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[whitespace] Fallon Statue

Notes From the Underbelly

Horse With a Man on It

By Eric A. Carlson

"La Estatua de un Caballo con un Jinete Montado" --Fallon Statue detractor

ON A COLD DECEMBER DAY in 1998, a visit to Leonard McKay's tiny shop, Memorabilia of San Jose, would change my life forever. I was thumbing through some old postcards, looking for an image of Dr. Henry D. Cogswell, prohibitionist dentist, when Leonard spoke up. "Take a look at this." He was holding a photo depicting an equestrian statue-- two horses, each with a rider. Alarm bells sounded. I was face to face with the dreaded Fallon Statue.

In 1990, a statue of Captain Thomas Fallon was cast in Rome, and was to be placed at the head of Plaza de Cesar E. Chavez. Indeed, $395,000 was spent preparing the site. The site is still there, a traffic island, but the $445,000 statue took a detour to an Oakland warehouse, where it has been entombed ever since.

In the Mexican War of 1846, Captain Thomas Fallon raised the American flag at the Juzgado in downtown San Jose. The Fallon Statue depicts this moment of flag raising, and therein lies the controversy. Some folks see the statue as a glorification of war and a symbol of the oppression of the Mexican people. (Other historical-minded types point out that the Mexican government was robustly engaged in the oppression of the Ohlone Indians at the same time.) Whatever, the statue was ordered to never set foot in San Jose, and no San Josean has ever laid eyes on it. Except for this photograph, with Roman foundry workers posing proudly in the foreground.

Demonization of Fallon. In addition to warmonger, Thomas is now accused of being a wife abuser, a child murderer, a drunk, a scoundrel and a Republican. I asked Leonard what he thought of the charges. "Ridiculous; you would have sooner found him in a church than in a bar." Indeed, there is no trustworthy historical evidence to substantiate the more lurid accusations, other than hearsay from divorce trials. He is, however, guilty as hell of raising the American flag. And there is plenty of evidence to suggest he became San Jose's mayor in 1859 and, by all accounts, did a bang-up job. Alas, there is plain evidence that he was a poor speller. From Clyde Arbuckle's History of San Jose: "Fallon wrote: I am hapy [sic] to inform you that we have ... hoisted the star spangled baner [sic] on the 14th ..."

Ross from Oz shares a thought on the subject. "Mate, one man's patriot is another man's terrorist! We're all flawed and it is a pretty horribly flawed individual who sets himself up to be arbiter of just who is better than the rest of the herd and who should remember what of whom ..."

Flash forward to 1999. The San Jose City Council, mayor and Arts Commission agree to release the Captain from captivity. Time goes by. Nothing happens. Winter 2000. I called the mayor's office to see if there was a timeline for statue placement. David Vossbrink, the mayor's spokesman, said there was no specific date, but January was the target. Well, we shall see.

Fallon will not grace the Plaza de Cesar E. Chavez, as originally planned, but will be placed on another traffic island adjoining unkempt Pellier Park. (The $395,000 for the Plaza site preparation did not go to waste, as the traffic island is quite spiffy and could be used for San Jose's next monumental blunder.)

I stood at the proposed Fallon site with San Jose gadfly Dave Hickey; we marveled at the utter desolation of Pellier Park, a narrow strip of burned out grass and weeds between Julian and St. James streets. The park is permanently closed and partially hidden behind walls and a locked gate. Dave suggested that it was a perfect location for the statue, as it would provide an Eastern European city atmosphere to San Jose. Motorists heading up St. James, and not expecting a 9-foot horse, will be impressed.

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From the December 7-13, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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