In the Lap of Lincoln

The statue above is Young Lincoln by Charles Keck, located in Senn Park, Chicago.

Thinking about statues generally, there are a couple of assumptions that people might make. The first is that a statue is unveiled in a certain spot, and there it remains for time immemorial. Why immortalize someone if they’re going to be moved around afterwards? We’re a very mobile society, in general, but statues–like cemeteries–don’t fit this description.

And yet, that’s what happened to this statue. It was completed in 1945 by sculptor Charles Keck, and it was unveiled in the Chicago Public Library during 1945.  The war in Europe had dragged on for years, and the end was near at hand. Honoring the leader from a previous great war seemed appropriate.

After its public unveiling, Young Lincoln greeted library visitors for more than 50 years. And then, in the late 1990s, all that changed. The statue was essentially discarded as the Library underwent a transition into the Chicago Cultural Center.  For whatever reason, the statue was evicted from the new Cultural Center, and plunked down in its current outdoor location in a park near a high school in a residential area of Chicago. Keck did not live to see this indignity forced upon his work, as he died in 1951.

Its most striking visual aspect, other than its size, is the fact that Lincoln is depicted with bare feet. It makes sense that, as a poor man on the frontier, Lincoln did not wear any shoes. However, you could probably count the number of barefoot statues there are in the world on both hands (or feet). Lincoln’s bare feet reminded me of his humble beginnings, and the way he rose above his initial station in life. Who knows where we would be otherwise.

The statue’s location on a heavily trafficked street not far from Lake Shore Drive means that thousands of cars pass by it everyday. And if ever you’re in the neighborhood and want to have a look, it’s well worth the effort to seek it out.

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