The Eagle Has Landed
How one avian relic winged its way from Manhattan to the Valley
Photograph by Frank Roberts
This iron-feathered creature has majestically presided over a town in northwestern Ulster County since 1986. Crafted out of cast-iron, the statue stands approximately nine feet tall with a daunting 13-foot wingspan. But how exactly did this two-ton eagle come to call the upper Hudson Valley its final nesting-place?
Its journey began in New York City, where it roosted atop Grand Central Station with nine or 10 other eagles. “Commodore” Cornelius Vanderbilt (who owned the station at the time) commissioned the statues, which were given a place of prominence in 1898 atop the station’s four clock towers. A symbol of Vanderbilt’s enormous wealth and power, each casting would have cost the equivalent of $250,000 to make today.
But the eagles’ reign was short-lived. In 1910, Grand Central Station was demolished to make way for electric trains and the Grand Central Terminal we know today. The statues were scattered throughout New York and New Jersey, purchased by private estates and Vanderbilt’s friends.
In 1966, an eagle in Tarrytown captured the interest of New York Daily News photographer David McLane. Upon learning the monument’s history, he began a quest to seek out and photograph its missing counterparts. McLane located a total of 10 cast-iron creatures, one of which he bought for $100.
Years later, the photographer moved to a town whose motto says it all: “Where the Eagle Soars.” In 1986, McLane donated his eagle to the town, and — after a complete restoration — the gilded bird was installed at the entrance to one of the town’s hamlets. Residents promised to rededicate McLane’s gift every 10 years. The most recent Eagle Day took place in summer 2006 with a parade culminating at the statue.
You won’t need eyesight as sharp as an eagle’s to spot this massive metalwork. Can you name the town where it makes its aerie? Send us your answer as a comment in the box below; the first reader who gets it right wins a prize. Good luck!