Detroit’s Pelzer Lincoln statue

Abraham Lincoln never actually visited Detroit. He did sail down the Detroit River and probably gazed on its skyline while aboard the steamboat Globe in 1848. Many believe, by the way, that while on that trip he conceived of the idea that would eventually lead to his being the only President to have a patent awarded. Mr. Lincoln is not far from the Detroit River today, however- or at least a statue of him. Located in a small park at the North side of Detroit’s Skillman Library at 121 Gratiot Avenue stands the impressive figure sculpted by Alfonzo Pelzer in 1895. I had the opportunity to gaze upon its beauty March 14, 2009. At the base of the statue are inscribed the words: “Let man be free.”  The statue has quite a history. In fact, the current statue at the Skillman Library is not the original one, but a copy. The original statue had been vandalized during the 1960’s and again in the 1990’s and is now placed inside Detroit’s Burton Library.

The original statue was previously placed on the grounds of the Ford Motor Car factory at Warren and Livernois Avenue from 1919 to 1958. After Ford ceased building Lincoln automobiles at the plant, the statue was given to the city of Detroit. It has since gone through several restorations, including one spearheaded by the Detroit Free Press writer Neal Shine. Sculptor Alfonzo Pelzer came to the United States in the 1890s. He was commissioned by the city of Lincoln, New Jersey to create the statue. At least six copies of the statue were produced. Detroit was the benefactor of one of the copies. He designed the Lincoln figure holding the Emancipation Proclamation. That document’s importance should not be lost as to its significance for ending slavery in America, as it paved the way for the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment and other subsequent amendments regarding freedom and equality.  And that’s the true significance of the statue-not the statue itself, made of materials that will eventually crumble and weather away, but the idea that “all men are created equal.”  That concept is meant to apply not only to Americans but to all humanity.

Lincoln by Pelzer Lincoln by Pelzer
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14 Responses to “Detroit’s Pelzer Lincoln statue”

  1. Jeb Smith says:

    What is the size of the statue near Pittsburgh (in Wilkinsburg)? From one angle it appears about 6 feet. From another, much smaller.

  2. Dave Wiegers says:

    I was not aware of it. It has always been written that there were two in Michigan not three. I will go back and double check my old sources.

    Not too late for any statue. I am still working on finding a publisher.

    There are several new works that I am goinng to see soon. There is works in Marshall, IL, Jacksonville, IL, Springfield, IL, Leavenworth, KS. A new one is going in in boise, ID in April and another early next year in Bloomington, IL. There is a new one in Philadelphia I have not visited yet.

  3. B. Nash says:

    This one was undocumented? Wow, I’m glad I could be of service to you! Is it too late to be included in your book?

  4. Dave Wiegers says:

    Interesting. I have found two others that were previously undocumented. I need to get to Detroit to see the Burton piece. I have pictures of the Stillman work.

  5. B. Nash says:

    Dave, I just posted three pics of the Lincoln statue from inside the Burton Library in Detroit.

  6. B. Nash says:

    Yes, that is the Skillman statue.

  7. Dave Wiegers says:

    Is the Skillman statue the one you have at the top of this posting?

  8. B. Nash says:

    Dave, I have photos of the Lincoln statue in the Burton Library which I will post as soon as I can. I can tell you it is bronze looking-not silver colored like the Skillman statue.

  9. Dave Wiegers says:

    I have not seen the one in the Burton Library. Is there a picture of it somewhere?
    I can probably tell you who did it if I could see an image. As far as I know Pelzer was only directly responsible for one of them from 1898. The statue at the Skillman that was in front of the Ford Motor Co. Lincoln-Mercury Division was dedicated on Feb. 13, 1919. There is another copy of this same statue in Michigan from 1914 that is up on a Boy Scout Reservation in Brighton, Michigan. This one originally at the Packard Plant in Detrot was erected in 1914 and was moved to Charles Howell Scout Reservation in Brighton, Michigan, Livingston County in 1936. It is still there inside a gazebo.

  10. B. Nash says:

    Boy this story just more interesting! The Lincoln Statue housed in the Burton Library in Detroit must have been by Pelzer. It’s of a totally different metal than the one that now stands outside the Skillman Library. Comment?

  11. Dave Wiegers says:

    Actually, the Segesman pieces are not even copies of Pelzer. They are close butdifferent in ways from the Pelzer piece. The Pelzer Lincoln in New Jersey has a much better face and in general I think it is a much better statue. Many of the Mullin’s Lincoln have had a rough life. There is one near Pittsburgh that was stolen and buried and a bulldozer parked over the top of it. After it was found it a valiant attempt was made to restore it but it is still pretty rough looking. Since these peices are not poured bronze, but rather pressed pieces, they are not a rugged and much lighter. The weight makes them much easier to steal. The softer metal gets dinged and dented much more readily than bronze so most of the statues by Mullins look pretty beat up from hail, etc hitting them over the past 80-100 years.

  12. B. Nash says:

    Dave, I can’t wait to read your book. Are the other statues done by John Segesman merely copies of the Pelzer statue?

  13. Dave Wiegers says:

    Actually, Alphons Pelzer did not do this Lincoln. He only did the first one in 1898 in Midlesex, NJ. Pelzer went back to Italy and the Mullins Company used another artist, John Segesman, on the rest of the Lincoln’s they sold. I am writing a book on Lincoln statues and this has been revealed in my research. There are many of these style Lincolns around the country including ones in NJ, Ohio, PA, IA, MN, NE and ID.

  14. Karen says:

    What a wonderful site! Very informative and refreshing! Keep up the great work.

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