James Gordon Bennett Jr.'s adoration of owls may have bordered on pathological, but in the best possible way. While serving as a Third Lieutenant for the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service (the pre-Coast Guard Coast Guard) during the Civil War, the son of New York Herald founder James Gordon Bennett Sr. claimed that a serendipitous owl guided him through rough seas to safety.
As a tribute to his spirit animal, he lined the Herald building with several bronze owls in 1894, and years later even had an owl shaped tomb designed to hold his remains. The Herald owls, along with the statue of Minerva and the bell ringers, were created by French sculptor Antonin Jean Carles. The two corner owls with their wings spread had eyes that lit up to the delight of evening passersby.
|The Herald building in the early 1900s, looking north from 34th Street. Statuary from the Bennett monument in Herald Square is on the facade of the building along with Bennett's owls.|
Today those two owls perch on either side of the Herald monument, and their eyes continue to light the way.
|Back of the Herald Square monument, facing south. Photo: 34SP|
Two more of Bennet's owls guard the entrance to Herald Square.
|Entrance owl. Photo 34SP|
|Bennett's stone villa and owl sentries in 1957, shortly before the building was demolished to make way for a shopping center. Photo: Preservation Society of Newport County|
That same year Frank Munsey, then owner of the New York Sun bought out the Herald, combined the two papers, and moved the offices to 42nd Street. The owls were removed from the facade of the Herald building. A few have since resurfaced: aside from the Herald Square owls mentioned above, the Brooklyn Museum has a couple on display, and there are a few above the entrance to NYU's Shimkin Hall.