Commonwealth Ave. Mall, between Exeter St. and Fairfield St.
If you head west along Commonwealth Avenue, eventually you’ll encounter Samuel Eliot Morison, immortalized in dark granite and perched atop a coastal bluff, staring directly back at you. Dressed in a windbreaker and baseball cap, with a pair of binoculars in his right hand, his appearance may even resemble your own weekender outfit, bestowing a kind of timeless quality to his ever-curious gaze.
The long-time Harvard professor and Pulitzer Prize-winning author brought an unparalleled enthusiasm for adventure to the otherwise solitary work of chronicling America’s maritime history. Rather than simply write about Christopher Columbus from his home office in Boston, Morison launched the Harvard Columbus Expedition, retracing the journeys undertaken by the legendary explorer in preparation for his biography on Columbus, Admiral of the Ocean Sea (1942). During World War II, Morison joined the US Navy in order to write about the war from the inside-out, an expansive history that was detailed across 15 volumes and could have consisted the life’s work of a less prolific author.
Born and raised by a wealthy family in Boston, Morison’s lineage includes connections to historian Samuel Eliot and poet T.S. Eliot. He remained in the city for the majority of his life, raising four children with his wife, Elizabeth S. Greene, and producing a staggering catalogue of work, including over 50 books and nearly as many prizes and honorary degrees. The US Navy continues to honor his legacy with the Samuel Eliot Morison Award for Naval Literature.
Throughout his life, and particularly in his later years, Morison challenged younger generations to take a more immersive approach to their historical work. He encouraged writers to blend research with experience, and cautioned that, “American historians, in their eagerness to present facts… and tell the truth, have neglected the literary aspects of their craft.” Etched into the rock beside Morison’s sculpture is his advice to young writers: “Dream dreams, then write them down–aye, but live them first!”
Morison passed away in 1976. His ashes are buried at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Northeast Harbor, Maine.