Sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, whom numismatists know as the designer of iconic
U.S. coins and medals, was primarily known for statues and sculptural work found all over major cities. But did you know about his two nine-foot tall portraits near a ghost town in rural Wyoming? On the side of a freakin' pyramid? Me neither. Wikipedia tells the tale...
The Ames Monument is a large pyramid in Albany County, Wyoming, designed by Henry Hobson Richardson and dedicated to brothers Oakes Ames and Oliver Ames Jr., Union Pacific Railroad financiers. It marked the highest point on the first transcontinental railroad, at 8,247 feet (2,514 m).
The town of Sherman rose up around it, but then Union Pacific moved its tracks to the south, leaving Sherman to become a ghost town.
The Ames Monument is located about 20 miles (32 km) east of Laramie, Wyoming, on a wind-blown, treeless summit south of Interstate 80 at the Vedauwoo exit. The monument is a four-sided, random ashlar pyramid, 60 feet (18 m) square at the base and 60 feet (18 m) high, constructed of light-colored native granite. The pyramid features an interior passage, now sealed, alongside the perimeter of the structure's base.
Noted American architect H. H. Richardson designed the pyramid, which includes two 9 feet (2.7 m) tall bas-relief portraits of the Ames brothers by sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens on the east and west sides of the pyramid's top. Saint-Gaudens chiseled the bas-reliefs from Quincy, Massachusetts, granite. The north side, which at one time faced the railroad tracks, displays one-foot-high letters grouted in the granite noting: "In Memory of Oakes Ames and Oliver Ames". The monument is one of a half-dozen or more projects that Richardson did for the Ames family.
From the Smithsonian Art Inventories Catalog
The audacity of building a transcontinental railroad in the 1860s was "today's equivalent of the mission to Mars: Big, expensive and impossible," wrote University of Wyoming historian Phil Roberts. President Abraham Lincoln reportedly told Oakes Ames that if he could get the transcontinental railroad built, he would be "the most remembered man of the century."
However, in 1873 charges of financial fraud were leveled at Oakes, tarnishing his reputation and that of the Union Pacific Railroad Company's.
In 1875, the Union Pacific Railroad board of directors voted to erect the grand Ames Monument, in part to burnish the company's tarnished reputation.
Union Pacific donated the railroad monument to the state of Wyoming in 1983. The structure is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and is maintained as a Wyoming state historic site. Time and possible vandalism have destroyed some of the features of the bas-relief portraits of the Ames brothers on the monument. The Ames Monument is open year-round, weather permitting.
Work took place in 2010 and 2011 to restore the monument. On October 31, 2016, the site received National Historic Landmark status. The designation was made in recognition of the unique collaboration between Richardson and Saint-Gaudens, two of the era's leading creative figures.
Are there better images of the works anywhere? Those were the best I could find online.
See the complete articles linked below for much more of the interesting history of this monument. Thanks to historian Annette Laing for her Non-Boring History blog article, "The Great Pyramid of Grifters," where I first learned of this. A much more colorful read.
The Ames Monument. Image: Annette Laing, 2023
To read the complete Wikipedia article, see:
The Great Pyramid of Grifters
Ames Monument, (sculpture).
Ames Monument State Historic Site
Wayne Homren, Editor
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