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by Patsy Harris, Buckhead, GA

Known as the “father of monumental art in America,” Robert Eberhard Launitz was born in 1806 in Riga, a port city in western Russia that would later be Latvia. His family chose a classical education and military career for Launitz, but his sculptor uncle took him to

Rome where they both studied under the internationally known Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen.

Launitz arrived in New York in 1828, deaf, but speaking five languages other than

English. He worked his way to partnering with the renowned American marble-worker

John Frazee in New York, where he sculpted small works in marble. After completing

a series of bas-relief portraits, in 1845 he began work on his most famous large monuments with a marble statue of a 17-year-old girl whose death and poignant monument tweaked the public interest. Shortly after, the New York Fire Department commissioned

Launitz to sculpt a marble memorial to its fallen firefighters. “It was the first

large monument erected in a cemetery in the United States, and the first one

that paid tribute to an element of general human sympathy.”

He designed many extraordinary private and public monuments, including the

55-foot tall Pulaski monument in Savannah, GA; the 65-foot tall monument

commissioned by the state of Kentucky, dedicated to those who had “fallen in

defense of the country,” and placed in the Frankfort Cemetery. He also designed

a 8’ X 5.5’ stone of white marble installed in 1853 on the interior of the

Washington Monument in Washington, DC. Commissioned by New York City, 

weighs about 8,000 pounds and is located at the 130-foot mark.


Launitz died in 1870 and was buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in New York.



American Architect and Architecture, Volume 22. J. R. Osgood & Company, 1887, pp58-61,

107-109 Online at


Corporation for the City of New York Monument photo (below). The Washington Monument

A Technical History and Catalog of the Commemorative Stones. The National Park Service. 2005

Online at


History of the Frankfort Cemetery. Lewis Franklin Johnson, Roberts Printing Company, 1921

Robert E. Launitz bas-relief photo (above right) by Bob Collins,

Stokes-McHenry Monument photo (right) by Joe Stoner,


The New York Times. 3/22/1853. Online at



Click here for a newspaper article we wrote 

about Robert Launitz.

Obituaries: About
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