The Hiker Monument

By Diane Cripps, Curator of History, Portsmouth Museums

Published April 2020

If you’re taking your own hike through Olde Towne Portsmouth, take a moment to regard The Hiker in the median at Crawford Parkway and North Street.

According to its own dedication plaque, the statue was “Erected by the citizens of Portsmouth and Norfolk County. Sponsored by the Austin R. Davis Camp No. 4 – United Spanish War Veterans and Auxiliary to commemorate the valor and patriotism of those who voluntarily served in the war with Spain, the Philippine Insurrection and the China Relief Expedition.” It was dedicated on May 23, 1942. The conflicts it commemorates took place between 1898 and 1902.

Above: 1942 casting of The Hiker monument on Crawford Parkway, Portsmouth, Virginia.
Above: Front and rear plaques on The Hiker’s stone base.

Interestingly, this statue is one of at least 50 copies that were cast and dedicated in states across the U.S. between 1906 and 1965. The earliest one was erected in 1906 at the University of Minnesota Armory in Minneapolis. Each casting was produced by the Gorham Company Founders, Bronze Division, in Providence, Rhode Island. Since each statue was so consistently cast with the same bronze alloy and installed outdoors all over the country over a period of more than half a century, the collection of statues was studied for a 2009 publication called “The Effects of Air Pollution on Cultural Heritage.”

The statue’s sculptor, Theo Alice Ruggles Kitson, showed her artistic talents at an early age—so much so that when her mother tried to enroll her 15-year-old daughter in the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, among other art schools, she was informed that the girl was too young to attend. She worked under a tutor instead, and in 1888, at the age of 17, she won honorable mention at the Salon des Artistes Francais (also known as the Paris Salon), becoming the youngest woman, and the first American woman, ever to receive the honor. In 1895, she was the first woman admitted to the National Sculpture Society. Her works were also featured at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition and the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, where she won a bronze medal.

When she created The Hiker, Kitson already had a reputation for creating war memorial sculptures, having designed 73 statues installed at sites within Vicksburg National Military Park in the first years of the 1900s. The monument’s name came from the nickname the Spanish-American War soldiers gave themselves, due to their long marches over rough terrain.

A Spanish-American War veteran by the name of Leonard Sefing, Jr., of Allentown, Pennsylvania, became the model for the statue after a photograph of him was entered in a national contest.

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Above: Theo Alice Ruggles Kitson, sculptor of The Hiker. Courtesy Wikipedia.
Another artist by the name of Allen George Newman also created a Hiker monumental statue that about two dozen states selected as their memorial to those who served in the same wars of the early 20th century. His version is a similarly clad soldier in a slightly shifted stance with his rifle held in the crook of his elbow, rather than Kitson’s soldier, who grasps his rifle in both hands, balanced across his hips. A plaster version of Newman’s statue was featured in the New York building of the 1907 Jamestown Exposition, but that statue has been lost.
Above: An example of Allen George Newman’s The Hiker, in Pawtucket Rhode Island. Courtesy Wikipedia.
Damaged propeller shafts and engine parts from the Ki-45 found in the Sangamon’s hanger after the fires were extinguished. United States Navy Photograph
So, when you glance at Portsmouth’s Hiker, you are seeing a war memorial spanning several conflicts, a piece of fine art modeled after a war veteran, an object of the study of metallurgical conservators, a testament to a young, groundbreaking female sculptor from the early 20th century, and an example of public art to be enjoyed, all wrapped up in The Hiker’s silent gaze down Crawford Parkway.