“It was a clear Sunday morning with a hint of winter in the air. In the courtyard, the Library choristers who had arried early, and without hats, shivered a little. The draped flag between the windows attracted many of the curious. At eleven, library officials, committee members, and guests entered the courtyard, which by then was crowded with expectant standees.” (Library Life, Dec. 15, 1924)
The service on Armistice Day, November 11, 1924 commemorated nineteen employees of the library who served in the war between 1917 and 1918. The ceremony was conducted with solemnity beginning with a “grave and beautiful invocation” and ending with the “singing of the National Anthem and the slow heart-wringing notes of taps” by a bugler. At the time of the unveiling, “the flag fell away from the simple and exquisite bronze tablet, showing a drawn sword wreathed in laurel.” The father of one of the dead placed a “magnificent evergreen wreath” on a stand below the tablet.
A “splendid” military Major General gave a “matter of fact description of a massed attack” which pointed to the futility, the horrors and glory of war. A judge emphasized “the necessity of personal service in everyday life as well as in wartime.” An orator recited “In Flanders Field” dramatically. After the proceedings, luncheon was served to the veterans and guests and all shared in the effort it had taken to bring this event to fruition, in their memories of the three who were lost and in gratitude for the sixteen lives of those still with them. The event was covered by five newspapers.
This handsome and modest bronze tablet (20″ x 30″) “with design and lettering in relief, … is the work of a prominent Boston sculptor, Frederick W. Allen,” announced the Boston Globe on November 10th. You will find it outdoors on the North Wall of the beautiful courtyard of the Boston Public Library overlooking the garden “where the fountain plays and people come to read during their noon hours.” (Boston Evening Globe Nov.11, 1924)
The tablet reads, “In honor of the employees of the Public Library of the City of Boston who served in the World War 1917 – 1918. Erected by their fellow workers.” It will “stand for those who strolled in the court as a silent witness of an enduring bond, a memorial of the conflict waged for liberty and righteousness.” (Transcript Nov. 11, 1924)
As a side note, Boston Public Library stands in Copley Square. The entrance from the square is flanked by the magnificent sculptures of two seated women titled Art and Science by Bela L. Pratt, the instructor, mentor and friend of F.W.Allen. Inside the Library are two other sculptures of note, Bacchante and Infant Faun by MacMonnies in the courtyard fountain and the pair of Lions on the entry stairway by St.Gaudens brother Louis. Across the square is Trinity Church. Inside the entrance from the square to the right of the entrance to the sanctuary is another very large lettered tablet by Allen. To the left on the side of the church is the heroic size statue of Phillips Brooks by Augustus St. Gaudens, Pratt’s instructor and mentor. Allen was studio assistant to Pratt and Pratt to St.Gaudens. The legacy is there in the outdoor sculpture in Boston’s Copley Square.