Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Kosciusko Statue Rejected -- February 25, 1903

The original Chudzinski Whoopsie (Chicago Tribune, February 26, 1903)
On this date, February 25, in 1903 the Chicago Tribune announced that “the heavy hand of criticism has laid hold of the statue of Kosciusko, the Polish patriot, and yesterday the west park board was informed that the statue would not be a fitting monument to Chicago’s parks.”  [Chicago Tribune, February 25, 1903]

West Parks Commissioner Graham had no idea why the Municipal Art League had turned “thumbs down” on the statue.  “I have no idea what the fault is with the statue,” he said.  “I have not seen the model and, besides, the commissioners are not expected to be experts in art.”

Chicago sculptor Lorado Taft was less than generous in his appraisal of the sculpture by Kasimir Chudzinski, “You cannot begin to criticize it,” he said.  “The whole thing is a weak, cheap effort.  If you start with the horse you will never reach the rider.  It is the effort, apparently, of a man who has made no study of the advancement of art.  It is badly patterned after the snorting charger of fifty years ago.  You entertain such fears that the horse will fall off the pedestal that your eyes do not rise to the man at all.  There isn’t a city in the United States that would allow that stature in its parks.”  [Chicago Tribune, February 26, 1903]

Properly chastened, sculptor Chudzinski went back to work and came up with a new vision of the Polish national hero who fought in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth’s battle with Russia and Prussia before coming to the United States and fighting for the Colonists in the Revolutionary War.  Among other things General George Washington asked Kosciusko to secure and defend West Point against the British. 

A little more heroic, don't you think?  (JWB Photo)
As you can see the second try was far more effective than the first.

On September 12, 1904 a crowd of 50,000 gathered in Humboldt Park as a chorus of one thousand voices sang “Look Down Upon Us from Heaven, Kosciusko” at the statue’s dedication ceremony. 

Mr. M. A. La Buy, president of the Kosciusko Monument association that collected the $30,000 for the statue, spoke, observing that “The Kosciusko Monument association, in handing down the figure of the general to future ages. desires to teach our children and our grandchildren that their patriotism and love for America should soar high above their ambition.  Let us illustrate our beautiful history of the United States by building monuments to its patriots.  As the European oppression, despotism, and tyranny increase day by day, so our love and esteem for our American heroes should increase daily.”  [Chicago Tribune, September 12, 1904]

The plaque on Solidarity Drive (JWB Photo)
Seventy years later violence and arson had risen to epidemic levels in Humboldt Park.  In 1979 the Tribune headlined one article on the community by calling the area a “Community without Dreams.”  It was in that year that the Chicago Park District, aided by the Polish Roman Catholic Union, the Polish Women’s Alliance, and the Polish National Alliance, restored the statue and moved it to its present location on Solidarity Drive, about halfway between Lake Shore Drive and the Shedd Aquarium.

At the dedication ceremony back in 1904 Senator Albert G. Hopkins said, “When [Kosciusko] was born there was not one free government in Europe.  Across the seas the American colonies were fighting for something that Europe had yearned for during centuries.  It was Kosciusko’s chance, and he accepted it.”

And Chicago, fortunately, chose to honor the Polish national hero despite the initial false start.

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