November 2007

Unveiling Sally James Farnham's Bolívar--A Youthful Memoir

by Mariquita MacManus Mullan

The following reminiscence about the 1921 unveiling of Sally James Farnham's Simón Bolívar was sent via e-mail to Michael P. Reed, author of "The Intrepid Mrs. Sally James Farnham," and is reprinted here by kind permission.

I'm going to report these memory snapshots just as they came back to me, without frills, and maybe not in exact sequence. Mrs. Farnham doesn't figure prominently, as you can understand, since this is all from a nine-year-old's point of view. She was rather overpowering, although my sister and I were used to artists and actors among our parents' friends.

The first scene of the day--April 19, l921--is in a large private dining room at the "old" Waldorf-Astoria on 33rd Street and Fifth Avenue. We are dressed in our white lace-embroidered dresses from Paris, and are seated among a gaggle of Spanish-speaking diplomats' children, eating eclairs, while our parents are lunching elsewhere with ambassadors and Presidential staff.

The next scene is driving in a large open car, with Secret Service or military escort, up Central Park West to 83rd Street, and passing a crowd of our schoolmates from the nearby Children's University School (which later became the Dalton School), who are waving wildly to get our attention [see classroom photo of the era and class assignment on Bolívar].

Next, my little sister Patricia and I were in a covered box in what seemed like a miniature football stadium, where we were relieved of our warm capes, which were lined with the Venezuelan colors--red, yellow, and blue. We were then led to the steps of the statue. It was frighteningly large, covered with American and Venezuelan flags. There were U. S. sailors and soldiers lined up all around us. We were each handed a heavy white cord as we stood shivering in the cold April drizzle. On a step above us there suddenly appeared my mother, accompanied by Mrs. Farnham.

They towered over us. Mrs. Farnham, in flowing black silks, and wearing a large veiled black hat, seemed to us as formidable as the statue she had sculpted--though we couldn't imagine how she had put the huge, dashing figure of the Liberator on that immense horse.

Bands were playing and it was all quite exciting. But as we held onto our cords with shaky hands and looked up at the statue, Patricia, who had a tendency to anxious perfectionism, looked as though she was about to cry. There was a command, we both pulled, and my side of the veiling slipped down, but hers remained caught on the prancing steed. A sailor from the honor guard stepped to our side, took Patricia's hand, and pulled. The draperies slid off the immense iron warrior, and Bolívar continued his noble charge toward Central Park South.

We were escorted back to our seats, being stopped along the way to curtsy to various dignitaries--including Grover Whalen, a colorful character[1] who stood in for the Mayor. In the distance I saw the President [Warren G. Harding] leaving his box, and I didn't waste a moment in slipping away from our party, pushing at coats and umbrellas, until I saw the Presidential open touring car[2] begin to move slowly through the crowd. Somehow I wriggled and clawed my way to it, jumped on the running board, and shouted "I just came to say good-bye, Mr. Harding!" He tipped his tall shiny hat to me, and Mrs. Harding smiled sweetly. There was no fuss, and a Marine lifted me down to the roadway. I ran back to our box very satisfied with myself. I had recently discovered "politics," and had told my mother that would be my career. So I suppose this was practice.

* * *

Some ten years later, Mrs. Farnham re-surfaced in our lives. My mother met her at some gathering or performance, and she invited all of us to a New Year's Eve party in her flat at the Hotel des Artistes [more] at 67th Street and Central Park West, where famous artists had studios and living quarters. As I remember, it was a very festive night, with champagne and famous people.

That evening I saw Mrs. Farnham in quite a different light, as a charming hostess. Of course, by then I was a grownup young woman, and she had become a relatively well-known New York artist.

That is the last contact any of my family had with Sally James Farnham.

Mariquita Mullan in time abandoned her childhood ambition to make a career of politics. After attending Hunter College in New York, she married Hugh Mullan, a psychiatrist, and raised three children. The family eventually moved to Washington, D.C., where Dr. Mullan (now deceased) continued his practice while teaching at Georgetown University, and where she still resides. Active in writing groups, Mrs. Mullan went on to publish poems in literary journals and in a chapbook, Rules for Living (1998). Her sister, Patricia MacManus, who died in 2003, was publicity director for Houghton Mifflin Company and then for Viking Press, and subsequently wrote literary criticism for Saturday Review and other periodicals.


1. Grover Whalen, who was indeed a colorful character (see this photograph from 1919), became New York City's official greeter that year, two years before the unveiling of Farnham's Simon Bolivar. (His actual title was Chairman of the Mayor's Reception Committee, a post he held for another 34 years--see "Ticker-Tape Parades," American Heritage Blog, June 12, 2006.) In 1938, his flamboyant persona was caricatured on Time magazine's cover.

2. In this photo of a Packard touring car, President and Mrs. Harding are seen on the parade route to his inauguration in Washington, D. C., the month before the Bolívar unveiling. A photo of a slightly different model shows the sort of running board the spirited nine-year-old Mariquita may have jumped onto to bid farewell to the president.