Maybe I’m just imagining it, but it seems like there are a lot of monuments to various and sometimes obscure causes and personages scattered around Albuquerque. Many of these are quite old and have been moved a time or two from their original locations, usually ending up in someplace a bit more…quiet, shall we say?
That kinda describes the Madonna of the Trail, a likeness of a sturdy pioneer woman and her young children commissioned by the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) and unveiled in Albuquerque in 1928. This lady is not just tough (she’s 18’ tall and made of a mix of crushed marble, Missouri granite, stone, cement, and lead ore) but one of the first public memorial sculptures in New Mexico, too.
In all, twelve identical statues were spread across the country, one in each state that the National Old Trails Road passed through. Seemingly forgotten now, the National Old Trails Road was sort of the father of Route 66, a coast-to-coast highway built in 1912 which followed the storied Cumberland Road and Santa Fe Trail. Symbolizing the same things as the Mother Road later would--exploration and expansion, both personal and national--some of the National Old Trails Road was even incorporated into Route 66.
That all sounds good, eh? Well, it turns out that the Madonna of the Trail was somewhat controversial. She was first offered to Santa Fe but it was said she didn’t quite fit with the “art and architecture” of the city. What did that mean, exactly? I’ll let you look at the photos and make up your own mind. In any case, the Albuquerque DAR got their money together and brought the lady to the Duke City. But not all Burqueños were pleased either. One resident was quoted referring to the Madonna as a “caricature.”
Most people didn’t feel quite so glum about the Madonna though and when the statue was installed in McClellan Park (gazing out over Route 66) the mayor led a parade and a band played patriotic songs. Harry S. Truman, then a district judge in Missouri, even showed up. But the lady’s view got considerably less interesting in 1937 when Route 66 was re-aligned to Central Ave. Still, she stoically kept watch over her increasingly quiet piece of Albuquerque until 1996, when she was taken down for cleaning and moved 100’ north to make room for the courthouse.
And that’s where she stands now, on a little piece of cut grass and manicured stone between 3rd and 4th downtown, beside a time capsule that was also installed in 1928. Perhaps she doesn’t get many visitors, but there is some seating for those who do show up and want to stay awhile. She remains oriented toward the old Route 66 road bed, too, making our Madonna of the Trail one of two still considered true to the DAR’s original intent, face yet upflung toward the sun.
Thanks to NM Places for insight and direction on this one.
John Mulhouse is an Albuquerque-based frequenter of gravel roads, ghost towns, and empty buildings. His blog, City of Dust, features photos and hidden history from all corners of New Mexico and beyond. He publishes a ghost-town-photo-a-day on Facebook.