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Federici's career as the city's near-official sculptor had begun in 1905 with the Senator James Stewart memorial before the County Courthouse on Hamilton St. It didn't end till 1957, with his Bishop Thomas McLaughlin, second of two major pieces on the grounds of St John's Cathedral. (The other was his vivid portrait of the Irish community's beloved pastor "Dean" William McNulty in 1923). Scores more Federicis dot the city of Paterson, including formidable lifesize bronzes of Mayors Barnert (1924) and McBride (1947) outside City Hall, and exquisite popular culture icons like the Dublin Spring Water-Boy (1931) on Oliver Street.
The story of the bronze Hinchliffe plaques also begins in '31, with an invitation to honor Paterson champion athlete, Eleanor Egg. Egg was then 22, child of a striving theatrical family, a young acrobat turned track star, considered the "world's fastest woman" of her day. Like Hinchliffe Stadium itself, she'd risen out of poverty to become a symbol of the city's spirit of survival. Federici's beautiful bronze (dedicated with the stadium on September 17, 1932) remains one of his most brilliant creations, depicting the clean grace of the runner in full stride, unglamorously beautiful, her face alive with intensity and joy. The sculptor's pleasure in his subject is so real that he has carved a portrait of his own daughter Tessa running hard beside her.
Two years later, despite its hard-hit resources, the City intended to honor a native son and champion swimmer. Albert Vande Weghe, a Central H.S. student who later trained in Newark and Princeton, had a killer backstroke that won him a gold medal at the Japanese Outdoor Nationals in August 1934, and eventually a silver medal in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Homecoming from the Nationals in September '34 meant an instant hero's welcome at Hinchliffe, to be followed at the year's Thanksgiving games by the unveiling of Federici's companion plaque to the Eleanor Egg, a graceful bust portrait of the swimmer framed with Japanese-inspired foliage and water motifs.
These two great portraits represented then, and still represent, the poignant gift of a struggling Depression generation to future athletic hopefuls coming fresh onto the field. Every sun-up over the Falls for the next sixty seasons, catching the new daylight on the stadium's high west wall, they bore witness to the faith their donors had in a future symbolized by the young.. We may never know who took them off that wall, or precisely when, but chances are it was after the stadium was closed to regular use in 1997. Some picture a stealthy thief in the night, perhaps motivated by greed, perhaps by a warped zeal to "save" them. But easy access to the stadium meant anyone could have brought in a truck and crowbar and pried them off, perhaps even in broad daylight.
Ironically they weren't missed till they were rediscovered. This was in 1998, when someone saw them for sale in the shop of a Montclair, NJ, art and antiques dealer. He claimed he'd purchased them from another dealer, and fought to keep them. A court agreement in late 2004 finally obliged him to restore them to the Paterson Schools. At the time of this writing (2006), they remain in storage, with a now long-standing plan to display them at the Paterson Museum, ever-ready to tell their rich and now richly-layered story as they await their final homecoming return to the stadium wall!
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