To the editor:
To the residents, government officials and cyber
citizens of Lincoln and Logan County, Ill.:
An Abe rally-speech statue: a centerpiece of civic pride and a
I write to suggest a bronze statue of Abraham Lincoln be erected
on the west lawn of the Logan County Courthouse. It would be located
near the planned historical marker describing Abe's 1858
rally-speech at that site. A statue depicting Lincoln on that
occasion would symbolize civic pride in the first Lincoln namesake
city and give tourists one more reason to visit the city's historic
attractions. The business community would profit.
Statues are one of the most popular, enduring ways for
communities to honor their Lincoln legacies and to interest
tourists. Readers, who among you has not taken a photo of a Lincoln
statue and/or been to one?
In the last few years, new Lincoln statues have been erected in
Clinton, Peoria, Springfield, Taylorville and Vandalia. Metamora is
in the final phase of its own Lincoln statue project. Presently
Logan County has only one outdoor statue of Abe: the impressive
"Lincoln, the Student," by Merrell Gage (1892-1981) on the Lincoln
College campus. The painted Lincoln statue by Max Bachman in the
Logan County Courthouse is also distinctive, but is not readily
apparent to tourists.
An untold number of Lincoln statues are found throughout the
nation and the world, showing Lincoln in a wide range of standing
and sitting positions, and Lincoln, Ill., could be home to an
original statue depicting Abe as he appeared giving one of his fiery
political speeches during the 1858 Senate race against Stephen A.
Douglas. During those speeches, Abe was rapidly developing the
rhetorical powers that gained him national attention and that
propelled him to the presidency two years later. Such a statue would
be a perfect complement to the planned historical marker. I suggest
a slightly larger-than-life statue of 7 to 9 feet (the painted
Lincoln statue in the Logan County Courthouse is just over 7 feet).
The Lincoln literature contains eyewitness accounts of his
appearance and gestures observed during his political speeches.
These descriptions could be used by a sculptor to prepare various
sketches for those making decisions on the statue's design. A key
description was provided by William Herndon, Lincoln's law partner
and admirer: "There was a world of meaning and emphasis in the long,
bony finger of his right hand as he dotted the ideas on the minds of
his hearers. Sometimes, to express joy or pleasure, he would raise
both hands at an angle of about 50 degrees, the palms upward, as if
desirous of embracing the spirit of that which he loved. If the
sentiment was one of detestation -- denunciation of slavery, for
example -- both arms, thrown upward and fists clenched, swept
through the air, and he expressed an execration that was truly
sublime. This was one of his most effective gestures, and signified
most vividly a fixed determination to drag down the object of his
hatred and trample it in the dust."
Central Illinois has an internationally acclaimed sculptor who
specializes in Lincoln statues: John McClarey of Decatur. According
Abraham Lincoln Online Web site, Mr. McClarey was commissioned to do
Lincoln statues in Charleston, Peoria, Taylorville and Vandalia. If
Mr. McClarey is asked to do this proposed project but is
uninterested or unavailable, he could suggest other notable
sculptors who could be approached. McClarey is also creating the new
Lincoln sculpture to be located at the historic courthouse in
Metamora. As of last July, Metamora had raised $62,000 of the
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Metamora's and Taylorville's Lincoln legacies are more limited
than those of the first Lincoln namesake city. Lincoln practiced law
in the courthouses of those other towns, but he did not christen
them, nor did he own property in those places, nor did he deliver a
major political speech in them, nor did he have a college named for
him in them. If the small towns of Metamora (population 2,700) and
Taylorville (population 11,427) can generate the required funds for
Lincoln statues, current and former residents of Lincoln, Ill., can
surely do likewise.
Fundraising activities in Metamora could be adapted for use in
Lincoln. For example, one thing they did was to sell statuette
replicas to top-level donors for several hundred dollars apiece.
Also, local philanthropic businessmen matched donations from private
individuals. Such a namesake city project would be a good way to
bring many folks together to work toward a common, noble civic
project. Cooperation would be needed from city and county officials.
Service clubs and student groups could be involved. A stage
production of the namesake rally-speech, adapted from the
re-enactment script, could be used as a fundraiser.
The "Lincolnites at heart" who conducted the spectacular 1858 Abe
rally-speech re-enactment of Oct. 16 demonstrate the kind of
dedicated civic leadership that could accomplish a new, magnificent
Lincoln sculpture project. It offers a remarkable, unprecedented
opportunity again to celebrate and perpetuate the distinct Lincoln
heritage of the first namesake city.
The local Lincoln Bicentennial Commission could spearhead this
project in 2009, its second and final year. Main Street Lincoln
would be an appropriate organization to administer and complete this
project. Main Street Lincoln is affiliated with the National Trust
Main Street Center, and one of its "Four Points" includes
encouraging "appropriate new construction" such as "parking areas,
building improvements, street furniture, signs, sidewalks, street
lights and landscaping (to) convey a positive visual message about
the commercial district and what it has to offer." An Abraham
Lincoln statue would dramatically enhance the landscaping of the
courthouse lawn. Such a statue would also serve Main Street's goal
of promoting its district: "selling a positive image of the
commercial district ... and marketing a district's unique
characteristics to residents, investors, business owners and
"Lincolnites at heart" throughout the nation would applaud this
project and contribute to it. What a glorious homecoming it would be
for all to attend the statue's dedication and once again hear a band
play the rousing school song with the memorable lyrics: "If dear old
Abe should return, I know what he would do. He'd say, 'Lincoln,
we're proud of you!'"
Darold Leigh Henson, Ph.D.
Professor emeritus of English
Missouri State University, Springfield
Honorary member of the
Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission of Lincoln, Illinois
For photos and descriptions of many Lincoln statues, including
those in Illinois, visit
The National Trust Main Street Center:
October 30, 2008]
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