Monday, August 26, 2013

Alexander Hamilton and Kate Buckingham -- the August 26, 1942 lawsuit

Not exactly what Kate B. had in mind (JWB Photo)

I hate to get started on this again because every time I look out my window, it’s a source of aggravation.  And in every trip I take on the old 151 I get a tad steamed up as we pass the junction of Stockton and Sheridan.  It is there that a forlorn Alexander Hamilton stands, peeling gold leaf, a sculpture that began with such great promise and which now stands atop a puny base of red granite, looking out on the sunbathers and leaping dogs.

If you want to know the whole sordid tale, you can find it here.

Kate Struges Buckingham
Art Institue of Chicago Image
It was on this day back in 1942 that the executors and trustees of the late Kate Sturges Buckingham’s $4,000,000 estate were charged with allowing a one million dollar trust fund that the benefactress had set up for the creation of a memorial to Alexander Hamilton to revert to the Art Institute rather than seeing that it got used for its original purpose.

The fund had been set up aspart of the Miss Buckingham's will.  Upon her death on December 14, 1937 that will stipulated that the memorial was to be built within ten years or the fund would revert to the Art Institute.   The 1942 suit, filed by the State’s Attorney because the memorial fund was a public charitable trust, alleged that the trustees of the fund, some of who were also executors of Miss Buckingham’s will and officers of the Art Institute “conspired and confederated . . . to the end that all or substantially all of the million dollar fund, together with the 10 years accumulated, be paid to the Art Institute for unrestricted use.”

The suit went on to demand that the trustees of the fund be made to carry out contracts made by Miss Buckingham before her death with Eliel Saarinen . . . and John Angel, the sculptor.  At this point, in fact, Mr. Angel's sculpture had already been cast.

If the suit had only worked . . . How cool would it be to look out my window and see Alexander Hamilton standing in an 80-foot tall architectural enclosure designed by Eliel Saarinen!

The Saarinen design commissioned by Kate Buckingham (JWB Photo taken at Art Institute of Chicago exhibit)
Architect Samuel Marx did design a tall polished granite setting for the sculpture that was dedicated in July of 1952.  It lasted 41 yeas before it was torn down in 1993. 

“Those who stand for nothing fall for anything,” Hamilton once observed.  It seems wrong to me, somehow, that a man who stood for so much, who many argue gave the young nation the financial footing and philosophical underpinning that allowed it to develop, has seen his memorial fall so far.    

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