Edwin Ford will be afforded a high honor indeed for a Kingston city historian — or any Kingstonian — when he is included next spring in the Common Council’s hall of city notables and events depicted in the 23 lunettes that anchor the ceiling in the elegant meeting hall in City Hall.
The bas-relief plaster lunettes, named for their half-moon shape, depict Kingston historical events from Henry Hudson’s voyage of discovery in 1609 to a machine-gun squad in the First World War. They were created during the reconstruction of City Hall on Broadway after a 1927 fire gutted the 19th-century building.
“We don’t want to call it a memorial because I’m still here,” Ford, 95, joked last week. His “baby brother” Bill, 90, has donated $5,000 toward the estimated $15,000 project cost. While the lunette will depict history, a thoroughly modern technique — Internet-based “crowdfunding” — will be used to help come up with the remaining $10,000. Visit https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/ed-ford-s-lunette-project for more information or to donate.
Alas, Ford, city historian since 1984, will not himself be depicted in bas relief on high with the likes of Peter Stuyvesant, George Washington, George Clinton and John Jay, or even make a cameo appearance as one of Henry Hudson’s crew. Rather, a reconstruction of the peace treaty between native Esopus Indians and Dutch settlers in 1660 (No. 21 in the sidebar listing) will be dedicated in the historian’s name.
An ad-hoc committee consisting of county Commissioner of Jurors Paul O’Neill, Bob Carey, contractor for the modern restoration of City Hall, Alderman Tom Hoffay and community activist, gallery owner and photographer Nancy Donskoj is organizing a fundraising effort.
The lunettes are difficult to see, perched some 20 feet in dim light above council chambers. The committee also hopes to raise enough money to further enhance the lunette experience; there has been talk of spotlighting the lunettes and placing at eye level plaques that would briefly describe each scene.
City officials have questioned the propriety of private-sector donations for improvements to public property. Some wonder whether work on the lunette should be put out to bid; at present, the committee plans to hire the New York City firm that restored the lunettes in 2000.
The city abandoned the building and left it to the elements in 1972, eventually causing almost as much damage to the lunettes as the fire. In 1982, Ford said he and Robert Slater paid a visit to the building to find water pouring in through the roof onto the lunettes. City officials allowed the removal of the 10 undamaged lunettes for storage “under lock and key,” according to Ford, in the basement of the Old Dutch Church on Wall Street. Ford and Slater are members of the church.
When City Hall was restored under Mayor T.R. Gallo around the turn of the millennium, about $8,000 was budgeted for restoration of each lunette as part of the $7 million project.
Ford says he’s “honored and humbled” to be recognized. Though he wishes the committee well, he notes that time could be a factor. “I’m hoping to reach 100 [in April of 2018], but I don’t buy any green bananas,” he said, crediting the line to Patricia Murphy, former president of the Friends of Historic Kingston and a partner in many projects. “Unlike me,” he added, “the [planning process] shouldn’t go on interminably.”
O’Neill, addressing Ford’s more than 50 years of service to historic preservation, would also like to expedite the process. “Always willing to lend a hand, Ed is the guiding light of our historical heritage,” he said. “He is a man who represents all that Kingston is and strives to be.”
With two lunettes still blank (after No. 21 is recreated), there has also been some discussion of updating history. There may yet be an opportunity for Ford’s generation to play a role. A lunette honoring all veterans, including Ford, a World War II veteran, who have served in wars since the original lunettes were dedicated in 1929, could be considered, in addition to a scene depicting the D&HCanal.