(American, San Francisco, CA 1878—1949 New York, NY),
The Skirmisher, 1924
Location: Washington St. Bridge, along North Shore Drive
Gift of Thomas H. Barber Camp III United Spanish War Veterans and Broome County Board of Supervisors, dedicated during the annual parade of the United Spanish War Veterans Convention July 14, 1925. Collection of the City of Binghamton, Broome County
Drew Lewis of Big Drew Grafix
The Skirmisher by Robert Aitken depicts a typical infantryman of the Spanish-American War (1898). The monument was proposed by Thomas H. Barber Camp III as a tribute to fellow soldiers. Foster Disinger, a Binghamton based photographer and an officer of the Broome County Historical Society, enlisted the help of his friend Robert Aitken, an internationally recognized artist, for the project. Aitken, who was also a veteran of the Spanish American War, decided against the typical stationary soldier, which he felt to be lifeless, and instead gave the Skirmisher his distinctive dynamic stance. Skirmishers were men deployed in a military formation called the skirmish line, which required each soldier to charge into battle at a distance of eighteen to twenty feet from each other. This unusual formation aimed to counter the increasing accuracy use of rifles in military conflict. Aitken’s Skirmisher balances on one leg atop a nine-foot cylindrical pedestal. The lively character resembles closely the men who charged forward into battle, aiming to capture the passion and dedication of the turn-of-the-century American soldier.
Binghamton residents were quite proud of the Skirmisher when he was he was dedicated in 1925, and aimed to make sure the sculpture with its unique stance remained unique to the city. According to Tom Cawley, writing for the Binghamton Press and Leader newspaper in 1967, residents of Brooklyn, New York, wanted a Skirmisher of their very own, but Aitken refused them. Indeed, the artist was determined to make the Broome County sculpture unique in every way. This local pride extended even to song: “Throw a kiss [to the Skirmisher], in memory of the men we still miss,” was a rhyme popular with children of the 1930s and 1940s and intended to keep the soldier’s memory alive.
Installed in 1924 and dedicated on July, 1925, during the annual parade of the United Spanish War Veterans Convention, Aitken’s sculpture has had an interesting post-installation history. It was initially part of a larger memorial plan, a Memorial Circle with a diameter of 260 feet at the intersection of Washington and Water Streets (later North Shore Drive) and purposely close to the World War Memorial Bridge of Broome County.
In 1958, the sculpture was moved six feet north and the circle diminished to accommodate the increase of traffic from highway construction; the remaining circle was removed when the bridge was closed in 1969. During the sculpture’s most recent relocation to Confluence Park in 1996, a time capsule was discovered within its pedestal. The time capsule, a copper box, showed signs of damage; the items found within the capsule included newspapers from 1925, Spanish American War badges, and a letter from 1958 explaining that the time capsule had been found within the pedestal during the relocation and replaced. It is believed that a new time capsule was placed within the base of the sculpture including its previous contents from 1925, 1958, and objects from its unearthing in 1996.
Researched by: Jillian Proscia