Posts Tagged 'Monuments'

Chicago’s Oldest Public Monument

Chicago has hundreds of statues, monuments, and historical markers. But unless you do a little exploring, you’re likely to miss the oldest one.

In 1833, as Chicago and the Midwest were starting to grow, Congress ordered a new survey of the boundary between Illinois and Indiana. When the survey was completed, a 15-foot high limestone obelisk was put in place on the shore of Lake Michigan, straddling the state line.

Illinois-Indiana Boundary Marker

Illinois-Indiana Boundary Marker

Civilization gradually engulfed the boundary marker. The shoreline was extended north by landfill. Multiple railroad lines came through. Commonwealth Edison built a huge generating plant. The South Park Commissioners laid out Calumet Park.

By the 1980s the marker was isolated and neglected among the rail yards. Allen J. Benson, a ComEd executive, convinced the company to sponsor its restoration, in conjunction with the East Side Historical Society and other interested groups. In 1988 the marker was moved 190 feet north to its present location, just outside the plant gate. A new base was added at that time.

Before the work was finished, Benson died. A plaque next to the boundary marker was dedicated to his memory.

Chicago’s oldest monument—and Whiting’s too, for that matter—is difficult to find. It’s located at what would be the intersection of State Line Road and 103rd Street.

In Memory of Allen J. Benson (1928-1987)

In Memory of Allen J. Benson (1928-1987)

The best way to get there is to approach from the north, via 95th Street. Go east on 95th past Ewing, then turn right onto Crilly Drive. Continue south on Crilly, along the western edge of Calumet Park, to the junction with Avenue G. Turn right on Avenue G, keep going south past the park’s Field House, until you arrive at 100th Street.

Now you will see some grade-level railroad tracks on your right. Ahead of you, parallel to the tracks, a small access road continues south-southeast. Follow this road to its end, at the old ComEd plant and the boundary marker.

The access road you just took doesn’t have an official name. This has led to some confusion. Since the road continues the route of Avenue G, most reference sources will tell you that the boundary marker is located on Avenue G, at 103rd Street-extended.

Trouble is, a few blocks away, there is a real intersection of Avenue G and 103rd Street.

So let’s end the confusion. Name the access road along tracks “Allen J. Benson Drive.” How expensive are a couple of street signs?


Where Have You Gone, General Logan?

“General John Logan/ sits on a horse/ on top of a hill/ in Grant Park in Chicago.”

The nursery rhyme gives you the bare facts. But who was General John Logan? And more important to our story, what’s that hill doing there?

The general on the horse on the hill

The general on the horse on the hill

John Alexander Logan was a Civil War general and a two-term U.S. Senator from Illinois. He was the driving force behind establishing Memorial Day as a national holiday. Logan ran for vice president on the unsuccessful Republican ticket in 1884, and was considered one of the front-runners for the next presidential election. Then, in December 1886, he suddenly died.

Logan was given the rare honor of lying in state in the U.S. Capitol rotunda. He was buried in Rock Creek Cemetery in the District of Columbia. Meanwhile, back in Logan’s home state, a grand plan was taking shape.

General John Logan

General John Logan

Former President Ulysses S. Grant—THE great Civil War general—had died in 1885. Grant had been a citizen of Illinois, but New York City was building a mausoleum to house his remains. Now Chicago would show those Eastern body-snatchers. Chicago would build a mausoleum for General Logan.

Three days after Logan’s death, the Chicago city council voted to donate land in Lakefront (Grant) Park for his tomb. The South Park Commissioners and the Illinois state legislature soon got on the bandwagon. A total of $64,000 was appropriated for the project–serious money in 1886.

Logan’s widow preferred to have him stay in the District. However, she agreed to give way to the Chicago plan. A site opposite 9th Street was selected. When she visited the city the following summer, newspaper reports said Mrs. Logan was arranging the transfer of her husband’s remains.

The general’s body was moved on the second anniversary of his death, December 26, 1888. But he didn’t go to Chicago. Instead, he was simply transported across Washington and interred in the National Soldiers Home Cemetery.

The Chicago tomb wasn’t yet ready. Grave-robbing was a concern in those times—thieves had nearly made off with Lincoln’s body—and Mrs. Logan felt security was better at Soldiers Home than at Rock Creek.

In 1897 the Logan monument was dedicated in Chicago. America’s greatest sculptor, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, designed the heroic equestrian statue. It was set on a large mound that could easily be converted to a tomb.

Mrs. Logan attended the ceremony and was visibly touched. But by now she’d changed her mind about bringing her husband with her. The general stayed in Washington. And Chicago had to make do honoring him with Logan Square, Logan Boulevard, Logan School, and the Logan Square Community Area.


Giant Men

This giant man was a familiar landmark in the Humboldt Park neighborhood.  He stood on top the muffler shop at 3940 West Grand Avenue.  According to Rick Kogan’s Sidewalks II book, he  was named Mr. Bendo, after the onetime owner of the business.  The plastic Bendo was supposed to closely resemble the flesh Bendo.

Sometime around 2010, a storm knocked off the top of the big Bendo.  The truncated base was left standing while the muffler shop proprietors decided what to do next.  I snapped the photo below around that time, recalling Shelley’s poem “Ozymandias” and the line “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone stand in the desert . . . ”

02--Ozymandias on Grand (2011)

The rest of Mr. Bendo has since been removed, and Chicago’s landscape is poorer for the loss.  However, I’m happy to report that the giant man on the northwest corner of 63rd and Pulaski still survives.  There used to be a tobacconist on the premises, and this statue was an oversize version of that old perennial, the Cigar Store Indian.  Today the cigar store is gone, so now he sports a pair of specs, promoting the eye clinic in the building.

03--63rd-Pulaski Giant Indian (2016)

These giant men always remind me of a miniature golf course.  Of course, they are big enough to decorate a regulation-size golf course.  Perhaps we should stick a giant Arnold Palmer along the right side of the eighth fairway at Waveland (Sydney Marovitz).  Besides putting a smile on a golfer’s face, a giant Arnie could also be a barrier to stop sliced tee shots from bouncing onto Lake Shore Drive.



A Tale of Two Tombs

People go into politics for different reasons. It could be to do good, or to exercise power, or to get rich, or any combination of the above, or maybe something entirely different. However, there is one motivation which—of necessity–drives nearly every politician.

They want to be famous. And that doesn’t stop when death intrudes.

Consider two Chicago politicians, separated by over a century, but united in their desire to be remembered.

John Wentworth came to Chicago as a 21-year-old in 1836. Nicknamed “Long John” because he was 6-foot-6, he carried on a law practice, speculated in real estate, and published a newspaper. His political resume included twelve years in the U.S. House of Representatives and two terms as Mayor of Chicago.

Long John's obelisk

Long John’s obelisk

In 1886 he began building his tomb in Rosehill Cemetery. At a cost of $38,000 Wentworth had a 50-ton granite obelisk fashioned in New Hampshire, then hauled to Chicago by train, boat, and wagon. When it was set on its base over the gravesite, the pillar was 72 feet high, taller than anything else on the property.

Wentworth gave instructions that nothing be inscribed on the obelisk or its base—not even his name. When asked for an explanation, he said: “People will ask whose monument it is. When informed it is John Wentworth’s monument, they will ransack old records and visit libraries to find out who John Wentworth was. When they find out, they will remember.”

Wentworth died in 1888. His heirs put his name on the monument, anyway.

Roland Burris was born in 1937 in downstate Centralia. As an African American growing up in the mid-20th Century, he overcame many obstacles, becoming a successful commercial lawyer. He was elected to three terms as Illinois Comptroller and a single term as state Attorney General. In December 2008 Burris was appointed to the U.S. Senate seat vacated by President-elect Obama. He served in that office for just under two years.

Senator Burris recently celebrated his 78th birthday. Like John Wentworth, he has paid careful attention to his final resting place. Unlike Long John, Burris has rejected the minimalist approach.

Burris Tomb

Burris Tomb

The Burris Tomb is located in the northwest section of Oak Woods Cemetery, prominently sited at the junction of two driveways. On the central granite slab, under the heading “Trail Blazer,” we are told that Burris was the first African American in Illinois to serve as Comptroller, the first to serve as Attorney General, the first to be an SIU exchange student to Hamburg University in Germany, the first to be a national bank examiner, the first to be President of the National Association of State Auditors, Comptrollers, and Treasurers . . . and so on.

The two side panels list Burris’s other “Major Accomplishments,” such as Vice-Chairman of the Democratic National Committee. As of now, there’s no mention of the U.S. Senate.

John Wentworth wanted to be remembered, and could trust in the curiosity of future generations. In our time Roland Burris has had to spell everything out.

Somewhere in these companion stories, there’s the seed of a scholarly monograph on the decline of American education.