“No name in the American poetical world is more firmly established
than that of Fitz-Greene Halleck.” — Edgar Allan Poe
I first wrote about Fitz-Greene Halleck back in April, which you can read here.
Halleck hailed from Guilford, CT, where I now live, and spent the bulk of his adulthood in New York City. He was born in 1790 and died in 1867. He was a poet and, at the height of his career, was one of the most famous literary men in America. He was called The American Byron and is the only American to be honored with a statue on Central Park’s Literary Walk.
Earlier this year I visited Halleck’s grave here in Guilford and his statue in Central Park. Today I’m sharing some photos and a video of my biblio-adventures to these sites that are so central to this forgotten poet.
Guilford is a small town, but it was established in 1639. Over the last 379 years there have been a lot of bodies in need of burial, so we have about eleven cemeteries in town. Fitz-Greene Halleck is buried in the cemetery closest to the Town Green, Alderbrook on Boston Street.
If you’re driving or walking on Boston Street, heading away from the Green, you’ll want to take the first right into Alderbrook.
Upon retiring and moving back to Guilford, Fitz-Greene lived with his sister Maria. Neither sibling married. His last words are reported to have been, “Marie, hand me my pantaloons, if you please.”
Central Park Literary Walk
A few days after visiting Halleck’s grave, I headed into NYC to see a show. It’s a 90 minute train ride to NYC and I arrived early to have time to find Halleck’s monument in Central Park.
There was controversy upon the unveiling of the statue. Some thought that Halleck’s pose makes him look effeminate, which is now interpreted as a dig toward his sexual orientation. Halleck was gay in a time before such categories existed.
Upon first seeing the statue it didn’t strike me that way, but upon reflection I can see it. Halleck isn’t man-spreading, his legs are crossed, and he isn’t holding the pen like its a dagger or a sword or a penis. And while he doesn’t look effeminate to me, he’s certainly not butch…and I’m guessing statues of men in the 19th century were probably more on the butch side. I re-watched the video I shot of all the statues on the Literary Walk with this issue in mind (see below) and all of the other guys do have their legs at least slightly spread.
Estimates vary, but anywhere between 10,000 to 50,000 people atttended the commemoration of Halleck’s statue. William Cullen Bryant introduced President Rutherford B. Hayes who unveiled the statue. Halleck is not only the sole American honored on the Literary Walk, but I read that his is the first monument to an American poet in the United States.
Video Tour of the Literary Walk
I shot a short video at the Literary Walk to give you a sense of the place:
Stay tuned! One of my upcoming posts will be about Halleck’s last home in Guilford. I was recently shocked to find out that for the past three years I’ve been regularly spending time in the house where Halleck died.