Are monuments to individual heroes like Lincoln a thing of the past?

Lincoln statue at Hillsdale College

Lincoln statue at Hillsdale College

Lincoln statue in Crown Plaza, Springfield

Lincoln statue in Crown Plaza, Springfield

The Lincoln Statue at the Illinois State Capitol

The Lincoln Statue at the Illinois State Capitol

I was reading an interview with Kirk Savage in the October 2010 issue of Smithsonian in which he makes comments about monuments. Here’s an excerpt of what he said:
“The obsession with great commanders and individual heroes was the prevalent mind-set in the late 18th to mid-19th centuries. But that later changed to focus on the common soldiers. That’s why, unlike the Civil War monuments, there are no grandiose statues of military commanders from World War II, the Korean War or the Vietnam War. We might call this the democratization of the puplic monument. It’s a shift from the great man idea of history to one that encompassess the ordinary man.”
Mr. Savage is clearly correct. When was the last time you saw a statue or monument to a leader-an individual. Instead, we have monuments like the Vietnam wall. I have no problem with the wall, mind you. Yet, I’m also struck by the number of Lincoln statues there are. I’m talking about new Lincoln statues. There are many! So does Lincoln defy the apparent trend to not memorialize individuals? I think it does. Then one has to ask the question”: “Why?”
I think the reason why is this: Lincoln still represents the common man. But even more than that, he represents the common man who has something nearly everyone can aspire to. Hence, his appeal continues.
What do you think?
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7 Responses to “Are monuments to individual heroes like Lincoln a thing of the past?”

  1. B. Nash says:

    Yes. Have you been to Burton? It’s located on Woodward Avenue. I usually park in the rear of the library but there is metered parking also on Woodward. Am told that Grace Bedell’s letter to Lincoln is housed at the library but I’ve never taken the time to see it.

  2. Dave says:

    Found it. It is in the Burton Historical Library.

  3. Dave says:

    That is exactly what borglum was going for. He broke the mold with his piece in Newark, NJ. There is a 1 1/2 times copy of that work that I helped dedicate in boise, Idaho.
    I have not gotten to Michigan yet. I am going to the Lincoln Forum in Gettysburg in a few weeks and plan to make a swing thru Ohio and Michigan on the way back.

    Where is that John Segesman Mullins co. Lincoln in Detroit that you and I emailed back and forth about?

  4. B. Nash says:

    I didn’t know the Crowne Plaza Lincoln was gone. It must have been placed there for the 2009 commemoration of Lincoln’s birthday? The “human and approachable” thing is okay with me. Isn’t that what Gutzon Borglum attempted to do with his “sitting Lincoln?” Did you visit that cemetery in Plymouth, Michigan yet?

  5. Dave Wiegers says:

    I was in the Crowe Plaza about 3 weeks ago and the statue of Lincoln and the two little girls was gone.
    The original is in Chicago Heights, IL at the crossroads of the Lincoln Highway and the Dixie Highway (Hwy 30 @ Hwy1).
    Chris sums it up pretty well,I think. My travels photgraphing Lincoln statues has shown that recent statues commemate paticular incidents in Lincoln’s life rather than illustrating the larger Lincoln mystique. Sculptors have literally and figuratively brought Lincoln down from his pedestal so that he is more human and approachable.

  6. B. Nash says:

    It’s great to hear from you. I’m so pleased and honored that you took the time to craft such a well thought-out and interesting answer. I agree with you completely. I’m glad that, at least, I was able to inform you about that statue in the Crowne Plaza. Yes, it is located in the front lobby. You’ll see it as soon as you walk in. I think it is located near the escalator leading to the checkout floor. Let me know when you go there! Again, GREAT reply!!!! Bill

  7. Chris says:

    I think one of the reasons why Lincoln is still represented in new monuments is his appeal to multiple generations. Every generation seems to draw some sort of connection to him, and Lincoln’s words and actions always seem to have just as much relevance in modern times as in his time. The aspects of Lincoln that are most admired in a specific time and by a specific generation change, but the fact that Lincoln is admired generally doesn’t.

    You can see this today with how Obama often references Lincoln (along with his opponents, who will attack him by using other aspects of Lincoln). Growing up in the 80s Lincoln’s “House Divided” metaphor and his words on democracy were often used during the Cold War to represent the divided state of the world then and the feeling that the Berlin Wall needed to fall and that the world needed to be reunited under democracy. Lincoln is even honored with statues in over 70 foreign countries, more than any other American leader I believe. There are over 200 statues of Lincoln in the U.S., making him the most honored American in public sculpture.

    This kind of appeal hasn’t happened so much with other leaders. It seems 20th century presidents tend to define generations (e.g. FDR is admired the most by older people who lived during WWII), rather than having their legacies or admiration passed on to younger generations. I’ve noticed this in presidential polls where they mention the general age of the people who admire FDR, Kennedy, Reagan, etc. But Lincoln is nearly always on the top of these polls, and there is very little generational divide in terms of who admires him – meaning that Lincoln is the only president who seems to be able to transcend the generations. In addition, just about every President since Lincoln has referenced him.

    And as far as WWII is concerned, who is to be honored? FDR died in office, and the war was finished while Truman was President. I think that creates difficulty as to which leader to memorialize (whereas Lincoln led us through the Civil War in its entirety). And wars like Vietnam, for instance, are remembered more as failures of leadership than for leadership, so it’s no surprise the soldiers are seen as the heroes, not the leaders.

    In fact, the fallout from Vietnam in the 70s (that and the end of the civil rights movement) caused a brief but severe decline in American self-esteem that brought admiration of our leaders (including Lincoln) to a low before their images (or at the very least, Lincoln’s image) were resurrected in the 80s.

    Since then, there has been a trend in public Lincoln sculpture to represent Lincoln more as an approachable human being (like the statue at 6th and Adams St. on the square here in Springfield) and less as a “god” (like the dramatic statue at the Lincoln Memorial). I see it as those of us who are young trying to understand him as a person in addition to interpreting and understanding his accomplishments (something that has influenced my artwork). It’s interesting to look at the 7 public statues of Lincoln in Springfield (encompassing the years 1874, 1918, 1967, 1984, 2004, and 2006) and see how he was remembered over time.

    By the way, I’ve actually never seen that Lincoln statue in the Crowne Plaza here in Springfield (it’s in the hotel right)? I’ll have to go look at it sometime.

    Hopefully this comment wasn’t too long.

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