Since this is an internet tour, and we’ve been strolling amongst the greats of imaginary literature in Lincoln Park, let’s live it up and fly in our imaginations to our next visit. Flying fits in perfectly with this fantasy version of Herr Goethe. The 1910 Goethe monument committee wanted something less literal than the other statues in the park (you have to wonder if Goethe’s buddy Schiller would be envious or snickering behind his hands). So the competition instructions told sculptors they should be free “from the trammels of costume and conventionality,” and “to give free flight to their imagination and enthusiasm.” And they did.
We’re landing on the lawn just south of Diversey, on the east side of Cannon Drive. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, whom you might not readily recognize in this incarnation, was sculpted by Herman Hahn and unveiled to great ceremony on June 13, 1914. Just in the nick of time before the Great War broke out in Europe on July 28, 1914 and suddenly you couldn’t even have a German surname any more (think of how the Battenburgs metamorphosed into the Mountbattens). Hahn’s sculpture is said to capture the ‘spirit of Goethe’ rather than resemble him physically. And unless he and the pet eagle had spent inordinate amounts of time at the gym and the tanning bed, that explains it.
The statue is enormous, and sort of like the apotheosis of Goethe in sculptural form. Maybe that’s all very well for George Washington, whose real estate interests we noted last week. Well, no, that’s pretty darn strange for Washington, too. But maybe in DC where politicians are always aggrandizing themselves it blends in better. Let’s face it. Chicago is not the kind of town where people go around apotheosizing.
And so there were criticisms of the statue. According to the park district website, “After its completion, the critics lampooned the Monument to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in the Chicago Tribune for several weeks.” The closest thing I’ve been able to find to a criticism is the caption under a photo of the statue being lowered into place, which reads, “The huge bronze statue, on a granite base . . . is of heroic dimensions. . . The monument represents the almost nude figure of Goethe, standing with his foot on a rock.” Not too scathing.
It’s just as well that the semi-nude statue doesn’t actually resemble Goethe himself, who died in 1832. No doubt there were Germans in Chicago in 1914 whose grandparents—whose parents—had actually seen the man in life. It’s one thing to have an idealized statue of someone in the buff from a mythological age two thousand years ago; quite another of someone your father sipped coffee with.
Regardless, it’s an amazing piece of art, and worth a visit. Staying firmly on the ground, let’s carefully cross Cannon Drive and walk half a block south to visit Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804), the reigning star of Broadway right now. The sculpture was cast and placed in 1952, so I was going to write something to the effect that that just goes to show how avant-garde and trend-setting we are here in Chicago, or at least Kate Buckingham, the donor was. But lo and behold, the statue has been removed—what awfully poor timing on the City’s part! Hamilton’s been taken off to have his gold skin re-gilded, so maybe his not being here is perfectly appropriate. To see an air-brushed, telegenic version of his face, look at any $10 bill—it will have to do for now. Or of course you can spend $8,000 for a ticket to the musical.
Hard to say if Hamilton, who is fully clothed, would approve of the Goethe statue, but when he’s on his pedestal, he faces the other direction.
Crossing Cannon Drive back east again we come to John Peter Altgeld, another German, and fully clothed, too. Altgeld was governor of Illinois from January 1893 (just in time for the opening of the World’s Columbian Exposition that May) until January 1897. Altgeld was a progressive, pro-labor Democrat. During his four-year tenure as governor he pardoned the three surviving Haymarket Riot (1886) prisoners and refused to agree to the use of Federal troops to dispel the Pullman Rail Strikers in 1894.
Altgeld was just 54 when he died in 1902, while at work in the offices of Clarence Darrow. He was buried in Graceland Cemetery. It is a good thing that generally dead people are very peaceful. After the Haymarket affair the Commercial Club funded the development of Ft. Sheridan, up in Highwood, as a means of having army troops at the ready to quell any other complaints the working class might care to voice. Several of the Graceland trustees were involved. And then Altgeld’s grave is very near to that of George M. Pullman’s, and the two could not have been on friendly terms!
Eventually more Chicagoans, including such influential reformers as Jane Addams, saw to it that Altgeld’s genuine humanitarianism was recognized officially, and sculptor Gutzon Borglum (famous for Mt. Rushmore many years later) was hired to create a fitting monument. Erected in 1915, it’s about a third the size of the massive Goethe statue, honoring a man who in life never sought to aggrandize himself, but fought for the rights and the good of his constituency. What a concept.
Borglum later created the statue of General Philip Henry Sheridan that stands at the intersection of Belmont and Sheridan Road, a site as busy and jammed with traffic as Altgeld’s spot is green and peaceful.
Let’s do a little more imaginary flying, straight east across Lake Shore Drive, to the Emmanuel Swedenborg monument, just south of the Diversey Harbor inlet. He’s a normal, life-size kind of guy, but just a bust, rather than complete figure, and he faces west into the continual stream of traffic on the Drive. He’s another of our Lincoln Park statue crowd that never set foot in the United States. Who was Swedenborg and why is he here, anyway?
Emmanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772) was 67 when Hamilton was born. He was the son of a prominent Swedish Lutheran bishop, and an important mining engineer who, rather than buying a red sports car during his mid-life crisis, became a mystic, channeling Biblical interpretations from angels and reinterpreting Christianity. Bright, lively, and fully involved in the Enlightenment activities of mid-18th century London, Swedenborg influenced the thinking of William Blake and other post-enlightenment Romantics.
His writings were inspiring enough that he developed quite a following, and some of his devotees eventually formed the Church of the New Jerusalem (still functioning today; there’s a branch in Glenview), while others took his writings more philosophically than religiously. Chicago architect Daniel Burnham and his family were among the second group.
Burnham’s family moved to Chicago in 1855, when he was nine years old. They came in hopes of better business opportunities and were apparently well-rewarded. Who encouraged them to do this? The Swedenborgian community that had formed in Chicago as early as 1836 (!) when Jonathan Young Scammon’s family had settled here. You know the Scammon name—he was an early advocate for education, founded Oakwoods Cemetery in 1860, started the city’s first newspaper, opened a bank, and has an elementary school named in his honor. So there were some early Swedenborgian movers and shakers in Chicago.
The bust of Swedenborg was originally installed in 1924, was stolen at some point, and then recast and replaced 2012. And then, because we can’t actually fly across LSD to take a photo of this monument, you can just click here and see the Park District version.
This probably all sounds dry as dust—but Swedenborg was anything but. For a little lively reading, I refer to you Why Mrs. Blake Cried: William Blake and the Sexual Basis of Spiritual Vision by Marsha Keith Schuchard, at least partly available online here.
And that was some decades before Joseph Smith introduced polygamy to Mormonism in the 1830s, although another book could be written, swapping Smith’s original wife Emma for Mrs. Blake in the title. (Swedenborg, who never married, did not advocate plural wives, nor did any version of Swedenborgianism practice this.) Blake apparently arrived at the multiple-partner idea straightforwardly, thanks to his hearty libido. Smith, however, claimed to be following Old Testament precedent after being threatened with destruction by angels if he did NOT practice it—God made him do it. (Angels again. They were busy in the 18th and 19th centuries, it seems.)
Anyway, Swedenborg also dwelt much on the Book of Revelation, especially the sections describing the New Jerusalem in physical detail. It’s not hard to see that image manifested in the design of the World’s Columbian Exposition, or in Burnham’s later city planning efforts. It’s amazing to learn the actual provenance of ideas!
Oh, and by the way, lest you think we slighted George Washington, Father of Our Country, in the statue department last week with the 4th of July post—there is no Washington statue in Lincoln Park–but there IS a marvelous equestrian statue of the general at 51st Street and Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive. Created by Daniel Chester French and Edward C. Potter, and installed in 1904, it conveys a sense of dignity, power, and movement—and you can almost hear Washington crying, “Hi-yo, Silver! Away!!” or something like that.
Images by the author or retrieved from public domain.
Copyright Barbara Geiger. All rights reserved