Thomas Mazaryk Statute -- University of Chicago (Bartholomew Photo)
Nebát se a nekrást -- do not fear and do not steal -- a good life motto for a hero. And Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk will always be a hero in Czechoslovakia.
According to the Czechoslovakian legend, deep within a mountain the knights of Blanik sleep, waiting for a leader to summon them and deliver their people from oppressors. That leader came forth in November, 1918 when Thomas Maszryk, a blacksmith who made himself into a world-renowned professor of philosophy, convinced the Allied nations to make Czechoslovakia a sovereign state after the fall of the Austro-Hungarian empire at the end of World War I.
Thomas Mazaryk (Wikipedia Photo)
Masaryk was elected first president of the new nation in 1918 during a triumphal visit to the University of Chicago, where he had been a faculty member once before in 1902 and 1908. The Czech Parliament re-elected to the presidency in 1920, 1927 and 1934. His death in 1937 led Chicagoans of Slovakian descent to search for a way to honor the great hero.
Subscriptions were solicited and $50,000 was collected for a statue to stand on the University of Chicago campus. The Director of Sculpture at the Art Institute of Chicago, Albin Polasek, who was born in Moravia and who took his formal art training at the Frank Furness designed Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, was selected as the sculptor of the equestrian monument.
Albin Polasek (Wikipedia Photo)
Even though the bronze for the work had been purchased, the war effort during World War II delayed the completion of the work. Finally, on September 14, 1949 The Chicago Tribune announced that the eight-ton statue was on its way to Chicago from New York City, where it had been cast. The 18-foot high sculpture was disassembled and shipped in three sections.
Two days later the paper reported, "The big equestrian bronze statue to Thomas G. Masaryk, father and first president of Czechoslovakia, was taken back for repairs today to the foundry in Queens borough in which it was made, after one of the three sections fell from a truck bearing it to Chicago."
Tall statue . . . low bridge. A chain snapped as the sculpture hit a girder as the truck crossed the Queensboro bridge over the East River, and the huge piece of bronze, including the bodies of both the horse and its rider, hit the deck. According to The Tribune, "Lamar A. Gano, driver of the truck . . . was given a summons for failing to obtain a permit to transport the statue. Manhattan bound traffic on the bridge was tied up between 5:30 and 6 p.m. by the mishap.
In today's age of round-the-clock journalism, can you imagine the coverage an overturned Knight of Blanik lying in the middle of the Queensboro bridge, with traffic tied up for miles, would receive?
Portions of the work had to be recast, but the statue finally arrived in Chicago -- by truck -- at the end of November, 1949. It was mounted on a pedestal at the east end of Midway Plaisance with no fanfare, and It wasn't until 1955 that the monument dedicated on May 29.
More than 2,000 person attended the dedication. Senator Roman Hruska, Republican senator from Iowa, was the principal speaker. Senator Everett Dirksen and Mayor Richard J. Daley also contributed remarks. Hruska said of Masaryk, "We honor him as the philosopher who became a statesman in spite of himself, as the father of a state who was also its simplest citizen, and as an unchallengeably firm democrat who believed in the rule of tolerance."
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