The Robert Burns Statue
Located in Central Park New York City, this memorial statue is the result of dedicated members of the Caledonian Club of New York. Unveiled in 1880, it was the first statue of Robert Burns to be erected outside Scotland and was a gift to the City of New York from Saint Andrew’s Society of the State of New York and the Scottish-American community.
Robert Burns Statue Timeline
APRIL 1, 1873
Our Honored Chief, James A. Craig, appoints a committee to make the necessary arrangements to form a convention in regards erecting a monument at the Central Park Mall of this city to the fraternal memory of Robert Burns.
APRIL 15, 1873
A meeting of "The Robert Burns Monument Committee" was held at the Caledonian Hall, Sullivan Street of this city on the evening of the fifteenth day of April, 1873 under the presidency of Clansman John Paton. The name of Mr. William Cullen Bryant was proposed, and unanimously agreed to be added to the committee. Several letters were read, making a variety of propositions regarding a monument to Robert Burns, upon which, however, the meeting declined to take any action. It was also agreed to await the arrival of Clansman Robert Gordon of this city from Scotland where he had, under the Burns Monument Committee's instructions, communicated with various sculptors before any commission was issued to the execution of a statue or any decision formally arrived at. Clansman Robert Gordon was expected to arrive in this city from Scotland about the end of April.
MAY 28, 1873
A meeting of "The Robert Burns Monument Committee" was held at the Caledonian Hall on the evening of the twenty-eighth day of May, 1873. There was a good attendance of delegates. Clansman John Paton and Clansman Robert Gordon gave a detailed account of the results of their inquiries at Edinburgh and Glasgow, Scotland, and their opinion was that the commission for the execution of the Robert Burns Monument ought to be entrusted to Mr. John Steell, R.S.A., the eminent Scottish sculptor of Edinburgh, Scotland. Clansman Robert Gordon gave his reasons for entertaining this opinion. Clansman William Paton concurred with Clansman Gordon and it was then formally moved by Mr. J.S. Kennedy, and seconded by Mr. William Wood, and unanimously carried to the effect that the necessary steps should be taken for placing the commission in Mr. John Steell's hands, and if possible, for securing for the committee the copyright of the design.
SEPTEMBER 7, 1880
A communication was read from Mr. John Paton (Chairman of the Committee having in charge the Robert Burns Statue) stating that "the statue of Robert Burns had arrived in the city and that notice as to when the unveiling ceremonies would take place in the Central Park of this city would be immediately sent to the committee representing our club."
SEPTEMBER 29, 1880
Our Club held a special meeting on this date to make the necessary arrangements for our Club participating in the unveiling ceremony of the Robert Burns Monument in the Central Park of this city on the second day of October, 1880. It was agreed that our Club and delegations from other Scottish organizations would assemble at one o'clock p.m. on that date at the Caledonian Hall, Horatio Street, and proceed with a military band and pipers toward fourteenth street and fifth avenue to seventy-second street and thence to the Park casino, where they would meet the Robert Burns Monument Committee and afterwards proceed to the site.
OCTOBER 1, 1880
The second day of October in the year 1880 dwells in the memories of our present day veteran clansmen who were present in the Central Park of this City to witness the ceremony of unveiling the statue of Robert Burns presented by the Loyal Scottish Presidents and other admirers of the "peasant bard of Scotland" to the citizens of the City of New York. It was an occasion upon which everyone who had a share in pushing forward the good work had a right to be congratulated. Nature contributed her measure of approval by smiling most graciously upon the scene. The weather was magnificent. The blue azure of an American sky was almost cloudless. The sun lit up the russet brown and green with the early rich tints of approaching autumn and the pines nodded with their brethren of the forest in apparent acquiescence of the proceedings.
The Central Park at this season of the year never looks better, richly comparisoned equipages lined the approaches of the statue. Ladies and gentlemen on foot jostled along the mall in sympathetic contact with their fellow citizens in more humble garb, all hastening to a scene, which formed a part of the history of the commercial metropolis of the western continent. And in the huge throng of attentive onlookers, we do not take credit for the majority being loyal Scotsmen and Scotswomen. That our beloved Scotland on this occasion was well represented, there is no doubt, but of the great assembly present every nationality on this earth had its representatives, the larger number being citizens of this great and beloved republic of the United States of America. It was a representative assemblage too of the intelligence of the nation. They came to do honour to one who is claimed as a "brother man" the world o'er. One look into the sea of faces on this occasion was enough to satisfy the most captious cynic, that there were men and women who drank in deeply the words of eloquence, which fell from the lips of the orators. Women and men alike with serious upturned faces felt the magnetism of the hour, the homage paid to Robert Burns genius was a tribute of appreciative admiration, which many a European nation would have been proud to accept. In this great beloved and free country such an expression of feeling is the natural outgrowth of the esteem due to individual worth. Had the occasion been the unveiling of a statue to one of America's foremost patriot's greater sympathy and heartiness could not have been shown. True, true and applause was not boisterously jubilant, but it was discriminating and in this respect was a better tribute perhaps to the great powers of the orators of the day before two o'clock p.m. many delegations were assembled around the enclosure. Grafullas New York Band played a selection of beloved Scottish music.
Those who recognized the auld beloved Scottish tunes kept time to the music and the performance helped greatly to while away the monotony of waiting. Our Club, and the various delegations from Scottish organizations assembled at our Clubhouse at Horatio Street shortly after one o'clock p.m. headed by Robertson's Military Band and the pipers and Commanded by our honored Chief John Young, assisted by Lieut. Colonel William Manson, "our pioneer", they formed in processional order and proceeded along eighth avenue toward twenty third street, thence to fifth avenue, along fifth avenue to the Central Park, which they entered at the seventy-second street gate. The pageant was excellent and our loyal kilted chiels were much admired along the route, among those who paraded with our Club were delegations from the majority of Scottish organizations throughout the Eastern States. The Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa and Hamilton Caledonian Societies of Canada. During the march a large delegation from the Greenpoint Burns Club fell into line at twenty-third street.
On arriving at the Park Casino, they were joined by the Robert Burns Monument Committee, who took their places in the procession. By the kind permission of the City Parks Commissioners, they were allowed to play along the route to the monument, a special exception against processions in the park being made in this instance. The scene at the platform was most imposing. In front, and around the monument the fine martial appearance of our kilted clansmen contrasted finely with the somber attire of the other gentlemen present. The rich dresses of the ladies of vari-coloured hues made up a combination of effects extremely picturesque. Here and there in the background a grove of trees or stretch of sloping mound gave a perspective to the whole which made it a finished picture worthy of the artist's best inspiration, while last but not least the kindly face of "auld reekie's beloved son, Sir Walter Scott" seemed to have softened down and to look on in gentle wonderment for the cause of this great gathering. But the noble pedestal of Peterhead granite only whetted the curiosity of the thousands to see what was enclosed in the folds of the beloved stars and stripes, as yet a shapeless outline of uncouth proportions. A more stirring picture could not well be imagined.
Upon the platform were his honor mayor Edward Cooper, Commissioner Lane, Mr. George Curtis, Sir E.M. Archibald, K.C.B.; Lieutenant Colonel William Manson, Messrs. William Wood, James Brand, John Kennedy, Bryce Gray, James Fraser, Robert Dinwiddie, James Moir, William Paton, Alexander Taylor, John MacKay, our honored Chief John Young and Professor Nairne, Dr. Buchanan, Captain Johns, Dingwall and John Paton, the assembly having been called to order by Commissioner Lane, introduced Mr. John Paton (Chairman of the Robert Burns Monument Committee), who in addressing his honor Mayor Edward Cooper of New York City, stated as follows:
On the fifteenth Day of August 1821, the centennial of his birth was laid the foundation of the statue of Sir Walter Scott, presented by the resident Scotsmen and their sons to the City of New York. The suggestion was then made that Sir Walter Scott should not remain solitary on his pedestal, but that he ought to have the genial society of Robert Burns. An order was given to the same eminent Scottish sculptor for a companion statue and after many long but unavoidable delays, we rejoice today to see our plans carried out and Sir Walter Scott and Robert Burns face to face on this splendid avenue.
Sir John Steell, the eminent Scottish sculptor of Edinburgh, Scotland, has proved himself worthy of the commission given to him, to rival and eclipse his great statue of Sir Walter Scott, by one of Robert Burns has been the ambition of his later years. This is his masterpiece as it probably will be the last great effort of his life. An advisory committee consisting of Mr. David Duncan, His honor Lord Ardmillan and Mr. William McDiarmid of Edinburgh, Scotland, watched the progress of the work. The members of this committee have repeatedly visited the studio of Sir John Steell and the fame of the statue has spread abroad until other cities have begged us for copies and one will soon be completed in the city of Dundee.
The presentation of this statue is not from Scotsmen along, for the time has long passed when we could claim a monopoly of Robert Burns. Had William Cullen Bryant been with us today, his eloquent voice would have been heard and others who do not claim Scottish descent, but who loved Robert Burns as if he were their own, have united in presenting this gift to the City of New York. I will not detain you by a eulogy of the poet, when you are about to listen to the eloquence of Mr. George W. Curtis. The modesty of Scotsmen in reference to their country and their poets is proverbial, and therefore it is that we leave to a distinguished American author and scholar to speak of Robert Burns and his works. If you are this day told that Robert Burns has exercised a deeper and stronger influence over Scotland, Scottish life and character than any other poet, that he has cultivated our appreciation of the beauties of nature, that he captured our affections, by his inimitable pathos, and that he built up sturdy honest independence of character by such songs as "A Man's a Man for A' That". It will only be a part of that which we, whether Scotsmen or Americans, owe to Robert Burns.
It is a source of pride to see New York is not a lone pre eminent for extraordinary growth and prosperity as the commercial metropolis of the New World, but that she is distinguished for the cultivated taste and liberality of her citizens of which so many monuments can be seen around us on a neighbouring knoll is this day being erected an obelisk of the pharaohs, a relic of that mighty Egyptian nation, whose literature and arts have ages ago passed into oblivion, but I might venture to prophesy that future generations, whether they be Americans or Scottish, flocking to these shores, will gaze upon this statue with a love for Robert Burns' Scottish songs with an admiration for his works equaling, nay exceeding what we now feel in Scotland, all over America, even in distant Australia, we all make Robert Burns our own. May these great nations ever live in harmony and peace, leading the work in civilization in literature, in art, as they lead in its trade and commerce. And whatever sky be over their heads, whatever be the land they call "our home", whatever be their religious or political creed, whether it be under "the Lion Rampant of Scotland" or "the stars and stripes" may all who love Robert Burns and his immortal songs ever labour and pray:
"For a' That, an 'A' That It's coming yet, for A' That, That man to man the world o'er Shall Brithers be for A' That".
On behalf of the subscribers, I have the honour to present to you Mr. Mayor this statue to the City of New York. Mr. William Paton (Chairman of the Committee on Ceremonies) then unveiled the statue amidst three rousing cheers from the large assembly and the strains from the massed bands played "There was a lad was born in Kyle" and "Scots wha hae". His Honor Edward Cooper, Mayor of the City of New York, then rose and said: "How broad and genial are the hospitalities of our country, whose great democratic heart beats in unison with the democratic genius of all nations and times. It was not a little while since I was called to welcome in my official capacity the image of Ireland's great melodist Thomas Moore, and now the song writer of Scotland is at our gates asking to be adopted into the fellowship of the republic, Robert Burns asking did I say? Nay long ago as early as our revolutionary era, he was so adopted and has ever since reigned in our affections as the most pathetic, the most humourous, the most delightful, and beautiful of all the masters of lyric poetry.
He concluded his address by saying: "Scotsmen and the sons of Scotsmen among us proffer here this splendid statue, so deftly moulded by the hands of a master as a monument to "the Peasant Poet of Scotland". It only remains for me to receive it in the name of the City of New York with thanks, which I think expresses the heartfelt feeling of every one of our people capable of appreciating genius and manliness and worth". At the conclusion of his honor's address, the applause was long and prolonged. Mr. George W. Curtis was next introduced by the chairman. At the conclusion of Mr. Curtis' oration there was a continual ovation of applause, cheer after cheer went up from the vast audience, "Auld Lang Syne" was then sung by the assembly, led by Mr. David Walker of Toronto, Canada, accompanied by the bands. After which the vast assemblage dispersed and the eventful proceedings were brought to a close.