By Walter Woodward
(c) Connecticut Explored Inc. WINTER 2006/07
A once-fallen angel will again soar above the skies of Hartford, providing an object of inspiration to gridlocked citizens on Interstate 84 and to our governmental leaders. The “Genius of Connecticut,” the Randolph Rogers sculpture that stood atop the summit of the state capitol from that building’s elevation in 1878 until the sculpture was replaced by a 10-foot-tall stone pinnacle after the hurricane of 1938, will, if all goes well, soon reassume its place atop the seat of government. Thanks to the tireless efforts of capitol historian and retiring legislator Michael Cardin of Tolland, the legislature last year appropriated $300,000 to return the statue to its ascendant position.
Even with such funding this will be no easy task, since the original 6,600-pound, 17-foot-10-inch bronze statue was cut into pieces before being taken down in 1938. The parts were stored in the capitol basement, then donated as scrap metal to the civilian war effort in 1942.
The original plaster cast of the “Genius of Connecticut” on display inside the capitol building will serve as the model for a new, lighter copy of the original. Made of polyresin or other materials capable of handling the wind loads atop the 257-foot-high edifice, the new “Genius” will also put less weight on the capitol’s dome supports. The project is being overseen by the state’s Capitol Preservation and Restoration Commission, which presently is commissioning the necessary engineering studies.
Randolph Rogers, one of America’s most acclaimed 19th-century sculptors, is best known for creating the bronze Columbian doors at the Capitol building in Washington, D.C. Rogers designed the “Genius” as a classical symbol of Connecticut. In addition to Grecian drapery and hairstyle, the statue has “Roman toes”: Her second toe is longer than her big toe, a symbol indicating importance or position of prominence. She holds a wreath of immortalis or dried flowers in her right hand to symbolize long life, and a wreath of mountain laurel, the state flower, in her other.
This will mark the third ascent of the “Genius” to the state’s most lofty symbolic height. In 1903, 35 years before her post-hurricane removal, the capitol’s general contractor, H. G. Battersea, issued a deathbed warning that the statue was not secure. As a result, it was taken down from the summit; repairs were made to its structural supports, and the statue was returned aloft.
Over the years, the “Genius of Connecticut” has had its critics. A writer in the New York Tribune in 1879 said “it would call for great good nature to say a word in commendation of it. It is the old conventional Greek woman. . . . Her face is devoid of all expression, no great matter this, as 257 feet from the ground, but there is no expression anywhere about her.” A critic writing for the now defunct Manchester Herald after the 1938 removal hoped that “If ever there is a new Genius of Connecticut atop that dome we hope she will not be a lady who looks like Mussolini at a masquerade . . . who runs to fat in the head as well as in the torso.” The Herald writer hoped to replace the classical statue with a “Genius of Connecticut in a sun-bonnet and split-leather brogans . . . the genius of Connecticut’s pioneer women.”
The stone pinnacle that replaced the “Genius” has also received its share of criticism. One 1938 critic of the present finial, Hartford Probate Judge Walter H. Clark, initiated the campaign to bring back the dome’s statue, saying, “It makes me ache to look at that poor stump. We need something to crown the beauty of the building.” Things in the land of steady habits move slowly, but it looks like Clark’s wish will finally come true.