Mr Mayor: Thank you for your response to my inquiry about your plans on the Taney memorial. I’d like to suggest some themes for your consideration.
The debate and the Taney decision were quite clearcut. There were two contenders – the Movers and the Keepers. The Movers won. And won big, five to zero. The Movers said to summarize in blunt fashion: Taney was a reactionary bigot, an over-reaching judge and a partisan of the Confederacy, and as such has no pride of place in front of City Hall, a city which historically was with the Union, and which now wants to put bigotry behind it and aspires to respect the rights of all. Taney should be moved, but…(of which more later.)
The Keepers had a less coherent theme. They said: Taney was a product of his time, he may have made a mess of Dred Scott but that it is unfair to judge him on that alone. And anyway you ‘politically correct’ Movers really want to whitewash history by ridding us of all the symbols of the losers in a complex conflict…next thing you’ll be digging up his grave.
That was over-the-top vilification.
I do admit to a momentary thrill, an emotional high at the suggestion of one speaker in the public debate at the Mayor & Board hearing that the most appropriate place to move the Taney bust was the County landfill… But most Movers enjoyed that as a joke, and recognize that it would be wrong to try to destroy the memory of Taney. Contrary to the Keepers’ charge they in fact ONLY want Taney moved away from City Hall, out from his present place of honor under the national and state flags. The Resolution of the Movers was carefully crafted to state that the Taney memorial “is a significant piece of public art created by a Frederick resident…” (sculptor Joseph Urner), that Taney was “a prominent jurist in the history of our nation…” and that his memorial “would be more suitably located in a museum… or venue” which people can choose to visit…
So the Movers recognized the legitimacy of the loudest Keeper argument and said: We can both move the Taney memorial and keep him as history. The alternative is NOT City Hall or the Landfill. Taney can be kept in plenty of good locations other than City Hall. The Aldermen in their remarks before the vote indicated that they embraced this idea and it was recognition of the Keepers’ valid point which enabled the vote to be unanimous in the Movers’ favor. (Credit: First draft by Ald Kuzemchak, smart editing by Ald Russell.)
Despite the harmony over the Move decision itself, there was a sharp clash on how the City should proceed afterward. Ald Bokee felt that should be it! Done. The City, he said, shouldn’t risk being over-ruled by its own appointed commissions, and having to re-debate the issue after a No-move ruling by the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) or the Public Arts Commission (PAC.) Ald O’Connor and Ald Russell were adamant on the other hand that the City should follow its normal procedures and route the Taney bust move through those two commissions, despite the possibility of them blocking it.
Mr Mayor, it’s for you as chief executive of City Government to determine how to proceed. My suggestion is you adopt the following theme with the City’s commissions:
“The Board of Aldermen voted Oct 15 for the removal of the Taney memorial (the 1931 bust and the 2009 plaque) from City Hall Park. The vote for the removal was unanimous and followed extensive public debate.
“That issue I regard as settled.
“We need to move on to a discussion of how to implement the removal of the Taney memorial from City Hall Park, and this is where I request your assistance.”
HPC Guidelines on ‘public art’ bar it from considering…
A regular referral to the HPC of the move of the Taney memorial does not make any sense since the HPC Guidelines (at Chapter 8 Guidelines for Landscapes and Streetscapes, (O) Public Art, page 132) specifically limit its review to impacts on streetscape and landscape and forbid it from considering the content or subject matter of ‘public art’ such as the Taney memorial. As the debate at Mayor and Board hearings and in public fora showed it is precisely the much debated content and subject matter of the Taney memorial which led the Board of Aldermen to vote for its removal from City Hall Park. The HPC does not have the authority to re-debate this issue or make one of its regular rulings on it. The Public Arts Commission (PAC) is an advisory body, set up to give advice, not to rule.
Continuing the theme in first person voice:
“My referral to the HPC and the PAC is to get your advice on the best means of fulfilling the mandate of the Board of Aldermen. I ask the HPC and the PAC to jointly convene a workshop and hearing to consider and provide advice on the following issues:
- whether it is appropriate to add a similar memorial or memorials to take the place of the Taney memorial so that the landscape and streetscape of City Hall is preserved and enhanced?
- can the memorial to Thomas Johnson stand alone or should it be redeployed in some fashion?
- how the Taney memorial best be deployed at a new location?
- the pros and cons of alternative locations
- how best to protect the Taney memorial from vandalism”
You might consider asking the Historical Society of Frederick County and Landmarks Foundation for their support too.
The key to raising some money it seems to me is getting together interesting new memorial arrangements that stir some enthusiasm:
- to replace Taney at the front of City Hall the best idea I can come up with is some kind of memorial/display/narrative on the founding of the City, and its earliest major players, Benjamin Tasker, Joseph Brunner, Daniel Dulany and Jacob Engelbrecht… perhaps best if there’s to be one person focussed on with a bust to match TJ would be Dulany. He actually took the risk, bought the land that is now approximately the historic district, laid out streets, platted lots, reserved sites for major buildings, devised an ingenious land sale system. Downtown Frederick was more Dulany’s work than any other individual to this day. Would realtors and development people get together to raise some money for something like that?
- to dispose of Taney from City Hall Park obvious alternative venues are Taney House on S Bentz, St Johns Cemetery where he’s buried, some new museum display perhaps Confederates in Frederick… But really this initiative should come from the Keepers in the Taney debate, the people who say it is so important to preserve the story and memory of Taney. If he is as important as they say to our history then let them take the initiative, find a venue and raise the money for a new Taney memorial.
I hope there’s something helpful here by way of ideas to be tossed around.