Ronald McNair, Doomed Astronaut
Brooklyn, New York
Dr. Ronald McNair was one of the seven astronauts aboard the space shuttle Challenger when it exploded just after launch in January 1986. He is the only space disaster astronaut to have a memorial in New York City, perhaps erected as an African-American role model, since he is not known for any ties to New York (His elaborate tomb is in his home town in South Carolina).
A small park across the street from the Brooklyn Museum was named for McNair soon after the Challenger disaster, but it wasn't until eight years later that a memorial was built in his honor, as part of a renovation of the site. Nigerian-born artist Ogundipe Fayomi created a bronze head-and-shoulders bust of McNair wearing a zippered NASA suit (but no helmet) and placed it in a niche within a pointy-topped nine-foot-tall base of polished red granite. The odd geometry was inspired by the shape of a rocket ship, but evokes a pyramid as well. The three-sided structure features plaques illustrating McNair's accomplishments and sits at the center of an incised sundial shape on the ground.
Although McNair merits a tribute, we can't help but feel sympathy for Joseph A. Guider, a Brooklyn Borough president who died of appendicitis while in office. Dr. Ronald McNair Park was originally named Guider Park when Guider died in 1926. There still is a monument to Guider in the park, moved from its center to the south end to make way for McNair. Not only did Guider lose his bragging rights posthumously, somewhere along the way he lost his head, stolen from his monument, perhaps melted down for its metal. Since Guider was a long-forgotten politician, no one thought it important enough to address the noggin's absence until the 1994 renovation, when his head was replaced by an urn.