The Ether Monument

This monument, erected in 1868, stands in the Boston Public Garden, between Beacon and Arlington streets. It commemorates the first public demonstration of inhalation anaesthesia, using ether, on October 16th, 1846, witch took place in the Ether Dome at the Massachusetts General Hospital, located about a 15 minutes walk from the site of the monument.

The promoter of the monument was Thomas Lee, while its design has been attributed to the partnership between the architect Henry Van Brunt and the engineering specialist William Robert Ware, inspired by the Michelangelo's “Pietà” in Florence. For the realization they called the young sculptor John Quincy Adams Ward, asking him something that would show relief from suffering “in the rudest way consistent with artistic feeling”.1


The result is an about 9 metres tall monument, graven in marble and granite, that arises from a square basin.
On the top, one of the most beautiful parables of the bible, the story of “The Good Samaritan”, the type of the relief of human suffering. The figure represents a medieval doctor in moorish and spanish robe and turban, who supports the almost naked body of a young patient. The use of this subject probably served to avoid choosing sides in a debate over who should receive credit for the first use of the ether in medicine, between Horace Wells, Charles Thomas Jackson and Willian Thomas Green Morton.


"The base is cubical, leaving on each vertical face a niche, containing a spouting lion's head with sculptured water lilies and other aquatic plants. Upon this plinth, rests a sur-base adorned with mouldings, from which arises a die, bearing upon each of its four sides an inscription, surmounted by a bas-relief in marble. These are sunk in the tympana of four pointed and cuspidated arches, supported each by two stunted shafts of red Gloucester granite, the capitals of which are enriched by poppies and oak leaves.These arches form a canopy, square in plan, from which the structure diminishes by a series of mouldings to the base of a grouped quadripartite shaft of polished red granite."2


To commemorate the discovery that the inhalation of ether causes insensibility to pain. First proved to the world at the Mass General Hospital in Boston. October, A.D. MDCCCXLVI". "The bas-relief accompanying this, shows a surgical operation in a civic hospital, the patient being under the influence of ether."3


"Neither shall there be any more pain [Revelation].”. This bas-relief represents "an angel of mercy descending to relieve suffering humanity."4


"In gratitude for the relief of human suffering by the inhaling of ether, a citizen of Boston has erected this monument. A.D. MDCCCLXVII”. The bas-relief tells how, during the American Civil War, a surgeon stands ready to amputate a wounded soldier's leg.


This also cometh forth from the Lord of Hosts, which is wonderful in counsel and excellent in working. [Isaiah]”. This bas-relief shows a woman, “an allegory of the triumph of science“5 ; on the side a Madonna and Child.

Now this is the Boston Public Garden's oldest statue and probably the only monument to a drug in the world. In 2006 the city of Boston had allocated approximately $250,000 for its renovation.

  • Photos and main text by Ludovico Carbone moc.liamg|1enobracocivodul#| Marco Giuffre' ti.liamtoh|pyekocram#| (October 2013).


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