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Soldiers and Sailors Arch, Brooklyn, NY


One of Brooklyn's most recognizable monuments, the Soldiers and Sailors Arch is passed by thousands daily, serves as a background for the borough's biggest farmers market, and is actually visited by almost no one.

And even fewer know its official name, its history and how closely related it is to Prospect Park, whose northern entrance is just across a plaza from the arch. To most, it's just the Grand Army Plaza arch, and you have to go past it to get where you're going. 


The arch is a monument, as the pediment says, "To the Defenders of the Union, 1861-1865." In the late 1880s, as veterans of the war were growing older, and many felt the lessons of the war were in danger of being forgotten, Brooklyn took on the call for a memorial and held an architectural competition. 

The commissioners chose the design submitted by John H. Duncan, but then turned to more famous hands to carry it out. The engineering and construction were supervised by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, the designers and builders of Prospect Park, and of Eastern Parkway, which ends at the arch. They worked together with 'starchitect' Stanford White.

Before the statuary was installed, looking north from inside the park

The big names don't stop there, either. The commissioners went for big names in sculpture, too. The two large groups on its face, which represent the Army and the Navy, were done by Frederick MacMonnies, as was the massive victory group on the top. 


On the inside walls of the arch are equestrian statues of Lincoln and Grant, the Civil War president and its leading general. Unusually, they were created by two different sculptors. Not one for Lincoln and one for Grant, but one for the horses and one for the men! William Rudolph O'Donovan did the men; the two horses are by the far better-known Philadelphia anatomist, painter and sculptor Thomas Eakins.


Despite its big-name connections (aside from the builders and sculptors, the cornerstone was laid by Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman and the dedication speaker was President Cleveland) the monument fell on hard times as the city cut back on maintenance and the public paid less attention.

In 1924, traffic had not yet been re-routged around the green space that now surrounds the arch.

Even gaining landmark status in 1973 didn't help much: in 1976, Victory fell from her chariot and landed behind the arch. After that, though, attention picked up, the statues were restored and refurbished. And, last year it was announced that enough money was available for more upkeep, and to restore and re-open the observation deck at the top, closed for over twenty years.


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