Court of Honor

Wisconsin Avenue between 8th and 10th Streets

A collection of statues in the Wisconsin Avenue esplanade near the Central Library

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George Washington

First in war, first in peace, first in the hearts of his countrymen and first in the Court of Honor.

Photo taken by J.R. Manning in September 2014

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Description 

Milwaukee's "Court of Honor" is an esplanade in West Wisconsin Avenue, the main drag of downtown Milwaukee. It's located between 8th and 10th streets and is the location of several monuments. Ironically, it's not named for the statues, no, it's named for a festival that started in the 19th Century. How about that? Milwaukee, The City of Festivals, has been a center of festivals for over a century!

The sixty six years forerunner to Summerfest was called the Milwaukee Midsummer Carnival Festival that started in 1898. It only ran four years, but the Court of Honor was where the king of the festival was crowned.

In the center of the Court of Honor is a Corinthian, Bedford limestone column with a ball on the top. Entitled Midsummer Carnival Shaft, the sculpture was commissioned by the City of Milwaukee to Alfred C. Clas, the noted architect and principal of the firm Ferry & Clas.

Clas, also designed the Central Library, kitty-corner to the northeast, and the St. James Court Apartment building across the street to the south, where Clas lived after its construction. He designed numerous important buildings in Milwaukee and Wisconsin. He did a great deal of work for the Pabst family, too.

Like they say in the Dark:Thirty infomercials, but, wait! There's more!

Just to the east of the column, across a cut in the esplanade to allow 9th Street to cross, is a statue of George Washington. The monument for Washington was created by Richard Henry Park, a well-known sculptor who was active in New York and Florence, Italy. (Park also created the statue of Solomon Juneau in Juneau Park.) The 10'6" tall bronze figure of Washington is mounted on top of a 13'6" granite base. Four granite stairs surround the pedestal, the monument features a woman on the top stair, pointing to the pedestal engraving of Washington's name. She appears to be teaching a young woman about the father of our country. All three statues are in need of some attention.

Elizabeth Plankinton, heiress to a meat packing fortune, donated the statue to the city in 1885. The two extra figures were her suggestion. Washington was first in war, first in peace, first in the hearts of his countrymen and first in Milwaukee's Court of Honor. (There is some gossip about Elizabeth Plankinton, too, but you'll have to click on the Richard Henry Park link below if you want to know more.)

Like Gaetano Trentanove, Park had a studio in Florence along with a favorite casting firm in Florence, Fratelli Galli Fusero, which is cast into the base of the statue. Fratelli Galli Fusero also cast extant monuments in Denver and Newport, R.I.

To the west of the column is a solitary soldier, a veteran of the Spanish-American War. Entitled "Spanish-American War Soldier," the statue is the work of German sculptor, Ferdinand Koenig. Koenig was born in Cologne in 1860. About 1920, Ferdinand and his wife, Nina, were living in Milwaukee and he was teaching sculpture at the Milwaukee Art Institute. He died on December 21, 1943 and he is interred at Forest Home Cemetery.

The second sculpture to be placed in what would become the Court of Honor is a Civil War monument entitled The Victorious Charge that was proposed by Alexander Mitchell. (The monument is across from the Mitchell home, now known as The Wisconsin Club.) Mitchell passed away before the design was selected, and a fund drive was made to raise $30,000.00 to cast the monument. It was placed in 1898, the statue was sculpted by John Severino Conway and bears the casting mark, "Fond. Crescenzi, Roma."

The Victorious Charge was restored in 2003 but is already in need of some attention. A fund raising effort is underway, as of this writing, to restore the statues and perform maintenance on the Civil War Memorial.

Update, Summer 2018: The statue of George Washington was removed, restored, and re-placed this year. The two figures next to the plinth have been cleaned.

Update Log 

  • October 5, 2018: Updated by J.R. Manning: Edited description to update status of George Washington statue
  • March 12, 2015: Added by J.R. Manning

Sources