Lincoln Square’s Unique Lincoln Statue
by Peter von Buol
For more than 60 years, Lincoln Square’s own statue of Abraham Lincoln has stood as a beacon of hope and freedom at Western and Lawrence.
The larger-than-life statue of the sixteenth president is unusual as it depicts him as beardless, just as he was during the 1860 Republican Convention in Chicago which fatefully nominated Lincoln as the Republican Party’s presidential candidate.
Dedicated on Oct. 20, 1956, the seven-and-a-half-foot bronze is officially known as ‘The ‘Chicago Lincoln’ and it is meant to depict the late president as he had appeared in Chicago, prior to his election. The statue was designed by the late Lincoln historian and author Lloyd Ostendorf and sculpted by the late Avard Fairbanks, who was director of the University of Utah art department.
In Fairbanks’ sculpture, Lincoln is shown with a stack of books and holding his stovepipe hat with his left hand. His right-hand rests on a podium. On its pedestal is the following inscription: Free Society is not, and shall not be a failure. Abraham Lincoln, Chicago, Dec. 10, 1856
According to a contemporary newspaper account, then-Ald. John Hoellen (R-47th) had conceived of the Lincoln statue to honor the nation’s 16th president and to create an identity for the Lincoln Square neighborhood.
“Can you imagine Logan Square without a statue of General Logan? What about Lincoln Square? I didn’t want the main attraction in Lincoln Square to be a lamppost, a fire hydrant or a traffic signal. So, I decided we needed a statue of Abraham Lincoln, the namesake of the square,” Hoellen later told a reporter from the Lerner Booster newspapers.
Hoellen first proposed his idea in 1951. Two years later, in 1953, the Illinois General Assembly created the Illinois Lincoln Memorial Commission to undertake the project and, shortly afterwards, appropriated $35,000 to pay for the sculpture.
At its dedication, about 5,000 neighborhood residents had gathered to hear a bi-partisan group of speakers that included then-Gov. William Stratton (R) and Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley (D). Representatives from both parties praised the martyred president and none used the event as an opportunity to score political points.
Dedicated during the height of the Cold War, Stratton used the opportunity to say Lincoln was a beacon, long after his death, because he had stood up for human rights.
The statue was originally located on a traffic-island in the middle of what was then the busy intersection of Lincoln, Lawrence and Western Avenue. In the 1970s, the statue was moved to its current location on a plaza in front of 4800 N. Lawrence Avenue. Visitors today can safely walk around it.
An assessment conducted in 1992 by the Smithsonian Institution had determined the Lincoln statue was in urgent need of attention. In 1996, it was treated and restored to mark the 40th anniversary of its installation.