Manchester Public Library seeks information on this bust which has been resting in a crawl space for years. The inscription on the bottom reads “America Honoring Her Fallen Brave.” The bust was found among debris in a crawl space off the basement of the library along with a column and pedestal that appears to have been part of the statue.

Readers have been checking out Agatha Christie whodunits for years at Manchester Public Library, unaware of the mystery beneath their feet.

In a crawl space crowded with debris, a white marble bust and pedestal lie in four pieces. The bust depicts a woman with curly tresses and a liberty cap adorned with stars, her eyes downcast mournfully.

Not even employees with the longest memories of the library know where the dust-covered sculpture came from or when or why it was hidden below. As the library has undergone renovations, construction workers have emerged from the nearly inaccessible crawl space to ask whether the librarians knew anything about the sad-eyed

figure trapped there.

“And of course, we don’t,”

Library Director Dorothy

Sieradzki said.

Now the mystery may be solved. The statue that has been ignored for decades may be a piece of Civil War-era art that could be worth almost $200,000.

An inscription on the base of the bust provides one clue. It reads: “America Honoring Her Fallen Brave.”

An Internet search turned up what appears to be a twin to the Manchester bust, also inscribed “America Honoring Her Fallen Brave,” at the Hirschl and Adler Gallery on East 70th Street in New York.

After photos of the Manchester bust were e-mailed to the gallery, American art expert Eric Baumgartner said the Manchester sculpture appeared to be a second version of the one at Hirschl and Adler.

That bust was created by James Henry Haseltine, a noted 19th-century American sculptor, based on a model made the same year.

“Imagine finding something like the Haseltine in a basement that obviously hasn’t seen the light of day for decades,” wrote Baumgartner in an e-mail. “And with its original marble pedestal, too. What a fascinating discovery!”

Baumgartner said both busts depict Columbia, an allegorical personification of America, “looking mournful in response to the carnage of the Civil War.” Haseltine was a Civil War veteran.

Baumgartner, senior vice president and director of American paintings and sculpture for the gallery, said that until he saw the images of the Manchester bust, he believed the gallery’s was one of a kind.

The gallery’s bust, dated 1865, is valued at $185,000. The Manchester version may be worth more, or less, depending on its condition, Baumgartner said.

“That would be a shock,” said Dorothy Jodice, a library trustee. “It’s surprising that something that valuable would be thrown into a crawl space.”

Baumgartner provided another possible clue to the origin of the Manchester bust when he mentioned that a portrait of Haseltine that hangs in a Philadelphia museum shows the artist seated with his sculpting tools next to the “America” bust, which is considered his best-known work. It’s possible the bust in the painting by Emilie Rouillon is Manchester’s.

The library might be able to confirm the identity of its bust by checking the back. The version at the Hirschl and Adler Gallery is signed by the sculptor.

Sieradzki said a patron squeezed into the crawl space Wednesday and tried to turn over the statue to check for a signature but the piece was too heavy.

Before she knew its potential value, Sieradzki said she wasn’t even sure that it was worth trying to remove the bust from crawl space, since an electrical panel built over the space would make it difficult.

The library’s history also provides clues to the bust’s identity. The building was donated to the town in 1887 by Thomas Jefferson Coolidge, grandson of the third president. It served as a hall for the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization for Union veterans of the Civil War, before it was converted to a library after the town’s last Civil War veteran died in 1927.

Sieradzki said Coolidge may have donated the bust as well.

Sieradzki and Jodice said it will be up to trustees whether to restore and display or sell the sculpture. Jodice also said that any profit would go into the town’s general fund, not the library budget.

Sieradzki had wondered whether the bust was relegated to the crawl space because Victorian prudery made an exposed breast too shocking for public display. Yesterday, however, Sieradzki found a Times photo in a library scrapbook depicting the new circulation desk, with the bust sitting behind it. The photo was taken in the early 1960s.

Nationally known sculptor Rebecca Reynolds of Gloucester said 19th-century networking may explain the bust’s presence in Manchester.

Haseltine’s younger brother, the painter William Stanley Haseltine, spent time in New England in the late 1800s and may have helped his brother secure a commission for the Manchester sculpture. Reynolds said its also possible that a Manchester art aficionado saw a version of the bust that was exhibited at the American Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia in 1876 and purchased it or a copy. The event drew many from New England.

Despite the theories, there are still no answers to many questions about the Manchester bust, leaving a little mystery to unravel.

Who was James Henry Haseltine?

James Henry Haseltine (1833-1907), who experts believe created the mystery sculpture in the crawl space of Manchester Public Library, was a native Philadelphian who spent much of his working life in Rome and France. Art ran in his blood: his brother was painter William Stanley Haseltine and his nephew the sculptor Herbert Haseltine.

Haseltine began exhibiting his mostly marble works at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 1855. He left for Europe in 1857, and spent the rest of his life there with the exception of his return in 1861 to serve in the Civil War for two years.

In Europe, Haseltine was part of an elite artists’ community that included American sculptors Harriet Hosner and Chauncey B. Ives, poets Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning and writer Nathaniel Hawthorne.

Experts believe that Haseltine created “America Honoring Her Fallen Brave”, his best-known work, as a response to the end of the Civil War.

Source: Hirschl and Adler Galleries Inc.

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