Monday, July 31, 2017

ABOUT TOWN IN TRENTON, NEW JERSEY

Trenton, New Jersey, population 85,000, appears to be a relatively quiet little town. At least it was quiet around the capitol building when we were there.

Directly across the street from the Statehouse is a war memorial.  A domed cupola with a bronze "Lady Victory" statue comes first:

View from behind with the Statehouse in the background:


Behind Lady Victory is a semi-circular courtyard. On the left is a curved mural dedicated to the Pacific Theater conflict:

And on the right is another mural dedicated to the European Theater:

Behind that is a statue of a soldier on the battlefield, and behind him is a helmet resting on an upright gun planted in the concrete soil:

They line up like this:

The stairs behind the memorial list the donors:


Next door to the Statehouse are some restored Hessian barracks used during the Revolutionary War. I think they offer tours, but we didn't go inside.

Between the barracks and the Statehouse is an archaeological site--the remains of an old plating mill:

We noted Thomas Edison State University, one of New Jersey's eleven state-run colleges. Edison lived in New Jersey for most of his adult life. (There's another person who should be recognized in the state capitol as a significant part of New Jersey's history.)

 The school has over 18,000 students.

The Big Deal about Trenton is that it was the site of a battle that played a pivotal role in the Revolutionary War. It was here that Washington and his troops crossed the Delaware River at night in order to launch a surprise attack on the Hessians stationed in those barracks. It was a total victory for the Continental Army, which had recently suffered several defeats in New York, and it did much to boost morale.

There is a Battle of Trenton Monument built in 1893--a 137-foot pillar topped with a statue of George Washington--but a lack of signage makes it hard to find, it is located in an unsavory neighborhood, and the grounds are in a state of disrepair. (We thought cleaning up the landscaping and making some repairs might make an excellent Eagle Project.) At one time an elevator would take visitors up the pillar's hollow core to the square observation deck, but the elevator is no longer functioning and the entrance door is locked.

The monument was designed by John H. Duncan (1855-1929), the same man who designed Grant's Tomb in New York City. The words of Lord George Germain, the Colonial Secretary of State of King George III appear on the door: "All our hopes were blasted by that unhappy affair at Trenton."

The entrance is guarded by two American soldiers created by sculptor William Rudolf O'Donovan (1844-1920):

High up on his perch, far above the riff raff, 13-foot-tall George (also by O'Donovan) still looks pretty good. 

Two bronze relief panels on the base were created by the famous American artist Thomas Eakins (1844-1916). They depict the Continental Army's nighttime crossing of the Delaware and the opening salvos of the battle:


A third panel by another great American artist, Charles Henry Niehaus (1855-1935), captures the moment the Hessians surrendered:


There is even a monument to the black soldiers who served in the Revolutionary War. It seems to have once been some kind of water feature, but now it's just a broken fountain in a weed patch. (Eagle Project, anyone?)


Well, time for lunch.

I'm always on the lookout for interesting street art, and I snapped a picture of this painted wall as we drove by. It includes the words: "Take into account that great love and great achievements involve great risk."

On our way to the restaurant we'd scouted out on Yelp, we passed this fun sculpture of two construction men working on a project. 

Kitty corner from the statue is Gyro Express, an unassuming little place . . . 

. . . that had amazing lamb drowning in a wonderful sauce.

It added some spice to an otherwise somewhat mediocre city.

READING

I've realized how little I really know about the events of the Revolutionary War.  I think the focus of my education has been on key people rather than key events. After visiting Trenton, I was intrigued by the battle that was fought there in 1776 and which proved to be a turning point in the war.

I was lucky to run across George Washington: The Crossing by Jack E. Levin.  A slim tome--I read it in about fifteen minutes--it nevertheless captures the power of the emerging leadership of George Washington, who had to make some very difficult decisions in the dead of winter with only a meager army at his disposal, and one that had suffered significant defeats at that.

Levin does an excellent job of showing the seeming hopelessness of the Continental Army's situation after their defeats in New York. He notes that Thomas Paine joined the army on its retreat, and during this time wrote the famous essay that begins "These are the times that try men's souls." He discusses the genius of Washington's decisions to cross the Delaware River and attack on the morning of December 26th, the day after the professional Hessian army would have celebrated into the night and therefore would be weakened by drink and lack of sleep. He discusses the difficult conditions, including the ice-clogged river and the American soldiers' lack of shoes.

The text is illustrated with rich historical paintings, drawings, documents, maps, and even photographs (of the modern-day river clogged with ice). Washington's own account of the battle is included, spread throughout the book in red lettering to distinguish it from Levin's telling of the tale.

I came away with not only even more respect for Washington, but also for the resilient troops he led. This is an excellent companion read for a visit to Trenton.

2 comments:

  1. Nice bits and pieces about Trenton, part of the learning about the place after-the-fact. For all of the amazing history, they do seem somewhat reluctant to show it off.

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  2. I always like war memorials-does that make me bad? Tragic to see the rundown conditions of some of these areas.

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