I'd like to introduce you to someone.
This is my great-grandmother, Clara Gasperov Mayerovich (Myers), as the Statue of Wisdom, freshly re-gilded in 2014, atop the Capitol Dome of the State of Maine, in Augusta.
(You can tell there has to be a good story behind this, right?)
Every now and then a family story is corroborated by external evidence. Clara and her husband Sam Myers left some things behind — newspaper articles and the work of their hands. And, of course, their descendents.
Samuel Nathan Mayerovich, first-born son of Nathan Meyerowitz, was born circa 1860 in Odessa, in the thriving Jewish community of that cosmopolitan city. The family stories that came down from my great-aunt Bertha, one of their daughters, remember a family that thought of themselves as native Odessans, and musicians were common.
Sam made the leap first, as so many Jews did, leaving the Russian Empire where strikes were disrupting life in the cities and arriving in Boston circa 1903, where he began a career as an artisan.
Clara stayed behind in Odessa with her three children (aged 9, 6, and 3 in 1905 — there would be two more later) and prepared to eventually join her husband. Bertha was the three-year-old, and the nine-year-old, Luzen, would become my grandfather, Louis Samuel Myers.
Perhaps you know what happened in Russia in 1905? In Odessa, a new wave of strikes began in sympathy with several cities, and the most important naval mutiny occurred, that of the Battleship Potemkin, in the port of Odessa, on June 27, 1905. (Which is really June 14, 1905 in the rest of the world, since Russia didn't convert from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar until 1918.)
Those of you who are cinéastes will remember Sergei Eisenstein's great silent movie, Battleship Potemkin (1925). Its most memorable scene is the segment entitled “The Odessa Steps.” In it, the civilians of the city who have brought food for the mutinying sailors, in sympathy with their actions, are standing on the great Primosky Stairs, which connect the city to the waterfront, when Cossacks march down in ranks to break up the assembly. If you haven't seen it, or don't remember it well, I invite you to watch. It's only 7.5 minutes. I'll wait.
In reality, there was no Czarist massacre on the Odessa Steps — that was Eisenstein's invention as a way to dramatize what is, essentially, a propaganda film — but there were plenty of massacres throughout the city.
I'll let Clara tell the story (though I imagine it was not in this studied reportorial English). Think of her as the woman confronting the Cossacks, above.
Woman Revolutionist Saw Odessa Burning (1905)
Boston Post (circa July 7, 1905)
Fresh from the horrors of the Odessa mutiny and uprising, Mrs. Clara Mayerovich, who arrived yesterday on the steamship Saxonia, said, that judging by the spirit of the populace, no reprisals will put down the revolution now brewing.
She was preparing, quite a while ago, to come to Boston and join her husband who left Odessa two years ago, and when disturbances began, with the safety of her three children in her mind, she fled without awaiting the events to follow.
“Ever since January last,” said Mrs. Mayerovich to a Boston Post reporter, “Odessa has been in a more or less turbulent state. People talked of nothing else but the revolution. But such was the belief in the omnipotence of the government and so deeply was the idea rooted within the minds of men and women, that even the most enthusiastic did not deny the remoteness of it.
“Meanwhile life was becoming harder and harder. Prices for necessities went sky-high, and when the daily demonstrations against the authorities, the bloody encounters between the police and the radicals, the incessant strikes and police brutality are added, one can well say that life was becoming unbearable.”
Hebrew Easter Massacre
“Easter came, and with it terror was stricken into the hearts of the Hebrew population. The police were openly agitating a Hebrew massacre, and were saying to the hungry strikers: ‘Don’t be fools; here is your chance; we’ll not only protect you, we’ll help you.’
“Then for the first time the awakening consciousness of the Russian workmen asserted itself, and the reply of one of the strikers’ leaders is so characteristic that I shall never forget it.
“He said: ‘We are striving to get out of darkness; you police hounds cannot and will not mislead us. If you do not know the cause of our misfortunes, let me tell you: it is you and the accursed system that makes you possible.’
“The striking workmen, as a whole, repudiated the police offers, and the consensus of replies was: ‘we wish you’d start one, we’d follow you and help the Jews to exterminate you, you vermin.’
“The ‘lozung’ was, and is: Give us justice; we demand our rights and did not want any mercy.
“Why, the man who shot and killed the chief of police in Odessa, who was sentenced to death by hanging, refused to sign the petition to the Czar, which, as the authorities assured him, would have been followed by a mitigation of his sentence.
“His words, ‘Mercy shown by tyrants is a degradation to the object of it,’ were embodied in a proclamation, and nightly crowds before the prison indulged in shouting their approval and encouragement till dispersed by mounted Cossacks.
“And then came the memorable day of June 26. Like an electric spark the news flew over the city, that a dead sailor, shot for complaining to his commander, was brought ashore, and a pilgrimage to the harbor by what seemed to be the entire population of Odessa commenced.
“The sight of this victim of indescribable brutality seemed to set a flame to the pent-up desire to get rid of the yoke of tyranny.
“From the balcony of the house I lived in, I could see the harbor, and before the dawn of another day, all the buildings, every structure, were either burned or destroyed.
“Oh, the terrors of that night and of the following days.
“Battles between soldiers and revolutionists were fought in every street. Bombs were thrown, tramway cars set afire, on every hand houses were burning.
How did Clara end up on the Capitol Dome in Augusta? That's her husband's story…
Samuel Myers worked as an artisan and contractor in Boston. Circa 1912, he designed a 5 1/2 foot tall, 150-pound eagle covered in gold leaf for the top of the mast in Boston's Post Office Square Park, part of the Angell Memorial Fountain commemorating George Thorndike Angell.
In 1986, this eagle fell in a windstorm, crushing a wing and part of a head. It was restored in 1989.
He produced other work, most notably an eagle somewhere in Harvard Yard, a copper boat somewhere at Phillips-Exeter Academy, and 600 copper boots to hang outside a national chain of shoe stores.
His masterwork, however, was the statue he created for the Capitol Dome. Here's the official story.
The great copper respousse statue that crowns the State House was designed, executed and given to the State of Maine by William Clark Noble.
The draped female figure that adorns the State Capitol building is perhaps best known to the Citizens of Maine. Although the Statue is commonly misreferenced as Athena, the Greek Goddess of Wisdom, or Minerva, the Italian Goddess of Arts and Crafts, the following account around the time of the 1909 enlargement of the Maine State House was recalled by the sculptor himself:
“I was spending some time in Boston, and happened into the office of Mr. Desmond, the architect, and noted, while looking over the plans for alteration of the Maine Capitol, that he had suggested a statue for the dome. In answer to my questions, he informed me that there was no appropriation made to pay for such a one as he would like to have, but informed me that the contractor would put some kind of figure in tin or zinc, pressed in halves and riveted together…”
Mr. Noble went to the contractor and interested him in a copper statue, making a gift of his time and skill. Working from a 10″ sketch model, he created a classic figure of a woman he named “Lady of Wisdom” with right arm rigidly upraised, close to the head, with torch in hand, Mr. Noble's conception of Augusta (the City), holding a pine torch (the State).
From this 10″ sketch model the large statue was made. The 12-foot high figure, 15 feet to the torch, was marked off in sections, the pieces brazed together with silver solder and the interior of the copper statue filled with hundreds of angle braces which make the work most rigid. It was then gilded and mounted, becoming one of the finest statues on any State Capitol in the United States.
Now, this is all very well, but what is omitted from this article is all the interesting detail. First of all, this was part of a large project, the expansion and dome for the building, and Sam Myers was the unnamed contractor in the above article. You'd think someone would remember his name.
What is never mentioned, anywhere, is the family story that Sam used Clara as his model for the statue. Noble may have made the 10″ sketch, but Sam Myers made the 15-foot statue.
In 1930 he took a road trip with his wife to see the statue in situ for the first time.
Wrought Statue for Maine Capitol Score Years Ago Sees It for First Time Sunday
Daily Kennebec Journal, Tuesday, June 17, 1930
Sam Myers came to Augusta yesterday to see his lady for the first time in the twenty years since her birth. To achieve the end toward which he had waited that score of years he climbed to the dome of the State House, and there beheld her, resplendent in a coat of glistening gold leaf, holding aloft a torch.
Moreover, Mr. Myers brought Mrs. Myers, for his “lady” is the Statue of Wisdom which overlooks the city from her vantage ground on the highest point of the Capitol.
Samuel N. Myers hammered out this beautiful work of art, which rests a-top the offices of Maine’s executives and legislators from 160 pounds of sheet copper, in the workshop of E. Van Norden Company of Roxbury, Massachusetts, in 1910. It was designed by W. Clark Noble, sculptor. For years he had wanted to come to Augusta, realized his desire only Sunday afternoon, but yesterday saw his “lady” and shook hands with Governor Gardiner.
613 pieces of copper Mr. Myers made by hand to produce this statue which he classes as the best example of his work. It took eight weeks of continuous labor to complete the piece, although it is but fourteen and a half feet in height.
Mr. Myers was in charge of the construction of the other copper work which went into the Capitol Dome. Men worked with him making the doors, the windows, even the balustrade, the roofing and the walls of the dome itself, which look like granite from the ground below.
The statue and dome underwent extensive repairs and regilding in 2014, and my great-grandmother shines her eternal light of wisdom again.
Another picture, from preparation for the regilding. I like this one best. See NeverYetMelted, my husband's blog.
My cousin, Sue Werlin, examining the restored eagle designed by her grandfather.
More about the family tree that resulted from this research.