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Whisper the Bull

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The Town of Smithtown's Whisper the Bull statue as decorated for the 2017 holiday season shows the Happy Hanukkah sign that was destroyed. Photo from Corey Geske

By David Luces

Smithtown’s iconic Whisper the Bull, a 5-foot-tall statue located at the intersection of Route 25 and Route 25A in Smithtown, narrowly avoided damage in a single-car accident Dec. 24.

On Christmas Eve, a driver veered off road near the intersection into the green space, colliding into the base wall. The unidentified driver was transported to the hospital with critical injuries, according to town officials. 

The retaining wall around Whisper the Bull statue was damaged, lower left, in a Dec. 24 car accident. Photo from Corey Geske

The bronze statue avoided any major damage and the base wall and the area around the monument sustained minor damage, according to Smithtown spokeswoman Nicole Garguilo.

“Thankfully there was no damage to the statue or its base,” Garguilo said. “The concrete around the landscape wall, a Christmas sign as well as a wooden menorah were the only things damaged.”

The iconic statue was recently ruled eligible for landmark status on the New York State and National Register of Historic Places run by New York State Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. The monument commemorates the legend of the town’s origins that claims founder Richard Smythe rode a bull to establish the town’s boundaries.

Smithtown resident Corey Geske appealed to Smithtown town officials in December to sign off on a formal application for the registry as the official owners of the monument.

Geske said she was relieved to hear the statue and the surrounding area avoided serious damage, though suggested it would good to keep an eye on it and to get experts to look at it.

“The base [of the statue] seems to have been saved,” Geske said. “The brick landscape wall surrounding the statue looks to have kept it from any damage.”

There were already plans in place to repair the base of the statue prior to the accident, according to Garguilo. These repairs included fixing a visible crack along “Smithtown” in the inscription and can be seen running from front to back of the platform as well as additional landscaping.

This is part of the legacy of the community and the town. It would be a shame if it was lost for future generations.”

— Corey Geske

Garguilo said after the incident the town will try to speed up the planned renovations to the statue’s base.

Since 2017, Geske has been working on a three-part plan for the revitalization of downtown Smithtown, which includes preservation of the statue as part of a proposed historic corridor.

One of the criteria the state park’s department will consider when evaluating the monument for placement on the state Register of Historic Places includes its “artistic value” and current condition, according to the state’s website. Repairing the crack in the statue’s base will not have any impact on Whisper’s eligibility, according to Garguilo, but any damage to the statue itself could have negatively affected its ability to qualify for landmark status.

“This is part of the legacy of the community and the town,” Geske said. “It would be a shame if it was lost for future generations.”

The Town of Smithtown's Whisper the Bull statue as decorated for the 2017 holiday season shows the Happy Hanukkah sign that was destroyed. Photo from Corey Geske

Whisper the Bull has long been an iconic landmark in Smithtown, standing at the west entrance of town at the intersection of Routes 25 and 25A, but recently is gaining attention at the state level.

Smithtown resident Corey Geske announced the New York State Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation has determined the Whisper the Bull statue is officially eligible for the New York State and National Register of Historic Places. Geske called on Town of Smithtown officials at their Dec. 11 meeting to sign off on and complete the application that could protect the statue for generations to come.

“I’m bullish on seeing downtown revitalized with historic preservation leading the way,” she said. “So, let’s get Whisper registered.”

I’m bullish on seeing downtown revitalized with historic preservation leading the way.” 

— Corey Geske

Geske said it was in 2017 she first proposed a three-part conceptual plan for revitalization of downtown Smithtown to elected officials. One key component was the creation of a historic corridor along Main Street/Route 25A starting at the western edge with the bull statue.

“It’s comparable to the Charging Bull on Wall Street, the famous sculpture that brings in tourists from around the world” she said. “We have something to be very proud of, it’s a world-class sculpture.”

The concept of creating a statue for Smithtown was first conceived in 1913 by town founder Richard Smythe’s descendant, Lawrence Smith Butler, while he attended the National School of Fine Arts in Paris. He asked a fellow student Charles Cary Rumsey for help, who came up with depicting the centuries-old legend of Smythe riding the town’s boundary on a bull to claim it.

Geske said she uncovered the sculpture’s history when drafting the nearly 80-page report in April to be submitted to the state for a determination on whether it was eligible to be named a historic place.

New York State’s Registry of Historic Places is an “official list of buildings, structures, districts, objects, and sites significant in the history, architecture, archeology, engineering, and culture of New York and the nation,” according to the state’s website. Four criteria considered by the state in evaluating the statue include: whether its associated with events that have made a significant contribution to history, associated with the life of a significant person, if it possesses high artistic value or yields information important to history.

The cement platform on which Whisper the Bull stands has a crack. Photo from Corey Geske

Geske said she received a letter in July from the state parks department that Whisper is eligible, but the Town of Smithtown must be the applicant as they are the official owner of the statue.

“We will be moving forward with the approval on that,” town spokeswoman Nicole Garguilo said. “Once it’s on the registry, we will be applying for grants to take better care of it.”

One immediate concern of both Geske and Smithtown’s elected official is a crack visible on the cement pedestal on which the 5-ton sculpture rests. It is visible immediately along “Smithtown” in the inscription and can be seen running from front to back of the platform. Garguilo said the town has plans to repair the base this upcoming spring under the direction of Joseph Arico, head of the town’s parks department.

“It’s our understanding any restrictions the historical register would require [to] be maintained pertain to the bull itself, not the base or anything around the base,” she said.

If Whisper the Bull is approved as a state historic place, Geske said it would be the first phase before applying to have it placed on the national registry. She hopes to follow up by seeking historic status for other Main Street buildings, including the 108-year-old Trinity AME Church on New York Avenue, the 105-year-old Resurrection Byzantine Catholic Church on Juniper Avenue and the 265-year-old Arthur House.

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The iconic Smithtown statue, “Whisper the Bull,” welcomes residents as they enter the township and is a symbol of the community’s long and storied past. File photo by Elana Glowatz

By Jenni Culkin

There is cause for celebration among Smithtown residents this year. The town was founded 350 years ago, and the Smithtown Historical Society is preparing to get its residents involved in festivities and immersion in the town’s proud history.

“This town has been inhabited for 350 years,” said Kiernan Lannon, executive director of the Smithtown Historical Society. “It’s self-evident that this is a milestone!”

Lannon said the Smithtown Historical Society’s mission is to “preserve and present the town’s history,” and in order to develop an itinerary for the 350th annual celebration, the town’s historical society developed the 350 Foundation — a group of volunteers comprised of representatives from various organizations in the town.

On March 3rd, 1665, Richard Smythe, the town’s founder, was granted the Nicholls Patent. The patent gave him the right to the territory that encompasses present-day Smithtown. Originally, it was believed that Smythe was told that he could have all of the territory that he could circumnavigate on the back of a bull.

The bull story is so important that it has become the icon that represents Smithtown. The bull statue, affectionately named “Whisper the Bull,” welcomes residents as they enter the town boundaries.

The story proved to be only a legend, but it still has a place in this year’s celebration of the town’s history.

The Bull Smythe Relay is proof that the bull story is still sentimental to the people of Smithtown. The relay is the first of the 350th anniversary events that the 350 Foundation is planning, scheduled for March 1, which will mimic the torch relays that are performed during the Olympics.

The relay will cover approximately 36 miles within the town, each mile sponsored by a different person, organization or family. The public is welcome to come and watch the Bull Smythe Relay and support the participants.

Town historian Bradley Harris helped spearhead the planning of this year’s 350th celebration after Town Supervisor Patrick Vecchio penned a letter to him asking him to help plan the events.

Only two days after the relay, on March 3, there will be a special town board meeting. A time capsule opening will follow the meeting. The capsule was buried in 1965, during the town’s 300th anniversary celebration.

Town Councilwoman Lynne Nowick says that she can remember attending the 300th anniversary and said the events were historically a great historical celebration for the Town of Smithtown.

“The 350 committee is doing a fabulous job,” she said.

The dedicated 350 Foundation has a tentative calendar of events stretching from late February to December of this year. Not all of these events are held by the historical society.

The Smithtown Performing Arts Center is also hosting a musical performance called “The Spirit of Smithtown,” which will be playing in late May and early June. The Smithtown Library is also formulating a schedule of events that is to be announced within the last few weeks of February. Even the public schools in Smithtown’s school districts are planning an art show and contest.