History museum

Theodore Roosevelt statue removed from New York’s Museum of Natural History

A statue of Theodore Roosevelt that stood outside the American Museum of Natural History in New York for decades has been removed, the result of years of debate over a monument that critics say glorified colonialism.

A crane lifted the bronze portion of the statue from the museum’s Central Park West entrance overnight Wednesday, according to the museum and images and videos of the removal process.

The statue, by James Earle Fraser, shows the 26th US President on horseback flanked by a Native American and an African on foot. Named the “Equestrian Statue of Theodore Roosevelt”, it was commissioned in 1925 and unveiled in 1940 at the museum, which his father had helped found.

The museum called for the statue to be removed in June 2020, as the movement for racial justice after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis prompted many institutions to re-examine the monuments. Owned by the City of New York, the statue sat in a public park. The New York City Public Design Commission unanimously approved its removal in June 2021.

The statue, by James Earle Fraser, shows the 26th US President on horseback flanked by a Native American and an African on foot.


Photo:

Zuma Press

The statue was designed to celebrate Mr. Roosevelt as a dedicated naturalist, according to the museum. “At the same time, the statue itself communicates a racial hierarchy that the Museum and members of the public have long found disturbing,” the museum says on its website.

The sculpture has been the subject of criticism and debate in the city for many years, with some defending its location and others saying it should be removed. In 2017 and 2018, a New York City commission considered whether to remove the statue. Failing to reach a consensus, the city ultimately kept the monument in place and asked the museum to provide additional context.

The statue will now be moved to Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library in Medora, ND, which is slated to open in 2026. The library’s board says the statue is “problematic in composition” and lacks context on the steps of the museum in New York City, the library said in a statement in November. The organization plans to create an advisory council made up of representatives from black and indigenous communities, as well as historians, scholars and artists, to determine how best to place the statue in its context at the library.

Theodore Roosevelt V, a descendant of the former president, said in November he supported removing the statue from the museum’s facade.

“Rather than bury a disturbing work of art, we should learn from it,” he said in a statement shared by the library. “It is only fitting that the statue be moved to a place where its composition can be recontextualized to facilitate difficult, complex and inclusive discussions.”

The $2 million project to relocate the statue began Tuesday in coordination with historic preservation specialists and city officials, according to a statement from the American Museum of Natural History. The museum plans to restore the steps in front of the museum by spring.

Workers secured part of the statue after it was removed from outside the museum entrance.


Photo:

CAITLIN OCHS/REUTERS

The American Museum of Natural History will remain the official state memorial to Theodore Roosevelt. A rotunda in the museum, with a dinosaur exhibit, is named after him, and a memorial room displays details about the former president and New York native at four stages of his life.

In 2019, the museum opened an exhibit called “Addressing the Statue” which included details of the creation of the bronze monument and shared the views of artists, scholars and museum visitors on the statue. The physical exhibit will close after Sunday, a museum spokesperson said, but it will remain on the museum’s website.

Statues of American historical figures have often sparked debate in communities across the country. Some Confederate monuments and symbols have been removed in recent years amid debate over whether they celebrate slavery or serve as a history lesson. Statues of other historical figures who owned slaves or participated in the oppression of minority groups have also drawn criticism.

Write to Jennifer Calfas at [email protected]

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