A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006. Now a Popeyes fast food restaurant on Google Maps.

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Entry from July 05, 2004
Audrey Munson (New York’s “Civic Fame” and “Miss Manhattan,” San Francisco’s “World’s Fair Girl”)
Audrey Munson photo links:

Google Images

Audrey Munson should be on a postage stamp.

She died in total obscurity in 1996. She becomes eligible ten years after her death, in 2006. After reading this, write to the mayors of New York and San Francisco for their support. It is long overdue.

She probably posed for the "Day" and "Night" sculptures of Adolph A. Weinman, now seen in drawings in the subway of Pennsylvania Station. Before the current Madison Square Garden and the current Penn Station, there used to be an old, grand Pennsylvania Station. It was torn down; the landmark preservation movement was immediately born, if too late . The "Day" and "Night" sculptures were unceremoniously dumped in New Jersey landfill. See "Piece of Penn Station's Past Is Found in Salvage," the New York Times, March 25, 1998, pg. B3.

I was researching old issues of the New York Sun from the summer of 1913. One full-page article intrigued me: "All New York Bows to the Real 'Miss Manhattan.'" It was about a woman named Audrey Munson who had posed for the statue "Civic Fame" and much else. I checked the personal name index to the New York Times. What happened to her? When did she die?

"Civic Fame" is the tallest sculpture in Manhattan and the second-tallest in New York, after the Statue of Liberty. It stands atop the Municipal Building (by the Brooklyn Bridge and City Hall), and was sculpted by Adolph A. Weinman.

Audrey Munson also posed for "Miss America," at the Four Continents Group by Daniel Chester French, in front of the Bowling Green Customs House.

Audrey Munson also posed for "Peace" on top of the court house on Madison Square.

Audrey Munson also posed for the proscenium arch of Disney's New Amsterdam Theatre.

Audrey Munson also posed for "Beauty" in front of the New York Public Library.

Audrey Munson is "Pomona," the lady in the fountain, in front of the Plaza Hotel at the corner of Central Park.

Audrey Munson is also at the other end of Central Park, at Columbus Circle, in the Maine Monument.

Audrey Munson posed for Daniel Chester French's "Memory," in the American Wing of the Metropolitan Museum. She had posed for 40 pieces owned by the Met.

Audrey Munson posed for the Fireman's Memorial on the Upper West Side.

Audrey Munson posed for "Miss Manhattan" and "Miss Brooklyn," sculptures originally at the Manhattan Bridge but now outside the Brooklyn Museum of Art.

In 1915, she posed for so many sculptures for the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco that she was called the "World's Fair Girl." Her "Descending Night" sculpture is often reproduced.

She went on to star in silent movies. She re-created her story in films (now lost), and is credited today as the first person to appear nude in the new medium of cinema.

She allegedly (it cannot be verified with certainty) posed for "Miss Liberty" on our coinage.

In 1921, she told her life story for several weeks in Hearst Weekly, a Sunday section of the New York American and other newspapers. She looked for the "perfect man" to marry. In 1922, she tried to kill herself. And then—blank.

I looked at the book Manhattan's Outdoor Sculpture, by the Art Commission. "Civic Fame" was on the cover, but the name "Audrey Munson" appeared nowhere. The book Monuments and Masterpieces incorrectly listed another model for "Civic Fame." The Encyclopedia of New York City never mentioned her.

I wrote to the Art Commission and the Metropolitan Museum and the Brooklyn Museum. Only the Met responded, and it said that it didn't know anything about her and wouldn't do anything for her. As fate turned out, they all could have done something because she was, amazingly, still alive.

Andrew Jacobs, a writer for the New York Times city section, came before me with his parking tickets at the Manhattan Help Center in February 1996. I said that I didn't hold it against him that he was a writer for the New York Times. I told him that I had solved "the Big Apple" and the Times had never run a story or even talked to me about it in four years. Further, on Charles Gillett's death in December, New Yorkers were falsely told that "the Big Apple" comes from Damon Runyon. C'mon, the story even made the Post!

He told me, well then, they couldn't write about "the Big Apple."

So I said how about this, I've got another story, there's this woman named Audrey Munson, and she's on top of this building as "Civic Fame," and we just gilted her statues at great expense, but no one knows who she is, or if she's alive or dead...

"Rescuing a Heroine From the Clutches of Obscurity" appeared in the New York Times, city section, April 14, 1996. It was the only article published on Audrey Munson since 1926, in 70 years. The article mentioned, in passing, that I'd also solved "the Big Apple."

I donated my papers and a copy of the article to the National Sculpture Society. I got a call from a book publisher, and I sent copies of all the papers there as well. One woman, a photographer, called and said she was interested in a photo book about Miss Munson. She had contacted me through the Times. I gave her all my papers and met her and another woman, a writer. I told them that I didn't have any book plans at the moment—I was busy with my father and mother dying, and a full time job, and this Big Apple Boulevard/Corner catastrophe. However, if they were interested, they should contact anyone upstate in her home town of Mexico, NY named "Munson." I never heard from the two women again.

"That Metropolitan Woman" was a book review in the New York Times of October 3,1999. Accompanying the review was a photo of a sculpture identified as Daniel Chester French's "Brooklyn" that was really "Manhattan." The book was American Venus. The authors had gone upstate and had found a treasure trove of Audrey Munson material. Audrey had been living in a mental institution for almost seventy years, until her death in 1996 at age 105. The authors, the review stated, "have made an extraordinary effort to reclaim long-forgotten facts, newspaper clippings and vintage photographs of a once -celebrated life." I wrote a letter to the editor of the book review that, just three years before, in the very same newspaper—yeah, my letter wasn't published.

The book didn't even give me a single credit.

Miss Munson also posed for the statues in the state capitol at Madison, Wisconsin; for the Southern Motherhood statue at Columbia, South Carolina; for a piece at the Vanderbilt Biltmore estate in Asheville, North Carolina; for a monument at Saratoga, New York, a copy of which I saw on the stiars in the library of the University of North Carolina; and much else.

If you're in New York (the Big Apple), try to see at least one of the Munson works, and maybe do something to honor her at long last.

("Civic Fame" explanation on nyc.gov. Audrey Munson is never mentioned! It is mentioned that sculptor Adolph A. Weinman also designed "the Liberty Dime and the half dollar." Again, Audrey Munson must be on a postage stamp, finally as herself.)

NYC Citywide Administrative Services
Civic Fame
Civic Fame was commissioned by the City to celebrate the five boroughs uniting to become the City of New York. Adolph A. Weinman (1870-1952), designed the statue, perched atop the tower of the Manhattan Municipal Building, as well as the relief sculptures on the lower floors of the building. Weinman's credits include the Liberty Dime and the half dollar. The German-born sculptor's training and style coincided with the classical traditions exemplified by McKim, Mead and White, the architectural firm that designed the Municipal Building. Their collaborations were part of what is known as the American Renaissance; a movement to integrate all the arts of design as co-equal partners in a total ensemble of architecture. Civic Fame is a grand figure three times life size, of gilded copper supported on an iron skeleton. In construction she is similar to that of the Statue of Liberty, and like the Statue of Liberty she bears the emblems of her role: A shield with the coat of arms of the City, a branch of leaves, and "mural" crown -- that is a crown with five crenellations as of a city wall, representing the five boroughs of the City. Also on the crown are dolphins, symbolizing New York's maritime setting.

The 25 foot statue was installed 580' above the City she celebrates in March 1913. In 1936, the left arm of the statue fell off and went through a skylight on the 26th floor of the Municipal Building, which at that time, was a cafeteria. This prompted the first set of renovations to the statue. Civic Fame endured three-quarters of a century's worth of pollution, high winds, and ice water before needing a major renovation. In 1991 with restorative work ongoing to the facade of the Municipal Building, the city seized the opportunity to restore the statue as well. The French design firm responsible for the restoration of the Statue of Liberty torch, Les Metalliers Champenois, won the bid to restore Civic Fame. The cleaning not only revealed the original color and detail, but also a message from the past: "L. Conroy" carved his initials into the statue during the 1936 renovation. After 114 days "in the shop" Civic Fame was ready to go home, and on the Sunday of Columbus Day weekend, 1991, early morning risers were treated to the site of a helicopter transporting the renovated statue once again to her perch atop the Municipal Building.
Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityArt/Sculpture • Monday, July 05, 2004 • Permalink

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