America forgets its heroes at a dispiritingly rapid rate. Barely does a statue go up in, say, Manhattan’s Bryant Park or Farragut Square in Washington, D.C., before passersby have to stop to read the plaque to figure out whom they’re looking at. Soon after, no one stops to read at all. The whole history of the Gold Rush and the founding of California as a U.S. state is told in the statuary of San Francisco’s Civic Center Plaza, yet among the thousands who wander through every day, how many could name a single likeness?
William Francis Gibbs, America’s foremost naval architect, never even got a statue. Ironically, his greatest work endures, rusting at a Philadelphia pier, nearly as unloved and unknown as her maker.
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