Historic City Memories: The missing flag

The missing flag

Dr. Andrew Anderson, Jr.

By Geoff Dobson

The good ship Albert Pike, which seemingly guarded the Bridge of Lions during its reconstruction, has left its position near the fender system and bascule openings of the Bridge.

This has apparently signaled the completion of the Bridge of Lions renovation. Upon the completion of the bridge, other items besides the Albert Pike have disappeared. One wonders whether they will ever return.

Among them are the two lions which guarded the west end of the bridge in the same manner that Lions guard the steps of the New York Public Library and Lions guard Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity houses. St. Augustine’s lions are now, like Dick Cheney, in an “undisclosed, secure location.” The statues were donated to the City by Dr. Andrew Anderson, Jr.

Anderson also donated the statue of Juan Ponce de Leon in the peculiar new roundabout to the east of the Public Market. The roundabout is peculiar in that one may not actually go around in it. Part of the roundabout is one way, the wrong way. One may speculate as to the purpose of the roundabout.

Dr. Anderson was philanthropic. He donated a memorial fountain and statue formerly located near Government house. Its ruins remain, however visible. In the 1920’s he donated $50,000.00 for the construction of the Anderson Memorial Organ in University Auditorium at the University of Florida. The $50,000.00 is equal to about $2,000,000.00 today. The University allowed the organ to go to rack and ruin in the 1940’s and early 1950’s, concealing its shame behind curtains. The organ has since been restored and is regarded as one of the foremost instruments of its type in the world.

In 1923, Dr. Anderson donated to the City the memorial flag pole arising from the middle of Anderson Circle; a short thoroughfare unmarked by any street signs, primarily used as the address for the American Legion Post and to provide three parking places.

The flag pole, constructed by the Gorham Manufacturing Company of Providence, Rhode Island, is currently un-graced by any flag or even lanyards with which to raise or lower a flag.

Previously to the flag disappearing, the flag flew day and night and could only be replaced or lowered to half staff with the aid of the City’s hook and ladder truck.

Perhaps, the flag has been removed because of the lack of lanyards and the fact that a flag which flies at night is required to be illuminated.

The City has money for many things but apparently not for the display of an American Flag on the bayfront.

Flags also used to be flown from the ceremonial arch gracing the entrance to the north end of Aviles Street. They too have disappeared — perhaps the victim of cost cutting.

The concrete base for the Anderson Memorial Flag Pole shows signs of spalling. Indeed, its condition is such that the Colonial St. Augustine Foundation has expressed on its website concern for its safety and fear that in a strong wind the pole may topple.

In 1988, an engineering study was made using mirrors and a flashlight. The pole was determined to be safe.

The base of the memorial flagpole bears significant dates in the City’s history and images of important persons in the City’s history such as Ponce de Leon, Don Pedro Menendez, and Henry Flagler. A plaque reads:

THE CITY OF ST AUGUSTINE FIEL-Y-FIRME DEDICATED TO VICTORY TO PEACE AND TO THE YOUTH OF THIS CITY WHO SERVED THEIR COUNTRY IN THE WORLD WAR 1917 + 1918

[Writer’s note: “Fiel y Firme,” Faithful and Firm”]

The memorial was designed by the City’s foremost sculptor; Charles Adrian Pillars (1870-1937) whose home and studio were at 16 May Street. The memorial flag pole is regarded as one of his “most significant works” along with the Statue of Edmund Kirby Smith in the United States Capitol, the statue of William Boyd Barnett, founder of the former Barnett banking chain (now a part of Bank of America), and the statue of a winged figure of youth rising above the “mad maelstum of earthly passions” in Memorial Park in the Five Points area of Jacksonville.

The latter statue is perhaps Pillars’ most controversial work, depicting then 16-year old, six foot three St. Augustine High School football player Percy Reginald Palethorpe, Jr. (1906-1965), au naturale with wings sprouting from his back standing on a ball depicting the “earthly passions.” The statue is, however, not anatomically correct. Nevertheless, it certainly was the center of a storm of controversy when unveiled on Christmas Day, 1924.

Allegedly, Palethorpe received a $1.00 an hour to pose for the statue. His image also allegedly inspired some of students of Jacksonville’ Lee High School to go skinny dipping in the associated fountain.

Perhaps, someday, our American flag will return — recalling the generosity of Dr. Anderson.

Geoff Dobson, a St Augustine resident for the past 33 years, is a western and Florida history writer and was former General Counsel for the Florida Department of Transportation. He is a former president of the St. Augustine Historical Society and a regular contributor of nostalgic memories to Historic City News. Before his parents moved to Florida, his father was a Black Angus cattleman. Geoff has written extensively on Wyoming history (“Wyoming Tales and Trails”). When Geoff was in high school, his family lived in the cattle country of eastern Sarasota County. The family spread, which his parents called “Wild Cat Slough,” was reachable only by a pair of ruts over the sand hills and through a snake and gator infested slough. Now, it is an area of four-lane roads, expensive subdivisions, shopping centers, and office parks. . His undergraduate degree is in history. Geoff received his post-graduate degree from the University of Florida. He may be reached at horse.creek.cowboy@gmail.com

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