Unconditional Surrender Statue in Sarasota, FL

You’ve probably seen the famous photo “V-J Day in Times Square” by photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt, starring the electrified man kissing a woman in New York City’s Times Square on the day the end of World War II was announced.

The kiss was spontaneous, and lucky to be captured by Eisenstaedt, but as the commotion in Times Square carried on, he separated from his subjects and never captured their names.

unconditional surrender sarasota

The identities of the kissers have been a long-muddled mystery by historians and anthropologists. In 1980, Life magazine, who originally published the photo in 1945, advertised that they were looking for the male subject to identify themselves. They believed they already had uncovered the identity of the woman: Greta Zimmer Friedman.

Throughout the years, two other women have come forth and identified themselves as the figure in the photo. Times Square was exuberant on that day, and many people were celebrating and kissing in the streets. But were they the ones spontaneously photographed by Eisenstaedt?

George Galdorisi and Lawrence Verria were so intrigued by the mystery that they became detectives in the search for the real identities. After interviewing claimants, identifying other people in the scene, and getting the opinions of expert photo analysts and forensic anthropologists, they concluded that the woman in the photo was indeed Friedman.

That still left the identity of the kisser a mystery. Over time, 11 men have identified themselves as the subject. One of the men suggested that due to the amount of drinking many he and many other sailors did that day, it was hard to recall the exact events clearly.

After significant amounts of research, it’s believed that the man is George Mendonsa, a sailor who had been on a date with his wife at the time. He was separated from her in Times Square, and was so taken with the celebration that he grabbed and kissed a woman walking right past him. There are still experts who believe the case for the identification of Mendonsa has errors and can’t be verified, due to contradicting accounts. Historians still attribute the kiss the Medonsa.

Perhaps the mystery shrouding the figures has made it even more memorable over time. The embrace has been reprinted countless times, and replicated in three-dimensional form by a sculptor (though of a slightly different angle, from a photo taken by a different photographer, not the famous image captured by Eisenstaedt).

sarasota kissing statueOver the years, the larger-than-life sculptures have live in Normandy, France, San Diego, California, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, Hamilton, New Jersey, New York City, San Diego, California and Sarasota, Florida.

The artist behind the sculpture is a man named Seward Johnson. His first replication of the embrace, titled “Unconditional Surrender,” was a 25-foot Styrofoam sculpture set at the bayfront of Sarasota, Florida. It wasn’t erected without some controversy.

Though Johnson slipped through a legal loophole and avoided copyright infringement, there were arguments made that it wasn’t good enough or original enough to be featured at the bayfront.

Figures in the local art community in Sarasota hated the statue and argued that it wasn’t art and should be removed. Contrary to their distaste for it, it became a major tourist attraction and popular photo op for visitors.

After several years in Sarasota, the statue moved to San Diego where it was on display, stirring up the same debates as it had in Florida. While some were happy to see it gone, arguments for the statue prevailed and eventually it returned from San Diego to Sarasota. The statue was so missed in California that the San Diego Unified Port District took a vote and chose to purchase a bronze version of the statue to live permanently. It reignited the controversy, and ultimately led to the resignation of three board members.

Though there may be arguments and controversy surrounding the statue and identification of the subjects, there’s no denying that it’s a unique stop for any Sarasota visitor. When visiting, please remember that drivers should keep their eyes on the road and never take pictures from behind the wheel.

The statue was damaged in an accident in 2012 when it was struck by a vehicle. Visitors can pull aside, park in the free parking lot and enjoy the artwork. It’s located on the Sarasota Bayfront on Island Park Drive.

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