April 09, 2016
BY JUDY CARMACK BROSS
By winter’s end, the well has run dry of indoor activities to do with our children (or grandchildren). We become restless and ready to make a mad dash out of the house by the time spring makes its arrival. Thankfully, we have beautiful Lincoln Park, welcoming us with open arms at this time of year.
Krista August, and her activity book Giants in the Park, will turn a walk in the park with your family into an adventure. Giants is filled with pages for research, history, coloring, and even writing mysteries about the many statues scattered across the park. No matter where they end up as adults, children who explore Lincoln Park with Krista’s book in hand will never forget its storied grounds.
The attractive author and math teacher recently released this activity book, a sequel to her book by the same name, after years of exploring the sprawling space on roller blades and by bike. Although she enjoys biking the full six-mile distance of Lincoln Park Krista recommends that you divide your statue tour into several days, particularly with children in tow.
“Lincoln Park is Chicago’s largest and most historical park. For more than 20 years, 1843 to 1866, it was a burial ground. But by the mid-1850s, citizens began to plead for a public park using vacant cemetery acreage. Its first name, ‘Cemetery Park,’ was changed to the more alluring name ‘Lake Park’ in October 1864. As Chicago grieved for the assassinated President Lincoln, the name was formally changed eight months later. Leading up to the World’s Fair of 1893, Chicagoans wanted to fashion their city into a world-class destination, creating important cultural institutions such as museums, including the Chicago Academy of Sciences Building in Lincoln Park. It was against this backdrop that Chicagoans began to commission statues for their parks, drawing on trips to European open spaces. There are 17 portrait statues. Prominent individuals contributed monuments to Lincoln, La Salle, Beethoven, Hamilton, and others, with strongly bonded ethnic groups contributing bronzes of Linne, Schiller, Garibaldi, Goethe, Swedenborg, and Hans Christian Anderson, a hero to children. When I am touring with children, I also tell them that the first animals that came to what would become the Lincoln Park Zoo were two pairs of swans given in 1868 by the New York Central Park.”
The activity book shares the secrets of the people behind the statues mentioned above. Krista believes that each statue is like a “message in a bottle from our city’s founding fathers.”
The face and hands of the standing Abraham Lincoln, located in the oldest part of the park close to the Couch grave, are taken from a life mask done six weeks before his nomination for President. His right hand is obviously bigger than his left, due to too much handshaking during the campaign, and you see the slight scar on his thumb from a rail-splitting accident. The most celebrated sculptor of the time, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, took three years to compose “Lincoln, the Man.” Prominent Chicago sculptor, Lorado Taft, enthusiastically praised the work: “I remember what a surprise that empty chair gave us. It is one of the most ingenious devices of modern monumental art.”
To Krista, it is this statue that has perhaps the most poignant history:
“Lincoln’s 14-year-old grandson, Abraham Lincoln, unveiled the Lincoln statue, and President Lincoln’s sole surviving child, Robert Todd Lincoln, was present. A 38-gun salute and a military band playing ‘Hail Columbia’ prompted a horse to stampede, pulling a buggy through the crowd before it tried to jump a fence. Very tragically, the grandson died a few years later in Paris. He had a cyst in his neck they tried to remove which resulted in an infection.”
Our statue of President Grant is filled with history, perhaps even more so than Grant’s tomb in New York.
“During the 19th century, Grant was even more popular than Lincoln, and as a result, his is the most prominent statue in the park. Designed by Louis Rebisso, with a base by a local Chicagoan, Meredith Whitehouse, it was unveiled on October 7, 1891. Following the ceremony, Mrs. Grant went to the home of Potter Palmer, who had led the effort to raise funds to build the statue. After Grant’s death in 1885 from throat cancer, close to 100,000 patriots came forward to donate money from 25 cents to 5,000 dollars, so that enough money – approximately $75,000 – was collected before Grant was even buried. Over 500,000 people gathered that day.”
The Tribune reported that a tin box was deposited in the masonry under the statue with time capsule memories including records of his Civil War battles and the names of the donors to the statue. Other contents remain secrets.
Several of Chicago’s most noted philanthropists wished to memorialize other political leaders in bronze. Feeling that that Alexander Hamilton had been long overlooked, Kate Buckingham gave one million dollars in 1928 to erect a statue in his honor near Diversey Avenue. Obviously, contemporary playgoers on Broadway share her enthusiasm for this founding father.
The Fountain Girl was originally known as the “Willard Girl,” in honor of social reformer Frances Willard, President for 19 years of the Women’s Temperance Union. What was supposed to be completed for the World’s Fair of 1893, finally appeared in 1895 in front of the Women’s Temple building in the Loop. Little children sang “Saloons Must Go” at its unveiling. When that building was scheduled for demolition in 1921, the statue moved to Lincoln Park. A trough was added as a nod to the horse stables in the park, which lasted until 1967. The statue mysteriously disappeared in 1958, with a duplicate bronze arriving over fifty years later, in 2012.
To uncover more about this fascinating space and its history, we recommend one of the group tours and slide shows Krista offers, which sometimes have slots open to the public. To learn more about her walking and biking tours, check out the summer schedule of the Chicago Historical Society.
To order the “Giants in the Park Activity Book” or for other inquiries, email Krista at GiantsinthePark2011@gmail.com.