A Monument To Ignorance

January 31, 2013 | by Ethan Wallace


"Tedyuscung statue, John Massey Rhind | Photo: Ethan Wallace

“Tedyuscung statue,” John Massey Rhind | Photo: Ethan Wallace

Like all great cities of a significant age, Philadelphia is adorned with markers and monuments to those long gone. The intent is to pay tribute to those who have passed, to keep them in the collective memory and honor them. So the founder of Pennsylvania gets a mammoth statue on City Hall. John Wanamaker and Stephen Girard have been recreated, larger than life and smack in the middle of town.

And for the Lenape, descendants of the original human settlers of the area, there are two monuments. The more recent is the 1995 Tamanend by the sculptor Raymond Sandoval at Front and Market Streets. The other is a marble statue by the noted sculptor John Massey Rhind of another chief, Tedyuscung, on what is imagined to be a sacred “Council Rock,” high above the Wissahickon Valley where they used to live. Or so the mythology says.

If any group deserves a monument or a memorial it is the Lenape. (The University Museum put together a terrific exhibit on the Lenape a few years ago that brought the Lenape story forward to today.) Most of their names for rivers and creeks have been replaced and are all but forgotten (and most of the creeks themselves are buried). So it does seem fitting that the monument to a people now gone stands in a beautiful natural setting still bearing a version of its original name. The word Wissahickon is believed to be a westernized version of the Lenape word Wisameckhan, which means “catfish stream.” While the new growth woods and the paved paths are a far cry from the great forests that greeted the first Europeans, they still hint at what the entire region had once been.

The Philadelphia carpenter Pat Owens and a scene painter from one of the city’s theaters were responsible for designing and installing a carved wooden statue of Teduscung on the site in 1856. “From the Germantown Telegraph I learn that the figure of Tedyuscung standing the rock was placed in position on July i8 Friday 1856 in commemoration of his visit to this spot which happened just one hundred years ago,” wrote Reverend Thomas C. Middleton in 1901. Eventually, the weather took its toll on the wooden statue and it was removed.

Photo: Ethan Wallace

Photo: Ethan Wallace

A member of the Fairmount Park Commission Charles W. Henry, whose uncle was Mayor Alexander Henry, and who descended from a wealthy old line family, decided along with his wife to replace the old wooden statue. The Henrys commissioned Rhind to create a new one out of marble. A noble and generous gesture perhaps, but as a monument to a people it fails.

There is in fact little evidence that the Lenape lived along the Wissahickon. It is believed they came there to hunt and fish but that was all. Indeed, historians have found no evidence that so called “council rock” was ever used as a gathering spot and a visit to the location reveals a rather small bluff that would hardly be a good location for a mass gathering. So why make a statue as a tribute to this particular figure? There is no reason to, and in fact, no one did. Though it replaced a monument to Tedyuscung, Rhind’s statue was never meant to portray a specific person but to represent a whole people. Nevertheless, the Tedyuscung name stuck.

The sculpture might still be a nice tribute, a great showing of admiration and respect for a displaced people. Or it would be if the figure was not wearing a very distinct Plains Indian war bonnet. There is nothing about the posture or the dress of the figure that evokes the lives of the Lenape. Worse still, there were ample paintings of Lenape that show their style and dress available to the artist.

"Tedyuscung sculpture," John Massey Rhind | Photo: Ethan Wallace

“Tedyuscung sculpture,” John Massey Rhind | Photo: Ethan Wallace

Rhind was a prolific sculptor. His sculptures decorate Gettysburg Battlefield. He created monuments in Washington, DC. His sculpture adorn Detroit’s City Hall. He is the man behind the statues of John Wanamaker and Stephen Girard.

Rhind sculpted the Corning Fountain in Hartford’s Bushnell Park, a massive tableau featuring a deer surrounded by various figures of Saukiog Indians, the first inhabitants of that region. Here, then, is our mistaken Tedyuscung peering into the distance. Rhind appears to have simply recycled one of his Saukiog as a Lenape. Unfortunately, the the Saukiog figures, too, are dressed as Plains Indians.


About the Author

Ethan Wallace Ethan Wallace attended Temple University, where he received a BA in Communications. He has always been interested in the forgotten, unknown, or unseen parts of the city and has spent the last several years photographing Philly’s hidden and vanishing locations. He is also involved with the National Museum of Industrial History in Bethlehem, Pa. More of Ethan's photography can be seen More of Ethan's photography can be seen HERE


  1. Davis says:

    Monument to Ignorance is a bit harsh – a failed effort, perhaps, but hardly mean spirited. It has taken cultural shifts of more than a century to correct or imagery or Native Americans – let’s not demand of the Victorians the “perfection” we imagine we have reached……….

  2. Davis says:

    “our imagery of”… sorry

  3. Shawn Evans says:

    Stereotyping of Native Americans has long been a problem, but the issue is quite complex. While the artist clearly blew it in his depiction of an historic Lenape, many Native Americans did adopt (and continue to adopt) the dress of Plains Indians for certain events. Just this month there was a photo of Native American leaders in the oval office with President Obama. One of the New Mexican Pueblo governers is wearing a Plains headdress. There is also a famous photo of Albert Einstein at the Grand Canyon with Hopi Indians from Arizona. They’ve given him a Plains war bonnet to wear. I’ve always wondered if they were messing with him.

    A couple years ago, I wrote a couple blog entries for Phillyhistory on Lenape place names – links below. As you note, the place names don’t always correspond to places of Lenape inhabitation. This history is not well documented and is certainly deserving of further study.



    The exhibit from the Penn Museum is now on display at the Lenape cultural center in Easton.

  4. Nina says:

    Rhind also did the Henry Houston statue on Harvey Street off Lincoln Drive.

    1. Rasil says:

      I fully agree. The history presented on the Valley Green trail, is intentionally misrepresented. To state that Tedyuscung was looking forward to where his people left is a blatant lie. To further state that Tedyunscung was inebriated and killed by fire is also disingenuous when the tribes were all slaughtered and run out of the area. A dishonorable marker and should be removed.

  5. Steve says:

    The post title is clearly click bait. It’s more likely the statue was put there as an attraction to bring visitors to the hotel and it wouldn’t be the first time a fake history was invented to make money. Still, condemning people who lived a century ago for not having the same understanding we have now is just low hanging fruit.

    1. erk says:

      Dear Steve, COPE

    2. Dylan says:

      Even if it was a tourist attraction it is still ignorant of the leanne lenape tribe because it dehumanises and radicalizes indigenous americans. The title is not click bait in the slightest, it is in fact ignorant to make a statue of a person from a certain culture and misrepresent them. You claim that making that statue was acceptable because they did not have a lot of knowledge, but if they did not have a lot of knowledge why is it okay to make that statue? I can only imagine how sad your life is if you wrote an angry comment on a statue at 8:43 AM. Do you have nothing of value going on in your life because if that is the case you should try to do something productive with your life and take a little break from the internet.

    3. Steve's Dad says:

      I’m gonna go get some milk son, I’ll be right back.

  6. Michael Gilbert says:

    Teedyuscung was a real person, described as an “eastern Delaware” in Colin Calloway’s “The Indian World of George Washington.”

  7. colleen burke says:

    The author had forgotten that these are the myths and legends of the area. If you want to make a fuss, fine. You wrote a clickbait headline for a story about a statue having the wrong headpiece.
    You’ve taken the position that somehow the people of Philadelphia’s ignorance is to blame when it’s the sculptor, ‘mass producing’ NA statues that’s at fault.

    What a tempest in a teapot! It doesn’t affect my love of the beautiful statue which was meant as a tribute to the original inhabitants.

  8. John Heath says:

    I grew up only a mile from that great statue. I played on or near it many times, and can say it is one of my fondest childhood memories. It is beautiful.

  9. Sean Hamilton says:

    I look forward to visiting this statue to see what it says about the historical figure. From what I have found in my own research, a chief called Tedeuskund urged his people to reject the ways of the Europeans, christianity and use of alcohol. He ended up
    being converted by Moravians, but betrayed the missionaries a few years later when he led attacks on settlements during which colonists were killed.

    1. Rasil says:

      I also read that he and tribal members were murdered and run out of the area.

  10. Florentius says:

    Thanks for posting this, but I think the post is incomplete and somewhat misleading. If you read Fr. Middleton’s article in full (which you cite in the post), you will find the historical evidence you seek re: the use of Council Rock as a meeting place by the Lenape. I wrote a response here:

    Of Council Rock, Teedyuscung and “the Place of Solemn Assembly Visited by Delaware Indians”

  11. Derek Gantt says:

    The spirit of communions..so many things.could left unexplain..just the ideas of Art and imagination..that nature in her bounty..carved these valleys and streams with..her mighty..talons.people William Penn met..had that very wonderful aboriginal look..such photos.give one..picture..people of hues in term color people..wonder..why we african..americans.have ancestors..from most all the tribes..people in vision quest..real indian heritage..Cherokee..Seminole families.500 nations..

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.