Why Does Portland Have a Joan of Arc Statue?

Why a French saint and not, say, a beaver with a salmon in its mouth, riding a bear?

Joan of Arc statue. (brx0 / Flickr)

Dr. Know is on vacation this week. As he whiles away his court-mandated holiday picking up trash along sunny Highway 26, please enjoy this column from the archive.

Tell me, O wise one: What does a flambéed French saint have to do with the Rose City? I ask because recently, in Laurelhurst, I came upon the improbable statue of one Joan of Arc. —Koan of Arc

The Jeanne d’Arc that so dominates the traffic circle at Northeast César E. Chávez Boulevard and Glisan Street is the full-size reproduction of a statue that still stands at the Place des Pyramides in Paris. It was given to the city in 1924 by Dr. Henry Waldo Coe, who’d seen the original in France and thought it was cool.

Still, why a French saint and not, say, a beaver with a salmon in its mouth, riding a bear? Well, I know you’ll find this hard to believe, but throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, France was basically America’s girlfriend. For years, the two love-struck nations exchanged gooey mash notes in the form of statuary, including the Statue of Liberty.

Coe, as smitten as anyone, decided that a reproduction of Emmanuel Frémiet’s Joan of Arc would be a good way to slip our old lady the tongue while also commemorating the Americans who perished on French soil in World War I.

Incidentally, we’re not the only U.S. city with a copy of this particular Joan—Philadelphia has one, too. They call theirs “Joanie on the Pony,” which I think we should straight-up steal.

Eventually, we decided that, while losing one war to Germany was tragic, losing two was simply careless, and France, for her part, decided we were just dicks, which we are. Thus, our nations’ affair came to an end. At least we’ll always have the world’s largest hood ornament to remember it by.

Questions? Send them to dr.know@wweek.com.

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