AUDREY MUNSON

Program
NYS Historic
Subject
People
Location
4233 St. Rt. 104, New Haven, NY
Lat/Long
43.4793569, -76.31343879
Grant Recipient
Town of New Haven
Historic Marker

AUDREY MUNSON

Inscription

AUDREY MUNSON
1891-1996. HERALDED AS
WORLD’S MOST FAMOUS MODEL
IN EARLY 20TH CENTURY. POSED
FOR MANY SCULPTURES AND
CIVIC MONUMENTS. BURIED HERE.
WILLIAM G. POMEROY FOUNDATION 2015

Famous model and actress Audrey Munson (1891-1996) is interred in this cemetery. She posed for many sculptures and civic monuments in New York City, as well as US coins. During her peak, she was described as “the Most Famous Art Model in the World”, nicknamed, “Miss Manhattan” and can be seen on the US half dollar however due to the quick and tragic decline of her career her fame is often overlooked (The Sun, 8 Jun 1913).

Audrey Marie Munson was born on June 8, 1891 in Rochester, NY to parents Katherine and Edgar Munson (Descending Night, Elizabeth Donnelly, 2015). Within the first decade of her life her parents divorced and Munson moved with her mother to New York City. Munson claims her career began by “accident.” Munson and her mother were walking down Broadway Street in New York City when a man approached her. He asked if she was a model and for her permission to take photos of her. Initially Munson was disturbed until she learned that he was a famous artist and photographer (The Sun). This photographer proceeded to introduce her to sculptor, Isidore Konti. From there Munson’s career was born (New York Post, 5 Mar 2016).

Munson began as a figure model who posed for countless sculptors. In an article in The Sun it was stated that, “she has posed for more public decorative works than any one else” (The Sun). Sculptures of Munson can be seen nationally across the United States, however the majority of art featuring her were exhibited in New York City. Three Graces, Spirit of Commerce and Civic Fame are just a few of the many sculptures of her in the city. This popularity led to the nickname “Miss Manhattan” (The Sun). Further heightening her success, Munson was the model of choice for the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco in 1915 (Descending Night). Two of her most famous sculptures, Star Maiden and Descending Night, were created during the exposition.

In 1915 Munson launched her career in the silent film industry. She starred in a total of four films: Inspiration (1915), Purity (1916), The Girl o’ Dreams (1918) and Heedless Moths (1921) (The Curse of Beauty, James Bone, 2016).  She became the first woman in America to appear nude in a film in 1915 (The New York Times, 15 Apr 2016.).  Munson was praised by local newspapers as being, “the transcendent embodiment of feminine grace and beauty” in her films (The Kingston Daily Freeman, 5 Dec 1916).

In 1919, Munson and her mother were living in a boarding house which belonged to a Dr. Walter Keene Wilkins. Wilkins fell in love with Munson and murdered his wife so he could be with her, despite the fact that Munson and Wilkins were never involved socially or romantically (Vaudeville, 22 Oct 1920). Wilkins was subsequently convicted of murder and hung himself to escape the electric chair. This scandal damaged Munson’s career and reputation and as a result she struggled to find employment. Munson lived with her mother who was selling kitchenware door-to-door in Syracuse to support them (Vaudeville). She became overwhelmed and distraught in 1922 and attempted suicide (New York Post).

In the 1930s Munson’s life took another tragic turn when her mother requested that she be placed in a psychiatric hospital. Little did she know at the time that the hospital would become her final home. From the age of forty until her death at the age of 104, Munson resided at the St. Lawrence State Hospital in Ogdensburg, NY (Descending Night). She passed away on February 20, 1996 (“US Social Security Death Index,” Family Search website, 2015). Her ashes were originally buried in an unmarked grave in the New Haven Cemetery in New Haven, NY at the foot of her father’s grave (Letter from New Haven Rural Cemetery, Oswego County, NY Clerk’s Office, 5 Feb 2016). On her 125th birthday, relatives installed a headstone of her own.