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The Statues of Chicago's Lincoln Park

Andrew Bean
Ogden Elementary School, Chicago

Lincoln Park is one of the most beautiful spots throughout Chicagoland. It is one of the advantages characterizing life in a large urban center. Every day Lincoln Park is enjoyed by many residents and visitors to Chicago. The park includes many unique items that represent Illinois. Some of the most interesting are the statues. Citizens put up statues of people who were important to them. In Lincoln Park, most of the statues commemorate Illinoisans, reflecting the local outlook of the world in the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth century.

After the Chicago Fire of 1871, people began to rebuild the city, and Lincoln Park was part of that rebuilding. It was named for the assassinated Sixteenth President of the United States. Lincoln Park stretches four hundred acres on the northside of Chicago from North Avenue to Diversey and Lake

German immigrants to Chicago dedicated a statue to Jo-hann Wolfgang von Goethe, the prolific German poet. (Photo courtesy Andrew Bean)
Wolfgang von Goethe

Michigan to Lake View Street. As the years passed, Lincoln Park became more important to the community because activities like the zoo and the conservatory were added to the grounds.

Beginning in 1884, people started to put up statues throughout Lincoln Park. Today there are twenty statues in the park, most of which were put up between 1880 and 1900 and between 1910 and 1930. Most of them are of people, with a few about events. The statues were given by two types: wealthy individuals who made their fortunes in Illinois in the 1800s, or groups of people with a common interest.

For the statues donated by groups of people, Illinois or ethnic heroes were the most common subjects. Here are some examples of statues honoring Illinois heroes:

Ulysses S. Grant was a resident of Galena, Illinois, and served in the Civil War as General of the Union Army. Grant was twice elected president of the United States.

General Phil Sheridan was also a general in the Civil War. After the Civil War he served with the Army of Chicago and was there during the Chicago Fire of 1871. His Army kept law and order during the crisis.

Greene Vardamon Black was an Illinois native from Chicago and was the founder of modern dentistry.

Richard J. Oglesby was born outside Illinois but spent most of his life in Illinois. Oglesby was a successful Civil War soldier and Illinois politician. He served as governor for three terms and as a U.S. senator for one term.

John Peter Altgeld was a governor of Illinois and was recognized for his statesmanship and sense of justice in connection with the Haymarket Riots.

I Will is a modern sculpture created in 1981 and celebrates the spirit and unofficial slogan of Chicago.

Chicago has always been a city of immigrants. In the 1800s those immigrants were mostly from Western Europe, such as Germany and the Scandinavian countries. Some of those groups commemorated their homeland heroes. Some of their homeland heroes were the following:

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller were major German writers.

Hans Christian Andersen was a Danish writer of fairytales.

Captain Magnus Andersen sailed a Viking ship across the Atlantic in an open boat for Chicago's Columbian Exposition of 1893. Andersen thus proved that Leif Ericson in an open Viking boat could have successfully crossed the Atlantic before Christopher Columbus.


Individuals who gave statues chose to honor people who reflected their values, many of whom were part of Illinois or midwestern history. Here are a few examples:

Robert Cavelier de La Salle was a Great Lakes and Mississippi River explorer. His statue was donated by Lambert Tree, who regarded LaSalle as a little known early American hero.

Benjamin Franklin was a printer, publisher, scientist, and American founding father.

The Alarm and The Signal of Peace were given in memory of the Ottawa Indians who were once a great part of Chicago and Illinois but who were gone from Chicago by the time Lincoln Park was developed.

In considering the statues of Lincoln Park, it is very interesting to see who is not included there. Although Chicago is part of the United States, there are major American heroes who are absent from the park, such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and other early Americans. None of them were from Illinois or the Midwest.

The people of Illinois who built Chicago and Lincoln Park were committed first to their local area. They identified with the heroes from Illinois, or sometimes with heroes from nations they came from. Chicago and Illinois are part of the greater United States, but the focus of the people in the days of these statues honored the people and heroes of their own land, Illinois.[From I. J. Bryan, A History of Lincoln Park, and the Annual Report of the Commissioners, 1899; K. J. Samson, Guide to Chicago Public Sculpture.]


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