Web Exclusives: Raising Kate
a PAW web exclusive column by Kate Swearengen '04 (kswearen@princeton.edu)

December 5 , 2001:
Patriot, president, and preacher
The latest addition to the university's sculpture collection is unveiled

By Kate Swearengen '04

On Saturday, November 10, the new statue of John Witherspoon was unveiled. The ceremony was slated to begin at 4:15, but things ran late. Whether this was out of deference to Witherspoon descendants who wanted to catch the last minutes of the Princeton-Yale football game, or whether the event's organizers just wanted to get their money's worth from the bagpiper, was unclear.

I am not a Witherspoon descendent. I am not a bagpipe aficionado, although I admit there is a place in my heart for men in crisp kilts and tall, white socks. I don't know anything about Alexander Stoddart, the sculptor responsible for the work. Basically, I went to the unveiling ceremony on the off-chance that the 10-foot, 2,750-pound sculpture would fall off its plinth and crush some of the dignitaries there. Especially P.J. Kim '01, the young alumni trustee. Because then I could, you know, step in.

Of course, nothing of the sort happened. The bagpiper ran through a couple of songs, then disappeared to give his alveoli a rest. President Tilghman spoke alliteratively of Witherspoon's accomplishments as "patriot, president, and preacher." Harold Shapiro said something nice about the University of Paisley, which he had visited over the summer. Alex MacLennan, assistant principal at the University of Paisley, said something nice about forging stronger ties between Scotland and the United States. Another dignitary from the University of Paisley said the same thing. Alexander Stoddart, blissfully unaware that his sculpture of John Witherspoon will forever play second fiddle to Princeton's original green monstrosity, Oval With Points, said that he was gratified to have been chosen for the assignment. President Tilghman, taking the microphone again, added that it was fitting that the statue of Witherspoon would overlook the University Chapel.

"Yeah," said a man in front of me. "Too bad it's covered in scaffolding."

After concluding her speech, President Tilghman dispensed red-handled scissors to the dignitaries who had spoken. The five stood for a picture, grinning uneasily, their blades poised over the tethers that, when cut, would remove the black drape that concealed the statue.

"Now remember, don't cut it yet," President Tilghman warned the other four. "This is just for the picture." They chuckled guiltily.

When the time came to cut the tethers, a group of moppets dashed out of the crowd and held the drape away from the base of the statue, like the train of a wedding dress. Tilghman and company hacked at the ropes with their scissors, and the drape fell away with a flourish, revealing a very big, very serious, and very green John Witherspoon.

Although I'm a little confused as to why John Witherspoon's right index finger is pointed accusingly towards the University Chapel, I have to admit that the sculpture is beautiful. Everyone in the crowd seemed to agree. I think that the man standing next to me, who was particularly vocal in his admiration, had designed the plinth. In any case, he knew some unusual facts about the sculpture. For one thing, he disclosed that the so-called "twin" statue of Witherspoon presented to the University of Paisley is a full five feet taller than its Princeton counterpart.

"Oh yes," he said. "But I think a 10-foot statue is more appropriate here." He lowered his voice conspiratorially. "You see, we wanted to elevate the statue of John Witherspoon, to put him where people can't touch him. That's not because of vandalism; it's out of respect. Of course, that's not a very politically correct thing to say these days."

Someone asked him why he had decided to place the statue in front of East Pyne.

"I was told to put it here," the man said, smiling forgivingly. "But this is a nice place for it. It's on the same walkway that leads to Clio Hall. How is that pronounced, Clee-o or Cly-o?"

He was interrupted by a sudden eruption of bagpipe music, which signaled that the procession to MacClean House was beginning. The enticement of refreshments did not draw the crowd away from the sculpture, though, and the would-be Pied Piper gave up after a few bars. He tried again some time later, marching slowly around the statue in an attempt to gain followers. Eventually, the crowd started to move away. I followed the group to MacClean House, then doubled back on my bicycle. John Witherspoon stood impassively in the dusk as two children, striving mightily to touch his bronze foot, sprang up and down fruitlessly.

You can reach Kate Swearengen at kswearen@princeton.edu