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The Thinker, the Mona Lisa, The Hiker and Me

Updated: Jul 6

After you view the Mona Lisa at the Louvre in Paris you quickly realize that you have been lucky enough to see a unique piece of art that is famous the world over (even if you have to view it betwixt innumerable cell phones held aloft like cigarette lighters during the encore at a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert). After you view The Thinker at the Rodin Museum in Philadelphia, the Legion of Honor Museum in San Francisco, and the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City . . . you quickly realize that while sculpting is an art, as special as painting, it is also a business that must be very different than painting. There is but one Mona Lisa, but there are at least 28 casts of The Thinker (15 made during Auguste Rodin's lifetime, another 13 or so made since, not including numerous smaller versions).

The Thinker(s)

Rodin created the first The Thinker for the City of Paris and was paid for it via public subscription. While I have to believe that Rodin was every bit the artist that Da Vinci was, I also have to believe that after he cast¹ it, the plaster relief that it was cast from looked to him a little less like a work of art and a little more like a giant dollar sign (a signe franc géant?).

At about 28 casts I thought that The Thinker may have been the most casted sculpture ever publically displayed. And I was (again) wrong.

In September 2020, during a visit to the most beautiful city in the United States (Savannah, GA - read my Report here), I visited Forsyth Park, a 30-acre park bisected by the southern boundary of the historic district - it's the Central Park of Savannah. There, on the southern edge of the park, I noticed a vaguely familiar statue. It was a larger-than-life bronze of a soldier, wearing a campaign hat, knee boots, and bandolier, with a rifle across his hips. It all seemed vaguely familiar and after reading the dedication plaque that stated "To those Georgians who volunteered and served their country in the Spanish-American War", I faintly remembered seeing another statue dedicated to the veterans of the Spanish-American War. I just couldn't place it, it was frustrating as I thought "how many Spanish-American War statues are out there?" Well, as it turns out, quite a few.

The Hiker - Savannah, GA

Then it dawned on me that I had seen a statue in June 2018 dedicated to the veterans of the Spanish-American War. The statue, located in Grand Rapids looked similar to the one in Savannah, but I innocently thought there couldn't be two identical statues, one in Savannah dedicated to Georgia veterans and another in Grand Rapids dedicated to Michigan veterans. Well when I reviewed my photo library, I was (again) wrong. The statues were identical, though the statue in Grand Rapids, MI was dedicated to "The soldiers and sailors of the war with Spain, Philippine Insurrection and the China Relief Expedition".

For those of you who don't know:

- The Spanish-American War took place in 1898 and resulted in the victorious U.S. taking possession of Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines. This is the war that had Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders fighting in Cuba, winning the Battle of San Juan Hill.

- The Philippine Insurrection was an armed conflict between Philippine Nationalists and the United States lasting from 1899 - 1902. Apparently, some Filipinos were not all that excited about exchanging Spain with the United States for their overlords.

- The China Relief Expedition was undertaken by the United States Armed Forces to rescue United States citizens and other foreign nationals during the latter years of the Boxer Rebellion, which lasted from 1898 to 1901.

Photos I had taken at both locations identified Theo Alice Ruggles Kitson as the sculptor.

So at this point, I did what any travel blogger would do, I looked up Theo Alice Ruggles Kitson on Wikipedia and discovered that . . .

1. The name of the statue(s) is The Hiker (a term that American soldiers in both the Spanish–American War and the Philippine Insurrection gave themselves). It was sculpted by Theo Alice Ruggles Kitson to commemorate the American soldiers who fought in the Spanish–American War, the Boxer Rebellion, and the Philippine–American War and was first cast for the University of Minnesota in 1906.

From what I can I tell the statue cast for the University of Minnesota was so well received that the Gorham Manufacturing Company, purchased the rights and over the next 44 years cast at least 50 Hiker statues, including the ones in Savannah and Grand Rapids, 13 in Massachusets, three others in Michigan and the balance throughout the rest of the U.S.

2. Theo Alice Ruggles Kitson was a woman. Now I have no doubt, that a woman can sculpt as well as a man, but I am amazed that a woman would be commissioned to sculpt a statue of a soldier in 1906. I'm tempted to state it must say something about her talent and vision for this project, but her tutor, then, husband was Henry Hudson Kitson who in 1900 sculpted the Lexington Minuteman² which stands on the Lexington Green, MA, that I'm sad to note it looks suspiciously like The Hiker, a larger than life soldier standing with a rifle across his hips (though hatless and bandolierless).

Lexington Minuteman (being admired by a patriot)

3. All of the casts of The Hiker were dedicated to veterans of the Spanish-American War. A significant number are also dedicated to veterans of the Philippine Insurrection and a few also include veterans of the China Relief Expedition.

4. Since the statues all were cast using the same mold, using the nearly same material, and mostly installed during the first half of the 20th century, they have been used in a prominent corrosion study that determined how the corrosion of monumental bronze varies with geography. I know . . . Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

It turns out I previously may have viewed three other casts without even realizing it. One in Providence, RI, one in Austin, TX, and the last one ever erected (in 1965), just outside Arlington National Cemetary. After leaving Savannah on my Georgia to Texas to Vote Roadtrip, I was able to visit three others: one located in Memphis, TN, and in an eerie coincidence, one in both my current hometown of Wichita Falls, TX and one in my possible new hometown of Kansas City, MO³.

The Hiker: Memphis, Grand Rapids, Wichita Falls, Kansas City

Have you had your fill of The Hiker? Well, me too, but wait there's more! There is a second statue called The Hiker, also sculpted to specifically honor American soldiers who took long hikes during the Boxer Rebellion, the Spanish–American War, and the Philippine Insurrection. Sculpted around 1906 by Allen George Newman almost simultaneously with the above version by Kitson. It all seems a little crazy: two separate sculptures with the same name, sculpted by two sculptors almost simultaneously. This version shows a more relaxed soldier, cradling his rifle⁴ with his right arm - all a little more rugged than Kitson's. The business model was the exact same though, as Newman sold the rights to Jno. Williams, Inc. who then sold casts to various cities and organizations throughout the US, though a little less successfully, as only 22 casts were made.

Endnotes: I wanted to provide some very specific details which while vaguely interesting did not contribute to the overall narrative. Perhaps just wait until the end to read.

¹ Cast vs Casted: The verb cast is conventionally uninflected in the past tense and as a past participle. Casted is an old form—examples are easily found in texts from every century from the 14th to the present—but it has given way to cast in modern English. In current usage, however, casted is gaining ground, especially where cast means either (1) to assemble actors for a performance, or (2) to throw out bait and/or a lure on a fishing line.

² There are actually two Minuteman bronze statues:

a. The Minute Man is an 1874 bronze sculpture by Daniel Chester French located in Minute Man National Historical Park in Concord, Massachusetts. It is the more famous version of the two and can be found on the back of the Massachusetts state quarter, a 1925 stamp, and the shield for the Massachusets Air National Guard. French also sculpted the statue of Abraham Lincoln that is located in his eponymous memorial.

b. The Lexington Minuteman is a 1900 bronze sculpture by Henry Hudson Kitson located on The Lexington Battle Green, in Lexington, Massachusets.

³ The Kansas City version of The Hiker reminded me of a previous Report titled DC Memorials. In it, I wondered if builders and selection committees really think about what their memorial will look like after 20 years of wear and tear. In Kansas City's case, I wish they thought about what The Hiker would look like on, November 9, 1947, the day of the unveiling, as it faces directly North. While this enables it to face the National WWI Museum and Memorial, it makes for a problematic photograph.

⁴ The rifle depicted in both of The Hikers is the Springfield Model 1892–99 Krag–Jørgensen, a repeating bolt action rifle designed by the Norwegians Ole Herman Johannes Krag and Erik Jørgensen in the late 19th century. It was adopted as a standard arm by Denmark, the United States, and Norway. It is interesting that the country that designed two of the most famous small arms in the world, the Colt revolver and the Winchester rifle, would arm its military with a Norwegian designed rifle. BTW: Due to its slow rate of fire (which was a severe disadvantage during the Spanish-American War), the Krag served as the U.S. military's primary rifle for only 12 years.

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