Working six days a week for three years, seven men in Greenpoint constructed what was reportedly the world's largest bronze sculpture. And though it's difficult to determine what exactly qualifies a sculpture as being the largest of its kind -- is it how tall it is, how long, how wide, how heavy -- this sculpture was no doubt huge: 78 feet high and over 100 tons of huge. Or, in human terms, that's about as tall as 10 Shaquille O'Neals and about as heavy as 615 of those same Shaquille O'Neals.
But this was not a work of art dedicated to that basketball giant, it was, rather, a sculpture depicting the six U.S. soldiers who were caught by Joe Rosenthal's lens in his famous photograph of the flag raising at Iwo Jima. And though it is that iconic image from Mount Suribachi that was recast in bronze, this statue was meant to serve as a memorial to all the Marines who died defending the United States from 1775 to today.
Based on Rosenthal's photo, and designed by artist Felix Weihs de Weldon, the Marine Corps Memorial was cast at the Bedi-Rassy Art Foundry of 227 India Street in Greenpoint. Though the casting itself took three years, the conception and execution of the project took a great deal longer, just about 9 years. Beginning in 1945, de Weldon made scores of plaster models based on the photo, enlisting the three surviving Marines to pose for him, while asking other Marines to fill in for those who had died during fighting on the island. Though he didn't deviate from Rosenthal's photograph, de Weldon was forced to alter the composition due to the scale of the sculpture. Helmets and hands were enlarged, arms elevated, and the Marines packed in tighter around the flag pole, all in an attempt to prevent distortion for the viewer on the ground. Once de Weldon's clay and plaster figures were completed, they were shipped in sections to Greenpoint to be cast.
Using 2,500 degree furnaces and giant sand molds, the clay and plaster pieces were painstakingly recreated section by section in bronze.
These photos of the foundry yard in our collection give a good idea of just how large this sculpture was: man-sized torsos and arms as big as sewer pipes.
In August of 1954 the 108 sections of the Marine Corps Memorial were loaded onto trucks, chained down, and shipped off to Arlington, Virginia for installation.
Crowds regularly gathered during the late summer and early autumn to watch workmen assemble the colossal structure. The welding and bolting of the sections were all done from inside, and a small door was built into the cartridge belt of one of the figures allowing workers to move in and out of the bronze soldiers. When they were finished, they welded it shut. And on November 10th President Eisenhower presided over the dedication ceremony for the new memorial. In the photo that ran in the paper the day afterwards, you can just make him out standing before the black Swedish granite base. He looks no bigger than a bug.