The Laurent Clerc Bust at The American School for the Deaf, West Hartford CT
Laurent Clerc was a founder of the American School for the Deaf with his close friend Thomas Gallaudet. The school wished to honor his contribution.
THE DECISION - 1874
Louis Laurent Marie Clerc
Often called the “Apostle to the Deaf”
Died on July 18, 1869.
The same feeling of gratitude which prompted the Deaf Community to honor the memory of Thomas H. Gallaudet in 1854 when the Gallaudet Monument was dedicated, led them to show their feelings toward his co-founder, Laurent Clerc, in a similar manner.
In September 1871, a meeting of delegates from nearly all Deaf associations was held, and a committee was appointed to collect funds for a memorial to Laurent Clerc. This committee was called the National Clerc Memorial Union. Its officers included Thomas Brown (founder of the New England Gallaudet Association) as President, and Henry Winter Syle (first Deaf person to be ordained an Episcopalian priest in the U.S.) as Secretary. In December 1873 it was decided that the memorial should be a bust, to be placed on the grounds of the American Asylum in Hartford.
On behalf of the Union, Henry Winter Syle sent a letter to ASD’s Board of Directors dated May 11, 1874:
The Deaf Mutes of the United States, desirous at once to provide a public and lasting memorial of the invaluable labors of Laurent Clerc and to attest their own deep sense of gratitude for the benefits of education received by them largely in the first place through his instrumentality, have taken steps toward the erection of a monument to his memory.
Their unanimous and earnest desire is to have it placed on the grounds of the institution of which you gentlemen have charge, and in a position corresponding to that of the monument Mr. Clerc assisted in erecting to his friend and fellow worker – the sainted Gallaudet. Here it would be on the scene of Mr. Clerc’s labors in your service during almost the whole of his sojourn in America and within sight of the spot where he passed his declining years and breathed his last.
This desire was early communicated to the President of your honorable body and, upon his assurances that you would doubtless accede to it at your annual meeting, a design was selected with special reference to such a site and is now in the course of execution.
The design embraces a bronze bust larger than life, supported by a simple but massive and elegant pedestal of Scotch Granite, bearing suitable inscriptions – the whole rising to the height of twelve feet at which altitude it is thought the bust will be best viewed. In the model of the bust just completed, it is universally admitted the best likeness of Mr. Clerc yet produced. The whole will, it is believed, form a monument worthy of the honored dead, and fitted to adorn the grounds of the American Asylum. We have already within a few dollars of the amount required, which is estimated at three thousand dollars, and there is every reason to expect the monument to be ready for dedication by the end of next August.
I now have the honor in the name of the National Clerc Memorial Union and by authority of its Executive Committee, respectfully to request that you will allow us to place the above described monument to Mr. Clerc – complete and free from any pecuniary liability for its construction and erection – on the grounds of the American Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb upon a site opposite and corresponding to that of the memorial of the Rev. T. H. Gallaudet, S.S.D., and that you will then accept it and take charge of it in trust forever in the same manner as the Gallaudet Monument.
Your Obedient Servant,
Henry Winter Syle
Secretary, National Clerc Memorial Union
ASD’s Board of Directors acknowledged – with gratification – the value of the proposed tribute to Laurent Clerc, and granted the request to place the memorial on the Asylum grounds. In addition, they offered the hospitality of the Asylum on the occasion of the dedication to the officers and as many others as could be comfortably accommodated.
The Treasurer of the National Clerc Memorial Union fund was Charles S. Newell Jr. On July 25, 1874, Mr. Newell reported that sufficient funds had been secured ($2,876.98) to pay for the memorial in full, immediately upon its completion – thus closing the undertaking which had taken the past five years. Similar to the Gallaudet Monument, the cost of the Clerc Memorial was fully funded by the Deaf Community. The entire cost was $2,900.
As noted above, at a meeting of the National Clerc Memorial Union in December 1873, it was determined that the memorial to Clerc be placed on the grounds of the American Asylum in Hartford. The school’s Board of Directors approved the decision at their meeting on May 27, 1874. The Clerc Memorial stood on the grounds of “Old Hartford” for more than four decades.
In 1916, anticipating the upcoming move from Hartford to West Hartford, the Directing Committee of the school considered the establishment of a park to contain the Clerc Memorial and Gallaudet Monument permanently. Lacking consensus, a sub-committee was formed in 1919 to determine the fate of the monuments “which must necessarily be disturbed by the transfer of the property” [to the Hartford Fire Insurance Co.]. Without available funding, the sub-committee decided to put the monuments in nearby storage, at least temporarily.
The Clerc Memorial was taken out of storage and moved to the new school in West Hartford in the summer of 1924. It was placed onto a new base of granite in front of the south (girls’) wing of the Gallaudet Building. The bronze bust was reported “in a wonderful state of preservation.” A re-dedication of the new site was held in the fall – exactly 50 years after it was first placed at “Old Hartford” - and Principal Wheeler presided.
The design of the Laurent Clerc Memorial was entrusted to Mr. James G. Batterson of Hartford for his good taste and skill. At age 23, Mr. Batterson established himself in Hartford as proprietor of a stone yard called the New England Granite Works, primarily producing cemetery monuments. In 1854, he produced ASD’s Gallaudet Monument. In 1864 he designed the Samuel Colt Monument in Cedar Hill Cemetery, noteworthy at 40’ high. But his most famous project was the CT State Capitol in 1873-1878. To keep up with the demand throughout the state for monuments of such size and artistic ambition, Mr. Batterson hired Carl H. (Charles) Conrads in 1866. Mr. Conrads was a well-established sculptor, known for his Civil War monuments. His works included the seated figure of “Morality” in Plymouth, MA – the largest solid granite monument in the world at the time. In addition to Laurent Clerc, Mr. Conrads also modeled statues of Alexander Hamilton, Daniel Webster, and Horace Bushnell.
THE MEMORIAL BUST
It was not easy to determine the form of the proposed memorial, and many debates ensued. But even Clerc, in his final years, had entertained a hope that if there were to be a memorial to himself, it would be in a like manner of Gallaudet monument. Finally in 1873, it was decided that the memorial should be a bust in accordance with what was known to have been the desire of Laurent Clerc himself. The likeness was, in all respects, considered to present a finer appearance than any other that could have been obtained at the same cost.
The account of the Memorial’s description, as it appeared in the American Annals (Vol. 20, 1875) is as follows:
The monument to the late Laurent Clerc consists of a bronze bust and a memorial pedestal composed of five stones.
The base is of Westerly, R.I. gray granite – 5 ft. square by 14 in. thick, finely hammered. The remaining portions are of Scotch granite, bluish-gray in color, and very highly polished, from the Spittal Granite Works, Messrs. Bower & Florence, Aberdeen.
The second base is 3 ft.-10 in. square by 10 in. thick.
The molded base is 3 ft. by 3 in. square by 18 in. thick and has a bronze plate inserted in the front, bearing a bas-relief of the name CLERC in the manual alphabet.
The die is 3 ft.-3 in. high by 2 ft.-6 in. square at the bottom, diminishing to 2 ft.-2 in. square at the top, and bears inscriptions in front and on the two sides, in sunk beveled gilt letters.
The cap is 2 ft.-9 in. square by 2 ft. high. It is richly molded and bears in front the monogram L.C. in elegant sunken letters.
The bronze bust is of heroic size. It was modeled by Carl Conrads of Hartford and cast at the Ames Foundry in Chicopee, Mass. It is finely chased and finished by hand.
The monogram was designed by Mr. Batterson’s draftsman, Mr. Henry Bryant, of Hartford, who also made the working drawings of the details of the pedestal from the general designs furnished by myself [Henry Winter Syles].
The total height to the top of the bust is 11 ft.-6 in. Three sides of the base are inscribed as follows:
To the Deaf Mutes of the
Directly under this is a bas-relief in bronze of the name “Clerc” in the letters of the manual alphabet
LAURENT CLERC, A.M.
Born in La Balme, France
December 26, 1785
Lauded at New York August 9, 1816
Died at Hartford
July 18, 1869
Erected by the Deaf-Mutes of America
To the Memory of their Benefactor
The pupil of Sicard
The Associate of Gallaudet
Who left his native land to
Elevate them by his teaching and
Encourage them by his example
THE UNVEILING & DEDICATION
The dedication of the Laurent Clerc Memorial Bust took place on Wednesday afternoon, September 16, 1874. Deaf people from all over the country, along with prominent citizens of Hartford, gathered on the slope in front of the American Asylum to honor the memory of Clerc. The ceremony was led by Miss Lottie Beers, a granddaughter of Clerc’s. A wreath of flowers – a gift from the Deaf of Boston and vicinity who were unable to attend in person – was placed upon the Bust. The attendees then withdrew to the Asylum Hill Congregational Church where the dedication services took place. Thomas Brown, one of the early graduates of the Asylum, presided. Prayer was offered in sign language by the Rev. William W. Turner, former Principal of the Asylum. Mr. Brown, who was also the president of the National Clerc Memorial Union, delivered by signs the presentation address, which was read by Mr. Job Williams, an instructor in the
Asylum at the time. Other addresses were given by Hon. Calvin Day, President of the American Asylum and Mr. James Denison, Principal of the Preparatory Department at Columbia Institution. Mr. Henry W. Syle also read letters from:
Hon. W. W. Eaton, Hartford
President Barnard, Columbia College
Prof. George E. Day, Yale College
Other brief addresses were given by:
The Rev. Dr. Francis J. Clerc, son of Laurent Clerc
The Rev. Thomas Gallaudet, St. Ann’s Church for the Deaf
Dr. Edward M. Gallaudet, President of the Deaf-Mute College
Mr. David E. Bartlett, Instructor at the Asylum
Dr. Isaac L. Peet, Principal of the New York Institution
Ceremonies at the church were concluded at 6:00, and the events of the day were closed with a banquet at the Park Central Hotel, which was largely attended.
1917: Among the guests at the school’s centennial celebration in July 1917 were four French delegates sent by the French Government. They gave the school two identical bronze sprays, stylized with palm fronds and sprigs of white oak.
Inscribed are the words, “Les Sourds Muets Français 1817-1917” (The Deaf
Mutes of France 1817-1917). The sprays symbolized the school’s alliance with
France – then and now. One was placed on the Clerc Memorial, and the other
was placed on the Gallaudet Monument.
1919: The Memorial was placed in storage for safe-keeping.
1924: The Memorial was moved from storage and placed on a new granite base
in front of the south wing of the new school building in West Hartford.
1949: The ASD Alumni Association donated three granite benches to the school;
two were placed in front of the Clerc Memorial (the other one was placed in front
of the school at the bus stop on North Main Street).
1960: Outdoor lighting was added to the grounds surrounding the Clerc
Memorial so it could be illuminated at night.
1983: In May a professional restoration team was hired to clean and remove
discoloration and oxidation from the Memorial.
1986: LC Memorial Plaza was dedicated to Robert Dean Morton, ASD Board of
Directors and Chairman of Buildings & Grounds Committee, on May 28. The site was graded and a blue stone terrace was added.
Laurent Clerc Memorial Dedication - 1987
Gallaudet University, Washington D.C.