Controversy dies here: City’s statue of polarizing doctor will move to private Green-Wood Cemetery

Controversy dies here: City’s statue of polarizing doctor will move to private Green-Wood Cemetery
Green-Wood Cemetery

This controversial statue found a final resting place.

A monument the mayor banished from a city park will be relocated to Green-Wood Cemetery at the request of the private burial ground’s president, who believes the sculpture’s artistic and historical merits are worth preserving.

“He truly believes that works of art must have a home and be honored by being on display and on exhibit,” said Green-Wood spokeswoman Colleen Roche.

Mayor DeBlasio proposed removing the likeness of 19th-century gynecologist J. Marion Sims — which critics bash for glorifying a man who abused black women in the pursuit of medical knowledge — from its current home in Manhattan’s Central Park as one of the first recommendations from his citywide monument review, which concluded in December.

Hizzoner convened the Mayoral Advisory Commission on City Art, Monuments, and Markers last year, after alt-right protests against the proposed removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from a Charlottesville, Va. park turned deadly.

Commission members recommended relocating the statue of the so-called “father of modern gynecology” from the Manhattan park, citing Sims’s legacy of experimenting on unwilling black slaves, most of whom were women, to further his understanding of human anatomy.

Cemetery workers will install the monument not far from where the polarizing doctor himself is buried, and imbed an informational plaque in its base that describes the gynecologist’s contributions to modern medicine — and his inexcusable exploitation of black women, Green-Wood’s president said.

“As a responsible repository of our country’s history, Green-Wood will add an appropriate historical display to the site telling Sims’s story — good and bad,” said Richard J. Moylan. “We are treating this as an important and serious teachable moment.”

But the physician’s likeness isn’t the only controversial work of public art on display at the bucolic necropolis. The monument to Sims will join another notorious sculpture, Civic Virtue Triumphant Over Unrighteousness, a fountain that moved to the cemetery in 2012 after critics decried its depiction of man — representing civic virtue — conquering half-woman, half-reptile representations of immorality as anti-feminist for decades.

Mayor George B. McClellan, Jr. commissioned artist Frederick William MacMonnies’s 17-foot tall monument to misogyny, which sparked controversy not long after it was first installed in front of City Hall in 1922, according to reports.

In 1941, Mayor Fiorello Laguardia banished the statue to the outer borough of Queens, where it sat largely uncared for outside a city building for more than 70 years.

And in a somewhat ironic twist of fate, disgraced former Rep. Anthony Weiner called the statue “sexist” and proposed selling it on Craigslist in 2011, prompting Moylan to invite it to Green-Wood, where it was installed with an informational placard similar to the sign graveyard stewards will affix to Sims’s likeness, Roche said.

“If you saw Civic Virtue where it is now and the explanatory plaque, it gives the history — good and bad,” the spokeswoman said. “With J. Marion Sims, we’ll do the same thing.”

Reach reporter Colin Mixson at cmixson@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4505.
Green-Wood Cemetery will provide sanctuary for a statue of early gynecologist J. Marion Sims, which is being banished from Central Park for Sims’s nefarious history of experimenting on black slaves.
Associated Press / Bebeto Matthews