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Frederick Douglass statues expected to go up for auction next year

ROCHESTER, NY (WXXI) - A previously toppled statue of Frederick Douglass was replaced Wednesday, just feet from the building where the famous abolitionist and orator once published the North Star newspaper.

But if all goes according to plan, the statue and the 12 Douglass monuments like it won’t be outside for much longer.

In September, vandals knocked over the monument in Aqueduct Park, off East Main Street near the Joseph A. Floreano Rochester Riverside Convention Center. On Wednesday, local dignitaries were on hand as city workers installed a replica of the statue onto its pedestal.

The statues, which were installed to honor the bicentennial of Douglass’ birth, have dotted Rochester’s cityscape since 2018. These monuments are replicas of the original statue, which stands in Highland Park, near the site of one of Douglass’ Rochester homes.

In the years since, two other Douglass bicentennial statues have been vandalized – one on Tracy Street in the East End neighborhood in December 2018, and one in Maplewood Park in July 2020. The latter was thrown into the Genesee River.

Like the culprits behind the Aqueduct Park statue, those who vandalized the Maplewood Park statue haven't been caught.

But in the Tracy Street incident, two St. John Fisher students, Charles Milks and John Boedicker. They ultimately helped install a replacement for the Maplewood Park statue, in addition to other community service.

Presumptive mayor-elect Malik Evans called the most recent vandal “an idiot” and said monuments are a way to teach history to future generations.

“I think we need to send a message to the people of perpetrators who think they can continue to do this. If you knock down another statue, we may put 20 up,” Evans said. “When young people are walking around this community and they see a statue and they may not know what it is from a distance, we want them ask their parents and people in the broader community, ‘What is that?’”

The statues are owned by Rochester Community Media, which is run by Carvin Eison, a vocal proponent of the project. Eison said the vandalism has given Rochester another chance to prove it’s a united city.

“You thought you could hurt us, but you didn’t. In fact, you did just the opposite,” Eison said. “By doing what you did, you gave us another opportunity to come together and lift up the legacy of Douglass.”

But Eison also said these fiberglass resin statues will likely not be outdoors for much longer. Affording their upkeep has been difficult, and Eison said the vandalism hasn’t helped. He also said his group never planned for the monuments to be outside permanently.

“What we hope by next summer is that we bring them all indoors and auction them all off to people who might want them,” Eison said. “It would great if they could stay forever, but it's just not possible because the cost to maintain them and we don’t have money to do that. We do it because we love them. They’ve already been out a year longer than we planned to.”

According to Eison, Garth Fagan and the University of Rochester Rare Books room are among those who have shown interest in acquiring the statues so far.

A large bronze statue of Douglass is also under construction now, and Eison said he expects it to be completed by next year. When it’s done, Eison said it will be placed at the newly christened Frederick Douglass Greater Rochester International Airport.