The Fall Of A Queen
Aaron Rutkoff and Nick
upon a time there was a statue of a Queen that was supposed to be the
tallest in all of Queens. But this fairy tale has no happy ending, as
the statue created to honor the borough’s likely royal namesake
remains incomplete and exiled to a remote foundry upstate. The tale was
not always so sad for this Queen of Queens.
In 1988, plans were set in motion to
erect a 35-foot statue of Queen Catherine of Braganza in Hunters Point
– the historic figure after whom some believe the borough was named.
The monument to the daughter of the King of Portugal would have been the
City’s second largest after the Statue of Liberty.
Catherine of Braganza - who some historians believe is the
historic figure the Borough is named
after - remains in exile in an upstate
New York foundry.
Queens was supposedly named after Queen
Catherine in 1683, when the area was under the rule of King Charles the
II of England — her husband. But some historians disagree: in the
naming of Queens in the 1683 Charter of Liberties, there was no mention
of Queen Catherine of Braganza.
Queens Historical Society researcher
James Driscoll told the Tribune, “It’s logical to assume that
[the counties] were named after King Charles and Queen Catherine, but it
was never proven.”
Leaders of the City’s Portuguese Trade
Commission published a biography of Catherine in conjunction with an
exhibition celebrating her 300th anniversary at the Queens Museum of Art
and then founded the Friends of Queen Catherine to promote her identity.
They organized an artistic competition
for the design of the statue and chose internationally acclaimed
sculptor Audrey Flack, who started work on the statue in a foundry
upstate in Beacon, New York. Supporters of the Queen Catherine statue
grew to an impressive list of international government figures, European
royalty and local officials and business leaders, including Borough
President Claire Shulman and Donald Trump.
Flack’s design of the 35-foot high
statue showed the Queen with an orb in her hand, symbolizing her role in
bridging the new and old worlds. A 10-year land use permit called for
the statue to be erected at Hunter’s Point on a 15-foot domed
platform. The statue would
have faced the United Nations across the East River.
The borough’s official historian
Stanley Cogan told the Tribune, “I always felt that the
location was bad.” Cogan didn’t think it was fair that the statue
would gaze upon the UN “and all Hunters Point and Queens would get was
A revisited history on the Queen spurred
groups to rise up against the monarch when it was alleged that the Queen
and her family had profited from the slave trade.
In 1997, Rev. Charles Norris of the
Jamaica-based Bethesda Missionary Baptist Church told the Tribune,
“We were not going to sit idly by and let them erect a statue to honor
a person who benefited from the slave trade.” Norris joined forces
with activist Betty Dopson, who organized the ad hoc Friends Against
Irish American Queensites were also upset
with notion that a monument to a British monarch would eclipse the
Calvary Cemetery, which was established for the Irish immigrant
population — a people who were long oppressed by the British crown. On top of that, the Battle of Kips Bay during the
Revolutionary War took place near the statue’s proposed location.
The statue now rests in a foundry in
upstate Beacon on the grounds of Tallix, Inc., where she is waiting to
be cast in bronze. There has been a series of legal disputes between the
original artist, an inexperienced assistant who was hired to complete
the monument, the financial backers and Tallix — which has resulted in
a lot of bad blood and hurt feelings, not to mention a likeness that has
been criticized as distorted and ugly.
After a public hearing in 1998 Borough
President Claire Shulman officially withdrew her support for the statue
and pledged that it would not be placed on public land.It is not clear
whether the statue will ever be used.