As it Were: Statue of Cornelia and her jewels honor Ohio leaders
On the northwest corner of Capitol Square in downtown Columbus, a large piece of statuary sculpture will capture the attention and interest of many people making their way to and from the Ohio Statehouse.
At the top of the monument is a larger-than-life figure of a woman in a flowing dress with her arms open in welcome to the attention of no less than seven figures standing around the base of the statue. The figures are labeled for the uninformed but are probably known to many.
The immediate questions to the first-time visitor are, “Who are these people, and how did this monument come to be here?”
The answer to the questions comes in several parts and, as one might imagine, makes for a rather good story.
First to the statues at the base. They are all men who helped Ohio and the country in its time of trial during the Civil War.
Among them are Gens. Ulysses S. Grant, William Tecumseh Sherman, Philip Sheridan, James A. Garfield and Rutherford B. Hayes, Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton and Supreme Court Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase. Grant, Garfield and Hayes later became presidents.
The lady standing above an inscription that reads, “These Are My Jewels,” is Cornelia. She was a notable figure in the Roman Republic over the course of a long life from 190 B.C. to 115 B.C. She was the second daughter of Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus, the Roman general and hero of Rome’s Second Punic War with Carthage. She married a much older Tiberius Gracchus with whom she had 12 children, three of which – two boys and one girl – reached adulthood.
Like most Roman matrons with wealth and power, Cornelia was wont to entertain. On one occasion, a visiting lady adorned with jewelry asked the plainly dressed Cornelia where her jewelry might be. She responded by bringing forth her two young sons and saying, “These are my jewels.”
Her sons, Tiberius and Gaius, became leaders of popular movements to restrain the power of the wealthy and influential in the republic. Their efforts and successes were supported by their mother, who eventually earned a statue of her own in the Roman Forum after her death in 115 B.C.
In the early 1890s, a number of Ohioans were preparing plans to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the arrival of Christopher Columbus to the New World in 1492. A grand exposition and World’s Fair were planned for Chicago, but it would take until 1893 for it to be completed.
Ohio planned to have a building of its own at the fair where it would present the history, culture, arts and commercial products of the state.
Enter Roeliff Brinkerhoff, a self-made man who had served as an officer in the Civil War and later had become a successful lawyer, Republican politician and banker. On the cultural side, he helped found the Ohio Archeological and Historical Society (now the Ohio History Connection) in his living room.
Speaking to legislators, Brinkerhoff recounted the story of Cornelia.
“I amplified my idea and wound up with the suggestion that Ohio should be represented at the fair by a group of statuary in the center of which should be a noble matron representing Ohio, and all around her should be such children as Grant, Sherman, Sheridan, Chase, Stanton and Garfield, and then upon the pedestal should be engraved the proud utterance of Cornelia the Mother of the Gracchi, ‘These Are My Jewels.’ ”
The Ohio General Assembly agreed, and $30,000 was allocated for the project. Levi Scofield, an Ohio artist, architect and sculptor, was selected to construct the monument. As designed, the monument consisted of bronze figures on a granite base. The original monument had only the six statues mentioned by Brinkerhoff, who was a speaker when the monument was dedicated Sept. 14, 1893, in Chicago.
It was hoped that the statue of Cornelia would attract visitors to the Ohio building and its exhibits. Actually, the building was rather small and was better known as having some of the cleanest and most spacious restroom facilities on the fairgrounds.
At the end of the fair, Cornelia and her entourage were returned to Columbus. Ohio Gov. William McKinley, who later became president, believed that his old commander in the Civil War should have a statue, as well. In 1894, a statue of Hayes was added to the monument.
It is interesting to note that none of the people cast in bronze on the monument had seen it. All had died by the time it was done. They were Ohio’s jewels a century and a quarter ago and they are with us still.
Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As It Were column for ThisWeek Community News.