Tuesday, March 27, 2012

John Seward Johnson II's "Double Check" -- Zuccotti Park

Double Check by Seward Johnson, ©1982 The Sculpture Foundation
John Seward Johnson II was expected to work in the family business, Johnson & Johnson.  And he did.  Until his uncle Robert Wood Johnson II fired him in 1962. 

Now without a job, the 32-year old turned his attention to painting and, later, to sculpture.   With an eye for everyday people and situations Johnson was able to create astonishing art from the mundane and commonplace.  Like Charles Dana Gibson or Norman Rockwell before him, the subjects for his life-like sculptures were regular people going about their ordinary lives. 

One such sculpture was the life-sized bronze titled “Double Check.”  Created in 1982, the artist loaned it to Merrill Lynch to be displayed in Liberty Plaza Park in the Financial District.  Johnson’s businessman sits on a bench, sifting through his briefcase to make sure he has everything in preparation for a meeting.  For nearly two decades it delighted tourists and made frenzied stock brokers and bankers smile. 

And then came September 11, 2001. 

When the World Trade Towers came down, plunging New York and the country into mourning and disbelief, grey ash covered the ruins of Liberty Park.   As the clouds of debris cleared and emergency responders flooded into the area, some mistook the statue for a dazed survivor. 

Liberty Plaza Park and "Double Check" were covered with debris and grey, gritty ash on the day following 9/11/2001 -- photo punditpress.com
In the following days and weeks, “Double Check” became a symbol of the World Trade Tower victims, murdered for simply going to work.  The statue represented the common, working guy in a suit who died trying to make a living for his family.  Candles, flowers and notes were left by the sculpture. 

Although it was jarred from his base, the statue survived, albeit a little banged up.  “Double Check” was no longer just a sculpture, it was a memorial.   It gripped the hearts of New Yorkers. 

Eventually John Seward Johnson removed the sculpture to his studio where he cast a duplicate, adding the objects left by mourners—now bronzed—and giving the statue a grey patina.  The new sculpture received the fitting title “Makeshift Memorial.” 

The original statue was refurbished by Johnson.  He left the damages caused by crashing debris of the towers as a permanent reminder to the world of the holocaust of that morning in September.    It was returned to Liberty Plaza Park.  The businessman sits on a granite bench facing the site of the Towers. 

A plaque was affixed to the returned statue that informed passersby that “Double Check” is “a poignant reminder of hope and endurance for us all.” 

In 2006 Liberty Plaza Park was renovated and renamed Zuccotti Park, after John Zuccotti chairman of the park’s owners, Brookfield Office Properties.   “Double Check” continued its role as an unofficial memorial to the murdered Financial District workers of 9/11. 

The park took on a new personality about five years later when it became base for the Occupy Wall Street protestors.  In their fervor to denounce anything remotely capitalist, they stuffed trash in the sculpture’s briefcase, tied a mask around his face and a bandana on his head.   The statue that had become a memorial to the deaths of 3,000 innocent lives became a symbol of decadence to the protestors. 
In their passion to make a point, protestors defaced a memorial -- photo punditpress.com
Their misled zeal was widely condemned by shocked and offended New Yorkers.

Double Check by Seward Johnson, ©1982 The Sculpture Foundation
The garbage in the bronze briefcase has been removed and “Double Check” has regained his dignity.  The statue that was intended to be a passing comment on everyday life along Wall Street instead became a poignant symbol of survival and a tribute to the common working man.


  1. This is a great post - I love the contrast between how the statue was treated at different times. Thanks for sharing this.

  2. Wow. That post-9/11 shot is stunning...

  3. The Occupy movement is well intentioned- but that doesn't stop them from royally p*ssing me off

  4. I have been in love with "Double Check" for decades. I have met J Seward Johnson Jr and his wife Joyce several times. They are absolutely wonderful people. I have also been to Grounds for Sculpture where Mr. Johnson does his sculpting and has his work on display. It is magnificent.

    1. I also love "Double Check." When I worked near the WTC, I sometimes sat near him at lunch. So glad he's still there!

  5. I just saw this at Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, NJ...powerful...they did the sculpture w/ the debris surround...http://www.groundsforsculpture.org/Exhibitions/Seward-Johnson-The-Retrospective

  6. Just returned to Grounds for Sculpture after about 10 years. It is bigger and better and I am introducing it to friends. When you enter the main visitors center Double Check with all the debris is right there. It took my breath away and I immediately new it was about 911. Now, tomorrow I am going to the 911 memorial and will look for the original in Zucotti Park- I am so moved. Thank you Seward for your love of reaching our hearts.

  7. I'm looking at Double Check's twin at a building here in Nashville, TN. From what I was told, he was taken to the artist's studio after 9/11 to be used as a model for his brother's repair. Very interesting story. The Nashville version is here resting upon a marble floor I recently installed.

  8. Seward Johnson is a genius. He has magnificent visual acuity, insight into people, loads of humor and refined sculpting technique, and HOPE in humanity, unlike many depressing artists who propagate gloom and doom. I/We have been going to Grounds For Sculpture, each season for many, many years watching and engaging in its development. It's a true testament to Seward Johnson who followed his passion, and therefore contributed, and still contributes much to all..Follow your passion everyone and you will not fail!

  9. He is now sitting on a bench at One Liberty Plaza on Broadway and Liberty

  10. There is one thing that is missing from Mr Double Check after his post 9/11 return... And that is his umbrella that lay on the bench just to his left. I heard somewhere that it disappeared sometime before he was moved back to Johnson's shop to be refurbished. Its really hard to find pics of it. But in some of the 9/11 photos you can see in under the dust.