Chester A. Arthur, William Lloyd Garrison, and General Winfield Scott Hancock were amongst the celebrities who attended the 1876 dedication of the William Henry Seward statue in Madison Square Park. The statue, which cost $25,000, saw contributions from Ulysses S. Grant and Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt. Interestingly, Seward’s statue has the distinction of being the New York City statue to honor a New Yorker. Seward spent his life serving New York including as governor and as a United States Senator. However, Seward is most famous for his tenure as Secretary of State under Lincoln during which time he oversaw the purchase of Alaska, Seward’s Folly.
The body types of the Seward and his statue appear to be very different. This aberration has enabled a rumor to persist, for over one hundred years, that the Seward statue is a composite. The story goes that the statue’s construction committee fell short of its fundraising goals. As a result, the committee asked Randolph Rogers, the statue’s sculptor, to do his best with the money they had collected. Rogers had an ingenious idea. He decided to sculpt only Seward’s head, and then attach it to an extra body of Lincoln he had lying around. Lincoln’s body had been left over from a statue of Lincoln Rogers had made for Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park. According to another version, as described in a 1904 letter published The New York Times, “it was a great saving of time and labor to decapitate the Lincoln model and place the Seward head on it. I know whereof I speak” claimed the author.
Sadly, this oft told story does not appear to be true. According to Seward’s son Fredrick, the story was “unfounded and absurd.” Additionally, the accounts of the committee were published proving they had raised the entire $25,000 that the statue cost. Moreover, even a cursory comparison of the statues demonstrates that their bodies were not interchangeable. Therefore, absent any conspiracy theories, the Lincoln-esque form of Seward’s body is solely the result of Rogers’ artistic choices.