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Someone Tore Down a Union Army Statue in Saratoga Springs. Why?

2020-07-18 11:00:07
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Early on Thursday morning, the police in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., found a cast iron and zinc statue torn down from its stone pedestal in Congress Park and scattered in pieces on the grass.

The statue is one of dozens that have been torn down across the United States in recent weeks amid widespread protests against racism and police brutality. Many of those toppled have been monuments to Confederate soldiers.

But the statue that stood in Congress Park was dedicated to volunteers who fought for the Union during the Civil War. In the days since it was destroyed, residents of Saratoga Springs, a mostly white college town about 30 miles north of Albany, have been calling the mayor’s office and posting on social media to express outrage and disappointment.

“The statue was memorializing those who fought against the Confederacy and against slavery, so I think Saratogans were very proud that we had that in our park,” said David Snyder, executive assistant to Meg Kelly, the mayor of Saratoga Springs.

The police are still investigating the episode and have yet to publicly identify any suspects, leaving residents to wonder who toppled the monument, and why.

“We’re very confused,” Mr. Snyder said. “Was this in any way tied to a Black Lives Matter protest in which they thought it was a Confederate statue that needed to come down? Was it a reactionary or pro-Confederate group that wanted a Union statue to come down? Or was it random?”

Lexis Figuereo, 33, a resident of Saratoga Springs and an organizer with All of Us, a group associated with the Black Lives Matter movement, said the activists he knew had nothing to do with the toppling of the monument.

“If anything, something like this would be done by somebody who had no idea what they were doing,” he said. “Or a person who was racist, because this was a Union statue.”

It is possible that the toppling was a random act of destruction, divorced from the historical significance of the monument. Like many public areas, Congress Park has had fountains and statues vandalized in recent years. Just days before the Union monument was torn down, a memorial in the park to Katrina Trask, a philanthropist who supported artists in the community, was defaced with red spray paint.

Mr. Figuereo speculated that the destruction of the statue could have been done by people trying to make local activists look bad. But he also wondered why it had captured so much attention.

“Certain people care more about property than about people,” he said. “It’s sad.”

He added that activists in the area were more concerned with organizing demonstrations, pushing for more police transparency and accountability, and raising awareness about the case of Darryl Mount Jr., a 21-year-old man who died of his injuries after being pursued by Saratoga Springs police officers in 2013.

“You can replace a statue,” Mr. Figuereo said. “You cannot replace Darryl’s life.”

The toppled statue in Saratoga Springs was first erected in 1875 and placed on Broadway, a street that borders Congress Park, a downtown green space that is home to the Saratoga Springs History Museum and a bronze sculpture called “The Spirit of Life.”

According to the Saratoga Springs Department of Public Works, Union Army veterans from New York’s 77th Infantry Regiment — which the monument commemorates — donated $3,000 to install the statue.

“The 77th was made up of men from Saratoga Springs, Wilton, Schuylerville, and other surrounding communities who volunteered, not those who were drafted,” said James D. Parillo, the executive director of the Saratoga Springs History Museum. He added that museum staff members were “sad and disappointed” about the monument’s destruction.

The statue was moved to its current location inside the park, not far from the “Spirit of Life” sculpture, in 1921 to prevent damage from the traffic on Broadway. The sculpture, which portrayed a soldier but did not represent any particular person, was positioned atop a stone pedestal.

Samantha Bosshart, the executive director of the Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation, said she gave a tour of the park on the day before the statue fell. She recalled pointing out the statue to families on the tour and explaining the history of the monument.

“To wake up the next day and see it gone — smashed — was disappointing and sad and unfortunate,” Ms. Bosshart said.

The episode in Saratoga Springs was not unique; in recent weeks, several monuments to people who opposed slavery have been dismantled. A statue of the Black abolitionist Frederick Douglass was detached from its base in a park in Rochester, N.Y., this month and found some 50 feet away, dumped near a river gorge. And last month in Madison, Wis., protesters toppled a statue of Hans Christian Heg, a white abolitionist who fought against the Confederacy.

Michael Veitch, the business manager for the city’s Department of Public Works, said Saratoga Springs officials were working to repair or replace the Union memorial in Congress Park.

“This is a great caring community that loves its public spaces, so a number of individuals and organizations have already reached out to make donations in support of the work necessary to rectify the vandalism,” he said.

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