AFC Guide to Brooklyn’s Public Art: The Fighting Doughboy

by Corinna Kirsch on January 14, 2015 · 5 comments Columns

Doughboy 1

“The Doughboy” in January. All photos by the author.

A column mapping out Brooklyn’s little-known public art. A new work every week. A new pin on the map.

The other night amid typical dinner party chatter, one of the guests sharing the couch with me aired his hatred for Bushwick. It’s an annoyingly ordinary encounter; everyone has at least one problem to vent about the new Williamsburg of old. “I don’t like Bushwick because it’s so recent,” he said. “All you have are 99-cent stores, knockoff boutiques, and fast-food joints.”

Sure, Mr. Culture. That’s not a great argument against Bushwick, but the observation is fair enough. I live off the Knickerbocker M, and there you’ll find several 99-cent stores, an Army recruiting office, off-brand Nike stores, a 24-hour laundromat, 24-hour Burger King, and a 24-hour Subway. The McDonald’s and Popeyes are open until 11:00 and 11:30 p.m., respectively.

But the point this fellow was trying to make—that Bushwick has no history, just shops—falls flat when you avert your eyes from the all-night neon signage and land on one of the area’s longstanding monuments. I give you the “Fighting Doughboy,” a classical monument that oozes with camp.

Hop off the Knickerbocker M and look to the left of the police station. There you’ll find the Heisser Triangle, a small plot of parkland. Inside stands a bronze statue of a classically posed young soldier, Pietro Montana’s “Bushwick-Ridgewood War Memorial,” also known as the “Fighting Doughboy” (1921). He’s not so easy to spot. The plot’s trees and shrubs have grown up higher than the statue, obscuring this life-size soldier. Even during the winter, the skeletal branches form a sort of nest around him. It doesn’t help that you can’t go inside the triangle; you can only gaze upon the memorial from outside the gates.

Doughboy Rear

He’s sexy, with a popped collar, shirt unbuttoned to his waist, and hair slicked back. By no means is this a realistic battlefield portrayal.

Take a good look at all sides of the monument, you’ll find that the doughboy looks even better from the rear. That is one tight ass and two chiseled shoulders. (The focus on pecs and muscles is a trend in Pietro Montana’s work; his next public sculpture commission used the bodybuilder Charles Atlas as model.) The Knickerbocker M doughboy is not just pretty, he’s naive: this young man doesn’t even have his finger on his rifle’s trigger. Carried like a book, or even a purse, he’s not ready to shoot.

doughboy 3

That naiveté might not be overt, but it does bring up some truth about World War I. The first war in the United States to draft recruits, it should come as no surprise that of the 157 soldiers from the Bushwick-Ridgewood neighborhood who perished during World War I, some just weren’t ready for war. This monument is for those we lost, and for those who were able to return. Over ten thousand veterans live in the Bushwick-Ridgewood area; some were surely recruited at the office across the street. And some of them must be responsible for leaving ribboned wreaths left at the foot of the monument.


PL January 14, 2015 at 12:15 pm

Thanks for bringing some attention to Brooklyn’s often bizarre and sadly overlooked monuments and public sculpture. There are some interesting pieces at Boys and Girls High School, if you’re ever interested in making the trek.

Corinna Kirsch January 14, 2015 at 12:21 pm

Yes, I definitely want to cover all of BK—Coney Island included. Thanks for the tip about the Boys and Girls High School! It’s on my list.

MTA_mutt January 16, 2015 at 11:36 am

“I don’t like Bushwick because it’s so recent,” (i.e. “Bushwick has no history, just shops”) — say what??? I have no idea to wrap my head around the meaning of that statement: it is confusing and wrong on so many levels…
The AFC Guide to Brooklyn’s Public Art is a great initiative however. Looking fwd to future posts!

Corinna Kirsch January 16, 2015 at 11:42 am

Hi! I couldn’t believe that statement either; that’s why it stuck with me. And thanks, I’m going to enjoy writing this series too.

SuZQ January 16, 2015 at 7:39 pm

Thanks for this. Cool how you used an ‘off’ comment for a more interesting exploration of Bushwick. Rather than just being irritated and pummeling him with insults.

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