Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Friday, July 26, 2019

Pershing and Lafayette on the Road to Versailles

On either side of the Avenue de Versailles, the final stretch of road from Paris to the Palace of Versailles stand two enormous pedestals with classic equestrian statues. Mounted on their steeds are two American heroes, General John J. Pershing and the Marquis de Lafayette.

Here the full story of the dual monuments is told in excerpts from an interview with WWI Centennial Commissioner Monique Seefried

In February 1937, a committee is created in France to erect a memorial symbolizing the participation of the Americans in France during the Great War and the participation of the French in the American Revolution. Among the members of the council of administration of the committee are the president of the Republic Albert Lebrun, Premier (president du conseil des ministres) Leon Blum and Marechal Pétain. 

Lafayette As Realized

The architect Carlu (who designed the Trocadero) is chosen for the base, the sculptor Joachim Costa for the equestrian statue of Pershing and Paul Wayland Bartlett (who designed Michelangelo in the Library of Congress and on the façade of the New York Public Library) for the statue of Lafayette. He also designed the Lafayette now on the Cours la Reine in Paris. The project has to be realized with great urgency in order to have General Pershing present in France in October attend the inauguration. This takes place on 6 October 1937. 

How the Site Looked for 80 Years

Situated at the Butte de Picardie, on the entrance of the Avenue de Versailles, flanking both sides of the road, the pedestals are 15 meters high and list respectively all the major battles fought by the Americans in France in 1918 and those fought by the French during the American Revolution. The pedestals are erected in 36 days and plasters of the two statues are placed atop the columns. By 1941, the plaster statues are removed, as they are getting damaged, exposed to the elements. The bronze are not cast due to the war. 

An American Reenactor &
General Pershing
In 1951, President Herriot tries to raise funds for the two bronze statues, but the project, continuing for a ten-year period, doesn’t come to fruition. By 2002, a local association raised the funds to restore the pedestals which had gotten damaged. They are inscribed in the National Register of Historical Monuments. A second inauguration takes place in 2011 for the two restored pedestals and a campaign is launched to have the bronze statues erected. It was led by the Pershing Lafayette Association in Versailles, the Cincinnati, the DAR, and the SAR. This is finally done and the beautiful statues in patinated resin were inaugurated on 6 October 2017, 80 years after the first inauguration. 
[Commissioner Seefried and U.S. Chargé d’ Affaires Brent Hardt represented the American people at the event.]

The tribunes were under the statue of Lafayette, facing the statue of General Pershing. French and American color guards attended, as well as military bands and several choirs of school children, including the young ladies of the Legion of Honor (boarding school for daughters of Legion of Honor recipients). Speeches were made by French politicians and the U.S. chargé d’affaires retold the story of the statues, as well as retracing the historical bonds between France and the United States.

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