Saratoga Double-Take: Where’s the Spirit?

Turning to this page probably just made you do a double-take. Something is unequivocally missing from this stunning 1914 photograph of Congress Park from the George S. Bolster Collection. That something, of course, is The Spirit of Life, the iconic statue that today stands smack dab in the middle of the stone niche, its mirror image reflected in the pool of water at its feet.

Where exactly was the bronze woman, robed and holding a pine bough and bowl of water, symbols of Saratoga’s pine trees and healing springs, in 1914? She wasn’t quite finished yet. While Saratoga philanthropist and Yaddo founder Katrina Trask commissioned the memorial to honor her late husband, Spencer, in 1913, The Spirit of Life wasn’t dedicated until 1915, the same year the City of Saratoga Springs was incorporated. 

The completion of the Spencer Trask Memorial was a joint effort between sculptor Daniel Chester French and architect Henry Bacon, longtime friends who were also responsible for the design and execution of the Lincoln Memorial. At the time of this photograph, Bacon’s work—the niche, wing walls, reflecting pool and overlook—was already completed. All that was left was to add French’s winged lady and an inscription above her head that reads: “To the memory of Spencer Trask, his one object in life was to do right, and to serve his fellow men, and gave himself abundantly to hasten the coming of a new
and better day.”

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