Photo essay: A questionable statue in Queens

I find it funny when people get really really mad at statues, particularly the 90-year-old “Triumph of Civic Virtue,” which has long endured nicknames like “Fat Boy” and “Cave Man” since it was set outside City Hall in Manhattan in 1922.

Many call it sexist, as “virtue” is represented with a man triumphantly trampling a couple female figures (actually mermaids). Terry O’Neill, the president of the National Organization for Women, couldn’t believe there’s even debate. As she told the New York Times, “A person with a vagina symbolizes bad stuff and a person with a penis symbolizes good stuff, and we don’t think there is a sexist problem with this?”

In 1941, Mayor Fiorello La Guardia complained that he didn’t like being mooned everyday by it. By this butt:

And so he ‘gifted’ it to deepest Queens, Kew Gardens, where it now overlooks one of the country’s most dangerous roads, Queens Boulevard, from behind a chain-link fence.

Now the decaying statue may move again – to Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery, where relatives of the Brooklyn-born sculptor, Frederick MacMonnies. Many folks in Queens were surprised to hear it, including one politician who wondered to the Wall Street Journal, “is it because it’s Queens and nobody cares?”

The view of Queens Blvd from the statue.

To see determine if ‘Fat Man’ is an apt nickname for yourself, and to ponder the tact of a “virtue” monument depicted of a man stomping female sirens, take the E or F train to the Union Turnpike/Kew Gardens station. It stands on the south side of Queens Boulevard.

Afterwards, have a walk around hilly Kew Gardens. Named deliberately after the London area, it has plenty of “English” architecture on Lefferts Blvd, where you can have a good $12 burger at Austin’s Steak & Ale House’s patio overlooking the LIRR tracks and see a cheap $7 matinee at Kew Gardens Cinema, a rare indie-film theater in the boroughs. You’ll see lots of pilots here in uniform (JFK is nearby), but Kew Gardens has also been home to people like Paul Simon, poet Dorothy Parker, composer George Gershwin and Okie cowboy Will Rogers. So there.

From the subway station, walk up Kew Gardens Rd to Lefferts Blvd (a five- to eight-minute walk) or take the JFK-bound Bus 10 one stop.

Note: After a couple days of deliberation, I’ve decided I like the statue, so changed the heading from ‘A bad statue in Queens’ to ‘A questionable statue in Queens.’ I think it should stay where it is too. Not like Queens has much classic art. Or parks. Or bookstores. It fits nicely where it is, near the tail end of Queens Boulevard.

About Robert Reid

Robert Reid is a travel writer (Lonely Planet, New York Times, ESPN), travel expert (Today Show, CNN's Headline News), travel videographer (76-Second Travel Show) and travel artist (don't ask).
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