A Home for the Iconic Mayo Brothers Statue #ThrowbackThursday

This post was originally published in the "In the Loop" blog.

When construction crews broke ground on an expansion project for the Mayo Civic Center in Rochester, Minnesota, in 2015, one of the earliest decisions they and the City of Rochester faced was deciding what to do with the iconic bronze statue of Drs. William and Charles Mayo. The Mayo brothers had stood outside the building’s entrance for years, welcoming visitors to Rochester (and, as it turns out, hiding a time capsule beneath their feet).

Figuring out what to do with the statue during the construction process was easy. The Rochester Post-Bulletin reported that construction company employees “prepared and transported the statue to a storage location” in Rochester for “safekeeping of the historic piece” while they worked. 

Settling on a new permanent home took more debate. According to one report, there were some who thought the statue’s most-fitting new home would be inside the freshly remodeled Mayo Civic Center so it could stay protected from the elements. Others argued it should be returned to its original home in Mayo Memorial Park—directly behind the Civic Center—where it was first placed in 1952. In the end, that’s the location that ultimately won out. KAAL-TV reports that the statue was officially returned to the park earlier this month.

It’s a homecoming we’re guessing sculptor James Earl Fraser would be pleased with. Rochester’s KROC AM 1340 reports Fraser originally chose the park’s “open-air, semicircle amphitheater” location because he considered it “symbolic” of the operating rooms where the Mayo brothers treated and cared for their patients. “The brothers are depicted in surgical gowns, but the pose of the statue and draping of the gowns also evoke classical Roman statues, giving the work significant stature,” Matt Dacy, Director of the Mayo Clinic Heritage Hall, tells us. “The profile of the brothers was also used as the basis for their 1964 commemorative postage stamp.”

Speaking of the statue’s stature, a copy of an old Minnesota Journal of Education article given to us by Nicole Babcock, Historical Archives Specialist in the W. Bruce Fye Center for the History of Medicine, gives some specifics. “The figures are 8 feet in height and stand out against a 13-foot-high granite background,” author Anne Brezler writes. Three tiers of granite steps face the statues. On them are inscribed the words:

Here they lived and worked for humanity
They revered truth and sought to know it
Surgeons, Scientists, Lovers of their fellowmen
Their rare vision will challenge tomorrow

All from a place where, Brezler writes, those who stop to see “the simple strong bronze portraiture of these famous surgeons in this setting” will find themselves feeling as though they’re “in the presence of greatness.” (We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.)

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Alyssa Frank

Alyssa Frank is a Marketing Associate at Mayo Medical Laboratories. She supports marketing strategies for product management and specialty testing. Alyssa has worked at Mayo Clinic since 2015.