RPJ’s New York: Audrey Munson

This is the latest in a series of non-legal articles on the city we work in and love.

Photo: Corbis (Vogue)

On February 1, 2019, the Madison Square Park Conservancy will sponsor the creation of an ice sculpture in the image of one of New York City’s most recognizable figures, who is now virtually forgotten: Audrey Munson, America’s First Supermodel.  During the early part of the twentieth century, Munson served as the model for over a dozen iconic statutes in Manhattan and Brooklyn, including Civic Fame, atop the New York City municipal building; Alma Mater, located on the campus of Columbia University; Columbia Triumphant, the gilded figure that strides the Maine Monument at the southwest corner of Central Park; and Memory, the centerpiece of the memorial to Titanic victims Isador and Ida Straus.  Munson also modeled for 60% of the sculptures in the Panama-Pacific International Exhibition, held in San Francisco in 1915 to celebrate the completion of the Panama Canal, and some historians believe she was inspiration for the Walking Liberty Half Dollar, issued from 1916 to 1947.  She additionally parlayed her beauty into a brief career in silent films.

Later on, Munson was enveloped in scandal when Dr. Walter Wilkins, her landlord, murdered his wife, purportedly out of love for the model.  Consequently, Munson and her mother left New York, but thereafter she had difficulty finding work.  She attempted suicide in 1922 and was committed to a mental asylum in Ogdensburg, New York, where she remained until her death in 1996 at the age of 104.  The woman once known as Miss Manhattan had no visitors until a half-niece discovered her whereabouts in 1983.  While during her life Munson experienced the fleeting nature of fame, her visage is an integral part of our city and will undoubtedly continue to inspire artists for years to come.


Columbia Triumphant at Maine Monument in Central Park 
Memory in Straus Park









For more information on the February 1 ice sculpture event, go to www.madisonsquarepark.org.

Written by RPJ Partner Alice K. Jump, who practices in litigation and dispute resolution, employment, real estate and infrastructure law.