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The Amazing Monument Men of Monmouth County

Timeline story by Rick Burton

On November 11, 1950, Armistice Day (now Veterans Day), Major General Francis H. Lanahan, commanding officer of Fort Monmouth, delivered the principal address at dedication ceremonies marking the official unveiling of the monument to the men and women of Neptune Township who served in the armed forces during World War II.

The monument, which sits at Broadway Gates Park at the entrance to Ocean Grove, is one of many monuments to World War II veterans throughout Monmouth County. That may not seem unusual, but across the U.S., World War II monuments are relatively rare, particularly compared with the number erected to honor veterans of World War I. For most of the towns in one county to have such a monument is atypical.

But one reason the towns all wanted a monument of their own may have been the fact that most of the World War II monuments in Monmouth County came from the same Long Branch family who carved decorative stonework for the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in New York City; who made the gravestone that adorns the burial site of President Theodore Roosevelt; and who etched the lettering on the wall behind the seated president at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., among many other iconic structures.

Born September 26, 1869, in rocky Torre le Nocelle, Italy, Raffaele Ardolino came to America in 1888. Starting as a stone carver at the age of nine, “Ralph” first found work in Boston. Married by 1892, he named his first four children after countries (Italia, Austria, Germania, and Americo). His first son, Americo, known as Arthur, would join his father in the art of stone carving as would three more sons, Daniel, Carl and Ralph Jr., who followed. Together, the “Ardolino Boys” apprenticed under one of America’s most accomplished stone masons of the early 20th century.

Before long, Ralph and his sons were contributing their talents to the Battleship Maine Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery; Washington National Cathedral; the monument to inventor John Ericsson in Washington, D.C.; a carving of New York City Mayor Seth Thomas for the Manhattan Bridge; plus, the World War I Memorials in Providence, Rhode Island, the State Capitol Building in Hartford, Connecticut, and Torre le Nocelle in Italy. In New York City, the giant figures supporting the clock on the Helmsley Building at 46th Street and Park Avenue came out of the Ardolino shop. For that project, the Ardolinos worked with another nationally recognized stone sculptor, Connecticut-based Angelo “Bootsie” Buzzi, father of actress Ruth Buzzi.

In 1926, Ralph and Caroline Ardolino went to Long Branch on a two-week vacation. While there, the Ardolinos toured the area with friends, and during a ride through West Long Branch, Ralph noticed the cemeteries in the area and an idea was spawned.

A small, run-down monument shop stood on the corner of Wall Street and Locust Avenue in West Long Branch. Ralph acquired it from the owner and the Long Branch Monument Company was born.

By the time the business was established in 1929, all of his sons had completed their apprenticeship in the trade. Dan handled drafting and sales, Ralph Jr. took care of the business end, ordering material, supplies, etc., and Arthur and Carl took care of the stone-carving work in the shop. The business thrived, with Ralph eventually acclaimed as “New Jersey’s finest stone cutter.”

Gail Iamello Deninger, great-granddaughter of Ralph Sr. and Caroline (and the inspiration for this Timeline story) shared her reminiscences:

I remember as a young child visiting the Long Branch Monument Co. and being brought into the back of the shop where all the work was done. There was a lot of specialized machinery and marble dust. A few of my great uncles were there that day, and they explained the stone cutting process. That was the only time I was ever in the shop and I wish that I could remember more. I never knew my great-grandfather Ralph, but I knew his four sons (my great uncles) who ran the shop when I was growing up very well.

Ralph Sr. died in January 1937 and as the Depression ended, competitors believed Long Branch Monuments would suffer. But during World War II, the family performed contract work for the U.S. Defense Department, traveling daily to Kearny’s shipyards to pick up steel panels used in shipbuilding. They then sandblasted off the welding flux and smoothed imperfections in order to generate acoustically more efficient Liberty ships.

Following World War II, memorials created by the Ardolinos were placed throughout Monmouth County towns including Asbury Park, Bradley Beach, Freehold, Keansburg, Lakewood, Neptune, Ocean Grove, Farmingdale, Ocean Township, and Long Branch. The family also constructed numerous memorials commemorating the heroic service of local firemen in Monmouth County. In many cases, the family helped these local groups by contributing materials and other assistance.

History professor and author James W. Loewen explains the disparity in the creation of monuments to World War II veterans compared with those erected following World War I:

Many towns built massive monuments to the soldiers and sailors who fought in World War I. But that “war to end wars” didn’t, as Americans found out in 1941. After World War II ended, most communities were not about to rush out to commemorate it because their experience with World War I memorials had soured them on the experience. Moreover, the Cold War began immediately, so no one could be sure that the fruits of victory included peace. [As a result,] World War II monuments are comparatively modest, even though that war lasted twice as long, [and with twice as many casualties].

The World War II monument in Keansburg is an excellent example of Ardolino craftsmanship, but also, the modesty typical of World War II monuments. More than a million pounds of “salvage material collected during the war years” was used in the construction of the memorial to the 15 Keansburg men who died in World War II. The monument, made of 16 tons of granite from Deer Island, Maine, was the culmination of six years of planning, and was among the largest of the Ardolino World War II monuments.

The monuments in Neptune are a good example of the disparity in how a community chose to commemorate veterans of the two wars. The modest World War II structure sits in the afternoon shadow of the doughboy, the familiar type of dramatic statue that features in so many monuments to World War I veterans. Many, like this, involve a tall pedestal or pillar. Rather than a grand gesture to victory, the Ardolino monuments to World War II invite reflection on those who made the ultimate sacrifice and ensures their names are somewhere they will not be forgotten.

For nearly 40 more years after the death of their father, the Ardolino Boys kept Long Branch Monuments humming. For 60 years, the family sandblasted and shaped some of America’s most revered treasures. They eventually sold the business to H.C. Hall in the 1980s, and today, the Long Branch Monument Co. remains one of the finest stone-cutting and monument companies anywhere in the U.S.

Rick Burton is the David B. Falk Professor of Sport Management at Syracuse University.

Sculpture and Carving Works of Ralph Ardolino and Family

With sons Arthur [A] and Ralph Jr. [R] as indicated.

Washington, D.C.:

  • National Academy of Science [A]      
  • John Ericsson Memorial, Potomac Park, near Lincoln Memorial (inventor of the screw propeller and designer of the Monitor, ironclad Union warship of the Civil War)
  • Amphitheater and marble urns flanking the stage, Arlington National Cemetery, Va.
  • Battleship Maine Memorial, near Amphitheater, Arlington National Cemetery, Va.
  • Arlington Bridge, Potomac River, lions sitting on buttresses at Washington end of bridge
  • Lincoln Memorial, lettering and carving
  • Washington National Cathedral

New York City and Long Island:

  • Cathedral of St. John the Divine, Manhattan [A]
  • Manhattan Bridge, carving of New York City Mayor Seth Thomas at Brooklyn end of bridge [A]
  • New York County Courthouse, Centre Street, near Municipal building, Manhattan
  • Saint Thomas Church altar, Fifth Avenue and 53rd Street, Manhattan
  • Civic Virtue Monument, Park Row, Manhattan, with sculptor Frederick William MacMonnies
  • Equitable Trust Building, opposite the Stock Exchange, Manhattan [R]
  • Helmsley Building (originally the New York Central Building) “Gateway to a Continent” clock structure and figures, facing north, Park Avenue and 46th Street, Manhattan [R]; worked with acclaimed sculptor Angelo Peter (Bootsie) Buzzi, father of actress Ruth Buzzi
  • New York Telephone Company Building, Vesey Street, Manhattan [A]
  • Standard Oil Company Annex, Broadway at the Battery, Manhattan [A]
  • Williamsburg Savings Bank Building, Ashland Place, Brooklyn [A]
  • President Theodore Roosevelt Monument, Oyster Bay, N.Y.
  • World War I Memorial, Montauk Highway (Route 27), Bridgehampton, N.Y.

Newark:

  • Telephone Company Building, head sculptures, four corners of building, Broad Street
  • Hall of Records, two Indians with tomahawks, High Street [R]

Other notable works:

  • Boston: Federal Reserve Bank Building, plus many other works
  • Providence, R.I.: World War I Memorial, also with Mr. Buzzi
  • Fort Myers, Fla.: National Bank Building
  • Detroit: Detroit Institute of Fine Arts
  • Lincoln, Neb.: State Capitol Building
  • Harford, Conn.: State Capitol Building
  • Torre le Nocelle, Italy: World War I Monument, gift from Edward Ardolino (cousin)

Sources:

1,000 Witness War Memorial Dedication Rite. (1950). Asbury Park Press, Asbury Park, N.J., November 12, 1950, P. 1.

Ardolino, Carl E. (1998). Biography of a Family. Unpublished manuscript, March 1998.

Brooklyn Man Buys Malchow Stone Works. (1929). The Daily Record, Long Branch, N.J., April 3, 1929, P. 3.

Deninger, Gail Iamello. (2021). Personal Reminiscences. To the author via email, May 4, 2021.

Loewen, James W. (1999). Lies Across America. A Touchstone Book, Simon & Schuster, New York, N.Y., P. 30-31.

Memorial Job Let at Neptune. (1950). Asbury Park Press, Asbury Park, N.J., March 10, 1950, P. 1.

Ralph Ardolino, Sculptor, Dies. (1937). Asbury Park Press, Asbury Park, N.J., January 17, 1937, P. 12.

Ralph J. Ardolino, Sr., Noted Stone Carver, Dies at N.Y. Home of Daughter. (1937). The Daily Record, Long Branch, N.J., January 16, 1937, P. 1.

Start Memorial at Keansburg. (1948). Red Bank Register, Red Bank, N.J., August 12, 1948, P. 22.

Stone on Grave of Teddy Roosevelt Made by W.L.B. Cutter. (1933). The Daily Record, Long Branch, N.J., June 22, 1933, P. 24.

Zuckerman, Leon. (1948). Keansburg to Honor its Veterans with 18-Ton Memorial. Asbury Park Press, Asbury Park, N.J., August 22, 1948, P. 12.

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