MONUMENTAL DEDICATION: The unveiling of the Princeton Battle Monument on June 9, 1922, featured dignitaries including President Warren G. Harding. A 100th anniversary commemoration of that unveiling and dedication, hosted by Morven Museum & Garden, will take place on Thursday, June 9 at 11 a.m. at the monument. (Photo from the Morven Archive)
By Wendy Greenberg
One hundred years ago this week, on June 9, 1922, President Warren G. Harding stood before a festive crowd in boater hats to dedicate the huge limestone Princeton Battle Monument, which was draped with a large American flag. A photograph was taken that day during a celebratory luncheon, after which Harding stopped at Princeton University to pick up an honorary degree.
Now, a century later, on June 9 at 11 a.m., Morven Museum & Garden is hosting an anniversary commemoration of that unveiling and dedication. The event will feature speakers, a historic photo re-creation, and the display of a historic flag.
The monument itself commemorates the January 3, 1777 Battle of Princeton and depicts George Washington and his troops, who, after crossing the Delaware River on December 25, 1776, embarked on a 10-day campaign that is credited with changing the course of the war as the Continental Army defeated the British.
“At 100 years old, I think that the Princeton Battle Monument has in some ways just become part of our landscape,” said Elizabeth G. Allan, deputy director and curator at Morven, which is adjacent to the monument. “This anniversary gives us a chance to appreciate the monument created by Frederick MacMonnies, the top beaux-arts sculptor of the time. What few know is that this monument was more than 35 years in the making. The unveiling itself was a national event with President Harding in attendance.”
Its installation was made possible by Helen and Bayard Stockton, who were residents of Morven at the time. They played an integral role in the monument dedication, said Allan. Bayard Stockton III raised the flag that was draped on the monument that day in 1922.
Allan continued, “Following the unveiling Bayard (grandfather to Bayard III) and Helen Stockton hosted a luncheon at Morven for the presidential party. At some point that day a photo was taken on Morven’s front porch which we will re-create on Thursday with those in attendance.”
The dignitaries in 1922 arrived in Princeton escorted by a variety of military units representing, in part, units of the Continental Army that had fought in the Battle of Princeton. Sculptor MacMonnies spoke and noted his architectural collaborator Thomas Hastings, and the stone carving firm Piccarelli Brothers of Bronx, N.Y., which also carved Abraham Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial, according to the American Battlefield Trust’s report on the monument.
Stockton called the stone structure “the finest battle monument in America, if not the world,” and Harding said that “the real monument to the achievement of Washington’s patriot army in the Trenton-Princeton campaign is not to be sought in the work of hands or in memorials of stone. It rears itself in the institutions of liberty and representative government, now big in the vision of all mankind,” according to the American Battlefield Trust.
This week’s event, which is hosted by Morven, features an array of speakers including Morven’s Board Chair Liza Morehouse, Morven’s Executive Director Jill Barry, Princeton Mayor Mark Freda, Princeton Battlefield Society President Mike Russell, President of the Sons of the Revolution in the State of New Jersey Ben Strong, President of the Princeton Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution Roger Williams, Regent of the Princeton Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution Rosemary Kelley, and representatives of the Historical Society of Princeton, Princeton Battlefield State Park and the Old Barracks. U.S. Sen. Cory Booker will be sharing remarks by proxy. Martha Stockton will speak on her father’s role in unveiling the monument. Speeches begin at 11 a.m.
The photo re-creation will take place following 21-gun salute and display of the flags and color guard with music by Will Krakower and members of the Old Barracks regiment. Refreshments will be served in the courtyard.
The flag that draped the monument in 1922 will be represented by one in Morven’s Stockton Education Center next to the Museum for two days, Wednesday, June 8 and Thursday, June 9, during Museum hours. On loan from the Historical Society of Princeton, the flag was originally donated by Bayard Stockton, who was also a key member of the Princeton Battlefield Society. Visitors can view the flag with the purchase of Museum admission; or free for Morven members.
Visitors can learn from a slide show how the monument came to be, and the Historical Society of Princeton will offer an exhibit in the Museum, on display until January 2023.
Morven Museum & Garden, at 55 Stockton Street, is open Wednesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Morven’s parking lot will be unavailable until July 1 because of Princeton Festival events; visitors can park in the municipal lot neighboring the Museum at 1 Monument Drive.