This weekend marked the 70th anniversary of the ceremony in which The Met awarded an honorary fellowship for life to then-General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Given to the former president in the year the Museum celebrated its 75th anniversary, this award was bestowed on him for his role in helping the work of the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives program, better known as the "Monuments Men," during their efforts to safeguard and repatriate works of art threatened during World War II.
Some of the archival material from the proceedings on April 2, 1946, is available online in our Digital Collections, including sound recordings and photographs. In 2010, Museum Archives took the lead in having these assets digitized through a grant from the Monuments Men Foundation.
Over 10,000 people crowded into the Museum to watch the ceremony. Although not all could fit in the Great Hall, loudspeakers were installed throughout the building so that everyone could hear. There were several different speakers, including Cardinal Spellman, then the archbishop of New York, and Thomas J. Watson, our library's namesake. All of their contributions can be heard online.
Francis Henry Taylor, director of the Museum, declared that the award was "in a sense, more than a gesture by the entire academic world to the man who, more responsible than any other, has made it possible for the world of great civilization in the past to continue for future generations":
Jarmila Novotná, a famed soprano at the Metropolitan Opera, sang the Star-Spangled Banner:
General Eisenhower spoke, expressing his appreciation: "I am grateful to the directors of the Metropolitan Museum for their generosity in having accorded me an honorary membership for my small part in protecting these monuments. The credit belongs to the officers and men of the combat echelons whose veneration for priceless treasures persisted even in the heat and fears of battle":
The original analog sound recordings are contained on 78-rpm aluminum-based 12-inch lacquer discs and were transferred to digital files by Seth B. Winner Sound Studios in an effort to preserve and provide ongoing access to these valuable artifacts. While the transcripts of and quotes from these speeches are moving to read, nothing quite conveys the feeling as well as the sound of the people themselves—their voices, accents, and intonations—and the applause and laughter of the audience.
Now at The Met: "In the Footsteps of the Monuments Men: Traces from the Archives at the Metropolitan Museum" (January 31, 2014)