A Nobel Effort
Visitors taking selfies with the statue of Theodore Roosevelt on Central Park West are a common sight these days for anyone visiting or passing by the grand entrance to the American Museum of Natural History. But less than a block away, a monument that honors other great Americans often goes unnoticed. This four-sided pillar, located in Theodore Roosevelt Park, lists the names of all of the American Nobel prize winners from President Roosevelt–who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1906 for ending the Russo-Japanese War–to the latest recipients, those selected in 2013 in the fields of chemistry, medicine and economics .
Among those who received the award for literature, Isaac Bashevis Singer may be the only author Upper West Siders can claim for their own, but a considerable number of the recipients were connected with New York institutions–including Columbia University–in some way.
In his lecture delivered before the Swedish Academy, Singer said:
I am not ashamed to admit that I belong to those who fantasize that literature is capable of brining new horizons and new perspectives–philosophical, religious, esthetical (sic) and even social.
A “noncomprehensive list of New Yorkers” who were awarded the prize can be found in this New York Times article. (One of the 2014 recipients of the Nobel Prize in Medicine–awarded for his work in identifying the cells in the brain that help us create a spatial map of our surroundings, John O’Keefe, was born in NYC, but spent his adult life in Canada and the U.K.)
Those interested in the history of the monument may also enjoy this Neighborhood Report from the Times (2000) in which area residents debated the desirability of placing the monument in the park. While many were in favor, one resident objected because Alfred Nobel made his fortune manufacturing dynamite, while others felt that “the area was already crowded, with a hot dog stand, newspaper boxes, a subway station and a bus stop.” But the late Helen Gurley Brown, who was then a resident of the Beresford, was in favor. “It can’t be any worse than looking at tree trunks,” she is reported to have said.
A wealth of interesting information about the prize is available at the Nobel site, including a list of those awarded the prize for literature, as well as podcasts of more recent recipients in a range of fields talking about their work.