Many people may have seen Audrey without even knowing, especially in the NYC area where she is proudly displayed throughout the city in numerous monuments and sculptures including Civic Pride, the second tallest statue in NYC where Munson’s full body sculpture sits at the very top.
Born in Rochester in 1891, Munson’s father was from Central New York, the Mexico area, but as a child, Munson moved to Rhode Island with her mother after her parents’ divorce.
Quickly, Munson’s beauty brought her a plentiful career as an artist model, although that was never quite her plan according to Oswego County historian, Justin White as he spoke to the audience on Munson’s success.
As an artist model, Munson posed for many of the most famous artists of her time for statues, sculptures, and paintings that are now seen all over the world with the strongest presence in NYC, and even has been credited for posing as the woman represented on the Walking Liberty Half Dollar and the Mercury Dime.
Many of these artists took four to five weeks to complete their work, in which time Munson would pose in whichever position the artist wanted for 15 minutes at a time before receiving a small break and then returning to pose.
The Panama Pacific Exposition started in 1915 and “it was the most lavish world fair of its time,” according to White. Audrey Munson posed for two thirds of the statuary that was created by the most prolific artists of her day at this exposition, he continued, which really showcased her level of fame.
Her boastful resumé then launched her career into the film industry when Munson became the first woman in American history to appear nude in a silent film in 1915, entitled Inspiration.
The reviews were mixed, while some critics found it to be bold and beautiful, others found it to be unbefiting. Regardless of opinion, her role was history in the making that everyone wanted to see and the film became a big success.
Munson went on to star in three other silent films.
Eventually, as all great things come to an end, the artist model world was deteriorating and Munson switched her career focus to that of fashion and photo modeling.
A short time later, her career took a downward spiral and eventually came to an end and she returned to her roots in Central New York.
Her work did not go unnoticed, however, as she was known by many different, elated names including “Queen of the Artist Studios,” “Miss Manhattan,” and “the Panama-Pacific Girl.”
Despite also being known as “The Most Perfect Woman in the World,” who everyone believed was destined to marry the most perfect man in the world, Munson never did find that perfect partner in life.
Then finding herself in a deep depression, Munson attempted suicide which resulted in her mother admitting her to an institution on her 40th birthday in 1931.
Munson lived the rest of her life, 65 more years, in the St. Lawrence State Hospital in Ogdensburg before her death on February 20, 1996 at the age of 104.
After her passing, she was buried in the New Haven Cemetery, without a gravestone of her own.
Despite numerous leads and fundraisers that were done with the intent to purchase a headstone for Munson, none of them ever came to be.
Finally, the town clerk of New Haven, Debra Allen and the town historian of New Haven, Marie Strong, took action into their own hands.
“Everyone had talked about Audrey for years,” said Allen, noting that after many failed attempts the town had been told they should be ashamed to not have a headstone for one of New Haven’s most famous, most deserving people. “Marie and I finally decided we were going to do something about it.”
Since the town cannot legally buy an individual’s headstone, Allen and Strong went through their houses, finding all the antiques and crafts they had, and baking cookies to enter into the county fair.
“The prize money bought the headstone,” she said. “For so long, we were so upset she didn’t have one. It was time someone followed through with it.”
And because of that, Audrey Munson officially has her own headstone in New Haven Cemetery that was rightfully honored on her birthday by friends, family and fans from all over Upstate New York on June 8, 2016.
“I am pleased to announce today, she will finally have a memorial stone that everyone will get to see,” said White.
Aside from a new headstone, Munson now has a historic roadside marker in New Haven compliments of the William G. Pomeroy Foundation, which is responsible for six roadside markers in Oswego County since 2011.
“I want to thank everybody for everything that you’ve all done,” said Munson’s niece, Darlene Bradley. “I just knew her as Aunt Audrey, and to see what she has done… I’m in awe, I really am. Thank you all for honoring my Aunt Audrey, I know she would have been so appreciative.”
Munson’s caregiver for years from the hospital in which she lived the majority of her life, Valerie Burditt was grateful to see the person that she spent years caring for being pridefully honored.
“The thing that strikes me most about Audrey was her soul. Audrey was a beautiful woman, but she also had a soul that didn’t quit. It was peaceful, and it was loving, and it was kind, and most of all, it was pure. And never in my life have I ever met a soul like Audrey’s,” Burditt said.
The group spent some time enjoying cake and talking about memories and stories from the long, renowned life of New Haven’s own, Audrey Munson: “America’s First Supermodel.”