Where is the statue dedicated to James Rogers McConnell (1887-1917)? Hint 1: it’s on the grounds of UVA. Hint 2: the statue is of a naked man, standing on globe, attempting to fly. Hint 3: the design is based on the Greek myth of Icarus (the son of Daedalus who flew too close to the sun with wings of feathers and wax).
Gutzon Borglum carved the statue in 1919 to commemorate a UVA alumnus (class of 1908) who was shot down over France during World War I. McConnell was an American but he enlisted in the French aviation drill called the Lafayette Escadrille.
James McConnell was killed one month before the US entered the war (making him the last American citizen to die under French command before the US declared war on Germany).
McConnell also served in the American Ambulance service and UVA’s Special Collections holds 160 letters written by him during the war. There are several memorials dedicated to McConnell (at the site where he fell, in his home town, and in Charlottesville). The monument at UVA is located between Clemons and Alderman Library. In addition to the Icarus-inspired figure (flying towards the sky), the statue contains inscriptions and symbols, including “Soaring like an eagle to new heavens of valor and devotion” and the tribute to his final moments in the carvings above. To hear more about McConnell and Borglum’s statue, visit the Charlottesville Podcasting network and listen to a podcast hosted by Coy Barefoot, featuring local historian Rick Britton.