It’s been an arduous journey for Minerva, Stuff and Guff, and the three owls who comprise the James Gordon Bennett Memorial. Located at 35th St and 6th Avenue, at the north end of Herald Square, these bronze statues honor the man who led the New York Herald, the now defunct but once most sensational and widely read newspaper in the country. They were commissioned in 1895 by his eccentric son, James Gordon Bennett, Jr. The statuary, created by French sculptor Antonin Jean Carles, evoke the work ethic of the newspaper industry. The Roman Goddess Minerva, decked out in her war regalia, stands for thinking power. She oversees two bell-ringers in leather work aprons, affectionately known as Stuff and Guff, though they only pretend to strike the bronze bell. (Two mallets hidden inside actually toll the hour up until 11 pm each day.) Three owls represent wisdom: two, with electrified blinking green glass eyes, seated on the monument’s pilasters; one perched atop the bell itself, impervious to its chiming.
At one time, they all sat atop the New York Herald Building, adjacent to the square where they are now located. But in 1921, after the death of the eccentric, Bennett, Jr, the Herald Building was demolished. Minerva and the Bell-Ringers were removed, stored, acquired by New York University, “permanently loaned” to the New York City Parks Department and ultimately installed on a 40-foot-tall Italianate granite structure by Aymar Embury, in Herald Square, on November 19, 1940.
Since then, the Municipal Art Society has come to their rescue twice. In 1989 they restored the memorial through their Adopt-a-Monument Program with the help of the International Herald-Tribune and Mastercard. In 2007, a generous grant from the George Trescher Fund enabled the Municipal Art Society, the 34th Street Partnership and New York City’s Clock Master, Marvin Schneider, to complete a two-month-long conservation of the entire monument including the clock. As a result, the bell-ringers continue to mark the waking hours of each and every day. But looking at the stately bronzes, it seems their work has barely taken a toll.
– Lily Herzan, Ali Houston and Carol Cofone