New England on a Pedestal

201. The Esplanade

July 07, 2023 Doug Farquharson Season 2 Episode 1
201. The Esplanade
New England on a Pedestal
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New England on a Pedestal
201. The Esplanade
Jul 07, 2023 Season 2 Episode 1
Doug Farquharson

Our second season opener takes us to The Esplanade along the shore of The Charles River where we find some interesting and fun statues and take a look at a local musical legend.

Show Notes Transcript

Our second season opener takes us to The Esplanade along the shore of The Charles River where we find some interesting and fun statues and take a look at a local musical legend.

Hello friends and welcome to the second season of the New England on a Pedestal podcast. I am Doug Farquharson and I am happy to be back as your host.  If you have returned after finishing our first season of episodes, thanks for coming back! If you are new and just discovering our little podcast adventure, welcome and we hope you’ll find something here to enjoy. We purposefully design each episode of our podcast to be a stand-alone chapter in the story of New England as told through its many and varied statues, sculptures, monuments, and memorials. We take a look at New England’s people, places, and events that have been deemed important or at least interesting enough to be cast in stone and metals for future generations to enjoy. And we hope that once you have heard one of our podcasts, you’ll be inspired to take a listen to our other episodes. If you like what you hear, please subscribe to us through your favorite podcast platform and consider leaving a review for us. It will help us reach more listeners and expand our ever-growing audience. Thank you!

I often try to time the subject matter of a particular episode around an event or anniversary of something that happened in New England. For instance, our inaugural episode was about The Starter statue in Hopkinton, MA. Not only was it appropriate as the start of our podcast, but it was also timed around the running of the Boston Marathon during the recent pandemic. I looked around to see what was happening at the beginning of Season 2 in order to pick a good subject and landed on the fact that we just celebrated the Fourth of July here in New England. Well, to be fair, everyone has the fourth of July, but for my international listeners, it marks Independence Day here in the USA when we celebrate our country’s birthdate. And growing up in Boston, that pretty much meant one thing. The Boston Pops are playing a free concert on The Esplanade and fireworks over the Charles River. And for me as a kid growing up in Boston, it meant Arthur Fiedler was the conductor.

The Charles is an eighty-mile-long river that winds its way through eastern Massachusetts from its source in Hopkinton to where it empties into Boston harbor. It follows a meandering route and doubles back on itself several times. As the crow flies, the mouth of the river is only twenty-six miles from its starting point. In an oddish coincidence the first episode of season one began in Hopkinton MA and included statues along the twenty-six mile marathon route and ended in Boston. The Charles River flows through twenty-three different cities and towns. Several universities have campuses along its shores including Harvard, Brandies, BU, and MIT and most have rowing teams that compete on it. The lower basin separates the cities of Cambridge and Boston from each other. Along Storrow Drive is the Esplanade which covers approximately three miles and encompasses pathways, playgrounds, statuary, benches, open fields, community sailing, and of course, the Hatch Memorial Shell which hosts concerts and performance arts throughout the warmer months. Fiedler first conducted the Boston Pops there in 1929 in a Fourth of July concert. The modern-day version of these celebrations began in 1974 when a local businessman started sponsoring the event that came to include musical guests and a fireworks display complete with cannons being fired by the Army National Guard.

Let’s get down to business and discover some of these statues for ourselves, shall we?

We used to live close enough that we could walk down to the esplanade or more often than not I’d take off on my bicycle and ride over to the river and eventually circle back home. If you’re visiting the City of Boston, you could find yourself visiting the Museum of Science, in which case just walk upriver on the Boston side of the waterway and you’ll reach the esplanade. Or you’ll probably want to visit the Boston Common and the Boston Public Garden. In which case a short walk from the northwest corner of the Public Garden will take you over the Arthur Fiedler Footbridge and onto the Esplanade. In future episodes we will spend some time at both the MOS and the Public Gardens. Once you’ve safely crossed over Storrow Drive, continue walking along the path and cross over a small bridge where you’ll see the Fiedler Dock, Fiedler Field, and yes, the Fiedler Statue that we’ve come looking for.

Dedicated June 30, 1984, it is by Ralph Helmick and is about six and a half feet tall, sitting atop an eighteen-inch granite pedestal. It is constructed out of eighty-three sand blasted aluminum plates. A description taken from the artist’s website puts it like this: “This portrait addresses the mystery of personality and public perception. Arthur Fiedler, the longtime conductor of the Boston Pops Orchestra, was a man whose media image and private persona were at odds. The sculpture’s esthetic approach engages distance and “knowing” in a dynamic way. A layered image, it reads most coherently from afar, becoming more abstracted as the viewer draws near, providing a visual parallel for the character of the man.”

I remember seeing it for the first time in my early twenties. At the time a statue to me was what one thinks of when you envision someone like George Washington atop his horse or Michelangelo’s David. I didn’t know what to think of this one. Standing in front of it, I thought it looked strange, almost out of focus. It wasn’t until I was across the field and looked back that it suddenly seemed right. Ha! Turns out that was on purpose! Who knew? As I said before, it is constructed out of many aluminum plates stacked strategically atop each other. I suppose one way of describing it to the listener would be to suggest it looks a little like a pixelated photo slightly out of focus when standing next to it, but the further you move back away from it, it slowly comes into sharp focus. It really is a cool and fun sculpture.

Let’s take a look at Arthur Fiedler, the man. He was born in Boston’s Hyde Park neighborhood on 17 DEC 1894 and died in Brookline, MA on 10 JUL 1979 at 84 years old. He was best known as the conductor for both The Boston Symphony Orchestra and The Boston Pops and for popularizing classical and symphonic music and bringing it to a much wider audience. Both of his parents were musicians. His father played violin with the BSO and his mother was a pianist. At a young age, he moved to Europe with his parents where he studied violin from 1911 through 1915. At the beginning of World War I, he moved back to Boston and joined the BSO in his dad’s footsteps where he too played violin. He also worked as a pianist, organist, and percussionist. In 1924, he, along with other members of the BSO, put together the Boston Sinfonietta which then performed outdoor chamber music concerts. He would become well known for performing outdoor concerts throughout his career. In 1930, he became the eighteenth conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, a position he held for half a century. Under his direction, the BSO and the Pops became some of the most prolific recording orchestras in the world. I remember one of my absolute favorite albums growing up was a Boston Pops Christmas concert recorded live at Boston’s Symphony Hall which was just several blocks down Huntington Avenue from my childhood home in Mission Hill. His recordings included ones dedicated to specific classic and modern composers as well as symphonic takes on modern music such as The Beatles and his disco album entitled Saturday Night Fiedler. As a result, some classical purists would criticize him for over-popularizing the musical form but he ignored his distractors and kept his performances informal and often light hearted and sometimes self-mocking in order to attract a bigger audience. It worked. I’m a prime example of someone he reached with his work! Another reason I loved the guy was that he was well known for having a love of fire fighters. He was known to travel around the area in his own vehicle to watch fire fighting efforts at large fires and the Boston Fire Department made him an honorary captain. He owned his own antique fire truck as well as a large collection of fire memorabilia.

Taken directly from his Wikipedia page “Fiedler is best remembered by contemporary audiences for his conducting of the Boston Pops at the outdoor Hatch Memorial Shell on the July 4, 1976, celebration of the U.S. Bicentennial. The rendition of the 1812 Overture led by a jacketless and demonstrative Fiedler, capped by a huge fireworks finale over the Charles River was the climax of all day long network television coverage. The video of the aged but obviously delighted Fiedler puffing out his cheeks to the beat of the music and mugging for his musicians was one of the most talked about images of the country's celebration.” He received many awards and accolades throughout his lifetime including an honorary Doctorate of Music from Berkeley College of Music, the prestigious University of Pennsylvania Glee Club Award of Merit, and was presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom by US President Gerald Ford in 1977.

For me, growing up in Boston, he was one of those locals who defined living in the city and I always loved seeing him on television or even better, at one of his free outdoor concerts. I began my love of symphonic music listening to patriotic marches and pieces like the 1812 Overture and others like it. It was also pretty cool that John Williams succeeded Fiedler at the BSO and the Pops and brought his movie soundtracks to life for me. I wonder if someday in the future other popular Boston conductors such as John Williams and Keith Lockhart will have statues on the Esplanade as well.

Hemlick was born in Pittsburgh, PA and later moved to just outside of Buffalo, NY. He was always interested in the arts and studied under several renowned programs and schools. He has created over fifty public and private commissioned sculptures and statues that are on display the world over. Unbeknownst to me until researching this episode, I’ve walked by his leatherback sea turtles in the Tampa airport in Florida. And he is responsible for a statue in Texas that any blues fan worth his salt wants to visit. Of course, I’m talking about the Stevie Ray Vaughn memorial in Austin. Hemlick Scultures is based in Newton, MA and their website indicates he “focuses on design works at the intersection of art, science, culture, and new technologies.” A look at the gallery on their website will reveal some very interesting and impactful sculptures. Really neat stuff.

Back on the pathways around the Esplanade, we will find a few other statues there, including one of World War II General George S Patton. It was installed in 1953 and stands about eight feet tall atop a four foot pink granite base, The statue depicts the US Army general in his uniform raising a pair of binoculars. Further along, we find a statue dedicated to Major General Charles Devens Jr, a Massachusetts native who was a veteran of the American Civil War, a Massachusetts State Senator, Massachusetts Supreme Court Justice, and U.S. Attorney General. The statue had been located by the State House until it was moved here in 1950. Fort Devens out along Route 2 in MA, a place I spent many a training day at during my National Guard career, is also named after him.

The Lotta Fountain is nearby as well. It has gone through a few moves and restorations over the years. It depicts a dog atop a tall pedestal and includes a water fountain for pets to drink from while walking with their human companions. There is a statue dedicated to David I Walsh with a curved granite wall behind him. He was the forty-sixth governor of MA before winning several terms as a US Senator. Maurice J Tobin who was the mayor of Boston and later the governor of MA also has a statue dedicated to him here. Find the Esplanade Playspace and you’ll find an adorable turtles at play sculpture that we’ll include in a future episode dedicated to sculptures and statues of animals.

Bring your walking shoes, a picnic lunch, and plan on spending some time enjoying views of the city, boats sailing on the river, and some people watching. You’ll have a great afternoon here!

The Esplanade along The Charles River is a prime example of urban landscape design that was meant to be an oasis of sorts in the middle of a built up, busy cityscape. It has gone through several changes over the years and thankfully has come back to life after a period of decline. It’s one of many areas around Boston and the surrounding cities and towns where residents and visitors alike can exercise, play, enjoy the arts, and just spend some quiet time. It is well worth a visit. And it’s a bonus if you’re fortunate enough to catch a concert at the Hatch Shell while you’re there.

Kenmore Square is just a short walk away. Fenway Park and the statues from Season 1’s Play Ball episode are within easy walking distance as well. And there are far too many really good restaurants and eateries around there to narrow them down to one or two. No matter your taste, you’ll find it nearby!

As we mentioned before, the concept behind New England on a Pedestal is rather simple. Travel around our six-state area, find some interesting statues, and discuss them. We have a growing database of statues, monuments, and sculptures that we will be covering over time, but we certainly do not know all of them. That is where you can assist us. Shoot us an email at and tell us about a favorite or unique or odd statue you know. If you have additional information or maybe a correction about something we have already shared, please send it our way and perhaps, we will add an addendum to a later episode.

We would love to hear from you. Let us know what you think. What are we doing right? What can we do better? We can be reached via email at That’s New England on a Pedestal all one word at F A R Q I E dot com.  Go to Facebook and like the New England on a Pedestal page. Follow us on Instagram. We will be posting photos and links on those social media platforms.

As always, I want to thank Jason, Sam, Jake, and Bekka for the artistic and social media assistance and you the listener for tuning in and joining me here.

Look for a new episode in about two weeks! Until then, be safe, be well, and keep discovering.