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Goethe Memorial

A memorial site in the city of Rochester is this small statue. I stumbled upon it in Highland Park. The statue was in an interesting location. It wasn’t off of a trail or clearly marked; rather, the statue was off the side of a grassy hill in the middle of the park. The only etchings on the base of the statue were the word “GOETHE”, with the years 1749 and 1832 on it. This memorial intrigued me because there was so little detail associated with it at the site. Upon further research, I discovered that the statue was of Johan Wolfgang von Goethe. The statue was made by William Ehrich, a University of Rochester professor of sculture, in 1950. It was made to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Goethe’s birthday. Goethe was a renowned German philosopher who wrote the famous novel “Faust”.

I found this memorial to be almost an anti-memorial. In his essay “In Digital Remembrance: Vernacular Memory and the Rhetorical Construction of Web Memorials, Aaron Hess argues that “The process of commemoration, simply by what is or is not commemorated, is inherently ideological in its formation”. It would logically follow then that this memorial is truly a memorial because it was chosen to be sculpted and displayed. Hess says that memorials are functions of “public collective memory”. These points lead me to feel that this memorial is not a memorial of Goethe himself. Goethe was not from the area, had died over one hundred years before this memorial was made, and was most famous for a book only select scholars would have read. The placement/attention of the memorial reflects this. It is not large in structure, nor does it have any explanation associated with it. In addition, it is in a very hidden part of Highland Park. It seems that the statue is more of a tribute to its creator, the local prominent figure Ehrich, rather than Goethe. It becomes a work of art rather than a symbol of respect to the lost Goethe. Thus, Goethe’s “memorial” embodies less memorialization of the subject and more memorialization of the creator.




I like your description and how you came to the conclusion that it is more of an art piece than a memorial. I would agree with you. At first I would assume this was remembering some prominent figure in the community, but with your history facts it clearly shows that maybe it is just an art piece. Maybe it is memorial for the man who created it. Very interesting post.


I agree Erin & Lauren. I would too assume that this was a memorial for someone important to Rochester in some way as opposed to an obscure person, for truly that is who is especially without any reference on the memorial to help us contextualize him. Well said, it *is* an “anti-memorial”!


I can’t agree. Goethe was one of the most influential writers to ever live. I wouldn’t describe him as “obscure”, and I certainly hope that your estimation of Faust’s readership is off the mark.

Though, perhaps I’m too optimistic for these times. There’s a saying that every man dies twice; once when his heart stops beating, and again when his name is spoken for the last time. I’ll wager Goethe has a fair few centuries of life left in him in that respect, but I wouldn’t bet the Devil on it.


Goethe was, in my opinion, the greatest philosopher ever. He didn’t consider himself one because his focus was nature, not simply thinking. He actually systematized a pragmatic approach to science and interpretation that depended on seeing because of its reliance for immersion.

Therefore, he placed tremendous value on visual communication and nature’s all about sustainability.

Was the statue on a lookout? That would have been a very elegant act by Ehrich.

His (Goethe’s) aim, as he described it, was “to do nothing less than to present to the physical eye, step by step, a detailed, graphic, orderly version of what I had previously presented to the inner eye conceptually and in words alone…

Every act of seeing leads to consideration, consideration to reflection, reflection to combination, and thus it may be said that in every attentive look on nature we already theorize.

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