his work with the thought of their comfort, both physical and mental. No poor were ever denied help…Many are the friends who have mourned his passing, and his life is an example which many may follow in order that their life's work may be as well done."[xvii] Attorney Adolph Sutro, of the firm of Pillsbury, Madison & Sutro, was assigned to handle Herzstein's estate of more than $1,000,000, and his will, allegedly the longest ever read in a San Francisco court up to that time, went into probate. Unmarried, he specifically excluded blood relatives in Germany from his will, which was drawn up around the time of World War I - ;a final act of patriotism. "If, by any act of mine I should allow any of my property to go to my relatives bearing allegiance to the enemy of my country, I should feel that I had abused one of the sacred rights of citizenship in the United States and that I had turned traitor to the principles of liberty and justice."[xviii]
He spent his money in death as he spent it in life. The principal beneficiaries of his estate were the University of California and Stanford University, with bequests providing for endowed chairs in biology, scholarships for students doing medical research, and a lecture series geared towards medical professionals but also open to the public. An avid collector of California art, the de Young Museum received many plein air landscapes and other works by notable artists, such as Whistler. Allotments ranging from $100 to $120,000 went to friends and colleagues who had been in his loyal confidence and employ. To his secretary, William Keller, went personal effects such as clothes and jewelry, and to Margaret Andrews, his nurse and office assistant for 35 years, life tenancy at his Los Altos property. Additional monies went to local hospitals, orphanages, and, of course, he left $5,000 for maintenance of the General John J. Pershing statue in Golden Gate Park.
The more research we do on monuments found throughout Golden Gate Park, we find that the reasons for the statues, the way in which they came to be, often speak louder than the lives of the men memorialized. For immigrants of German birth, living in the United States during World War I was not easy as anti-German sentiment increased apace with increasing hostilities abroad. It's easy to wonder how much of Dr. Herzstein's civic fervor was amplified as an attempt to prove his loyalty in light of mounting suspicions. In times of war, enemies are seen everywhere - ;even in the kindly doctors who served everyone without prejudice.
This is not to question Dr. Herzstein's loyalty to America or the purity of his philanthropic intent, which is clear, but rather to situate him within a much larger dynamic. Late 19th-century immigrants and their communities were responsible for numerous statues in Golden Gate Park. They were grateful to find a home on foreign shores and these gifts to San Francisco reflect that, but It was also a way for these new Americans to claim territory, establish belonging, and be seen. In the process, they helped to create a park for everybody.
Sources not cited in the text:
[i] "Statue of Pershing to Be Unveiled on Armistice Day," San Francisco Chronicle, October 15, 1922; .
[iii] "Work of Collecting Exhibit Takes Mr. De Young Greater Part of 24 Years," San Francisco Chronicle, February 23, 1919;
[iv] "Big Collection of Trophies of War Here Soon," San Francisco Chronicle, June 16, 1919;
[v] "Canvas of King Louis XV in ‘The Battle of Laces' Gift to Memorial Museum," San Francisco Chronicle, June 22, 1919; .
[vi] "War Trophies Elicit Tales from Heroes," San Francisco Chronicle, August 4, 1919;
[vii] "General Pershing's Statue to be Placed in Park," San Francisco Chronicle, August 6, 1922; .
[viii] "San Francisco Pays Tribute to War Heroes," San Francisco Chronicle, November 12, 1922;
[ix] "Statue of Pershing to Be Unveiled on Armistice Day," San Francisco Chronicle, October 15, 1922;
[x] "San Francisco Pays Tribute to War Heroes," San Francisco Chronicle, November 12, 1922;
[xi] "Dr. Herzstein Pays Honor to Gen. Pershing," San Francisco Chronicle, November 12, 1922;
[xii] "San Francisco Pays Tribute to War Heroes," San Francisco Chronicle, November 12, 1922;
[xvi] "Yir Frein' Scotty Philosophizes," San Francisco Chronicle, February 9, 1926;
[xvii] "Dr. Morris Herzstein Leaves Name to Be Remembered," San Francisco Chronicle, November 2, 1927;
[xviii] "$1,000,000 Estate of Herzstein Probated," San Francisco Chronicle, November 18, 1927; .
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