Front Page Article
Illinois Monuments and Statues
by Joyce Geiler
We are living in a time in our nation when statues, monuments and memorials are being targeted and defaced or torn down by mobs and even being removed on purpose. This article offers a cursory view of the place of monuments, memorials and statues in history and an overview of the same in Illinois.
Erecting monuments, memorials and statues is probably as old as man. Certainly, the Bible gives many, many instances of creating memorials. The Bible, itself, could be seen as a written memorial to the mighty acts of God in the history of the earth and the people He created. There are at least 63 specific references to memorials in the Bible.
One such instance occurred when the Israelites had crossed the Jordan River to begin their conquest of Canaan. Joshua instructed a man chosen from each of the tribes of Israel to “take up a stone and carry it on their shoulder” from the middle of the miraculously-dry river bed and take it to the east side of the river to build a memorial. For what purpose? “So that when your children ask later, saying, ‘What do these stones mean to you?’ then you shall say to them, ‘Because the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord; when it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off.’ So these stones shall become a memorial to the sons of Israel forever.” (Joshua 4:4-7) (1)
Monuments and memorials in the United States are apparently not forever. As of June 12, statues had been toppled, vandalized or officially removed in thirty-three places amid recent protests. One of those places was Washington Park in Chicago where the George Washington statue was found vandalized with spray paint and a white hood placed on its head on June 14. (2)
As of July 7, Wikipedia already has created an article listing 116 monuments and memorials toppled illegally or removed by legal means since the George Floyd murder, plus twenty-nine statues specifically of Christopher Columbus being removed. Statues are also being removed in other nations!
Statue of King George III
The first monumental statue in what was to become the United States of America was an equestrian statue of King George III. It was executed by the British sculptor Joseph Wilton. Commissioned in 1764 and cast in lead covered with gold leaf, the Neoclassical statue showed King George dressed in Roman garb astride a horse, the whole effect being reminiscent of the Marcus Aurelius statue in Rome. It was set up on a tall pedestal in Bowling Green Park in New York City and dedicated in August 1770.
The following month another statue by Wilton was erected. This statue was of William Pitt, a British politician very popular in the Americas for being responsible for the repeal of the much-hated Stamp Act of 1765. As with the King George statue, Pitt was portrayed in Roman clothes and was also located in New York.
On July 9, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was first read in New York City; and to celebrate it, a group of patriots pulled down the King George statue and, eventually, melted it down to make bullets with which to fight the British. When British troops arrived in November of that year, they retaliated by destroying the Pitt statue. (3)
Memorials, Monuments and Statues Found in Illinois
The National Historic Preservation Act is federal legislation intended to preserve historical and archaeological sites in the United States of America. Among many other things, the act created the National Register of Historic Places, the list of National Historic Landmarks, and the State Historic Preservation Offices. (4) There are 87 National Historic Landmarks in Illinois. (5) In addition, the Historic Sites Division of the Illinois Natural Resources agency oversees the more than 56 historic sites and memorials across the state. (6) The Illinois Historic Preservation Division of the Illinois Natural Resources agency lists twenty-one of those Illinois’ monuments and memorials ranging from wild Bill Hickock’s birthplace to the Norwegian Settler’s Memorial and including memorials to the War of 1812, WWI, WWII, Korean War, and Viet Nam Veterans. (7)
Most readers will be familiar with the Lincoln–Douglas debates (also known as The Great Debates of 1858) which were a series of seven debates between Abraham Lincoln, who was the Republican Party candidate for the United States Senate from Illinois, and incumbent Senator Stephen Douglas, who was the Democratic Party candidate. Each was trying to win control of the Illinois General Assembly for their respective parties. Illinois was a free state, and the main issue discussed in all seven debates was slavery in the United States, particularly its future expansion into new territories. Each of the sites has some sort of memorial or marker. (8)
Illinois has four Confederate memorials, with three of these memorials located in Federal cemeteries and connected with prisoners of war. Note that two of these three are twenty-first century memorials. Below is a listing:
Alton: United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) monument (1909), North Alton Confederate Cemetery. The memorial was dedicated to Confederate soldiers who died at Alton Military Prison. As of October, 2018, it is one of 7 cemeteries with Confederate monuments that the Veterans Administration has under 24-hour guard.
Rock Island: UDC obelisk (2003), Rock Island Confederate Cemetery. The column was dedicated to Confederate soldiers who died at Rock Island Military Prison.
Springfield: UDC/SCV (Sons of Confederate Veterans) monument (2005), Camp Butler National Cemetery. This commemorative site was dedicated to Confederate soldiers who died at Camp Butler.
Chicago: Confederate Mound (1895), Oak Woods Cemetery. The mass grave and monument was dedicated to Confederate soldiers who died at Camp Douglas. As of October, 2018, the Veterans Administration has it under dawn to dusk guard. (9) It is number six on the Make It Right Project's 2018 list of the 10 Confederate monuments it most wants removed. “The Make It Right Project is dedicated to working with multiple groups—activists, artists, historians and media outlets—to remove Confederate monuments and tell the truth about history.” (10) Efforts to remove Confederate monuments, memorials and statues predates the recent protests suggesting an already ongoing movement.
Illinois Monuments, Memorials and Statues Disturbed
Following are incidents of four Illinois monuments vandalized, removed or for which removal is planned: (11)
The “Races of Mankind” is a series of 104 sculptures created for Hall 3 of the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago by sculptor Malvina Hoffman, representing the various races of humankind, and unveiled in 1933. Most of the sculptures are life-sized. In the 1960s such a portrayal of race became viewed negatively, as racist; and in February 1969, the Hall was dismantled and the statues were either spread around the museum or placed in storage. The museum stated that the Hall was "scientifically indefensible and socially objectionable."
The “Haymarket Affair” statue was repeatedly vandalized and defaced plus attempts were made to blow it up. It was moved several times, finally being moved again in 1976 into the garden of the Police Training center. The Haymarket Affair occurred in May of 1886 when police in Chicago, feeling threatened by a crowd, fired into the crowd killing six people. A rally was held the next day near Haymarket Square, at which time an unknown person threw a bomb into a group of policemen, killing eight. In 1889, a monument by Johannes Gelert portraying a "robust policeman, in his countenance frank, kind, and resolute," was created. On the base were the words "In the name of the people of Illinois I command peace" although a reporter at the event had the policeman saying, "In the name of the law I command you to disperse." At the dedication the Mayor of Chicago, DeWitt Cregier, said, "May it stand here unblemished so long as the metropolis shall endure" words that were amazingly unprophetic.
In 1893, the Haymarket Martyrs' Monument by Albert Weinert was unveiled in the German Waldheim Cemetery, where three men convicted and executed for the Haymarket Affair police bombing are buried along with the fourth convicted man who committed suicide the day before the hanging. In addition, another monument was unveiled in September 2004. These monuments still stand. Chicago city historian Tim Samuelson said "The unifying theme is it's a tragedy – a human tragedy of people under difficult circumstances reacting to something beyond their control." Reading these historical accounts may convince one that current events are continuations of old themes.
In August, 2017, a bust of Abraham Lincoln in West Englewood, Chicago, was spray-painted black and later covered in tar and set on fire.
In Chicago, a campaign is underway to remove a monument to Italo Balbo, an Italian air marshal, which the Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini presented to the city in 1933. Balbo Drive is a well-known street in the heart of downtown.
Concluding thought: Monuments, memorials and statues generally reflect the passions and concerns of a group of people or the paradigm of a certain time in history. While there is no doubt that memorials instituted by God as “forever” are intended to be just that, changing times and passions cause men to assess the value and appropriateness of temporal memorials. Their assessment will be colored by their world view.
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