Hebe

  • Outdoor Sculpture

Hebe

  • Outdoor Sculpture

The second Marion County Courthouse/City Hall, built in 1876, was located at 200 East Washington Street in Indianapolis, Indiana and featured an elaborate neo-Baroque architectural style. Its architect was Isaac Hodson. The main entrance of the old courthouse faced Washington Street from underneath a 280-foot clock tower and was framed by Marion County’s coat of arms–a shelf supported by Ceres and Vulcan (representing the area’s agricultural and manufacturing prowess) with the motto “Spectemur Agenda” [“Let us be judged by our actions”].  Two other towers were located at the building’s east and west fronts, along with eight statues of Greek goddesses around the upper level.

In 1962 the city built a new government tower behind the old courthouse, and in 1963 demolished the original to form an open plaza. An attempt to save the clockworks from the wrecking ball failed, but the eight female figures were rescued and put up for auction. A committee of community members purchased seven of the figures and installed four of them (two of which still stand) in Holliday Park. The remaining three were installed at Crown Hill Cemetery, where they remain.  The eighth sculpture was purchased by a private collector and taken to California.

This sculpture is located just south of the 38th St. tunnel between the two halves of the cemetery grounds. It represents Hebe, goddess of youth and cupbearer to the Olympian gods. Hebe also was the patron goddess of brides, quite appropriate for a courthouse that legalized marriages, and was also the goddess of forgiveness, granting pardons to prisoners. She is shown with a pitcher for heavenly nectar dangling from her left hand, as is typical. Her broken right hand is raised to her chest and held horizontally; at one time it supported a staff twined with two snakes, as is shown in a historical photograph of the seven sculptures that remained in Indianapolis. The symbol, called a caduceus (not to be confused with the medical symbol), was associated with the messenger god Hermes and represents peace (specifically, resolving disputes peacefully), neutrality, and commerce (the root word for commerce comes from Hermes’ Roman name, Mercury). Hermes was also the patron god of orators (appropriate for a building filled with trial lawyers!) and the protector of thieves, liars, and gamblers, who would also have found themselves at the courthouse. Although Hebe and Hermes were not typically linked in Greek mythology, both had service functions for the Greek pantheon. The Hebe sculpture was likely given the caduceus to bring in the important symbolism and to avoid the use of a male figure, since it was traditional for such symbolic figures used as architectural ornament to be female.

The other two sculptures in Crown Hill are located near the grave of poet James Whitcomb Riley and in an open area in section 46B.  The former depicts Themis, the goddess of law and order, and the latter depicts Demeter, the goddess of agricultural plenty.

The four (now two) sculptures in Holliday Park were placed flanking The Ruins, a complex decorative installation created between 1958 and 1973.