It’s safe to say that Illinois leads the nation in Abraham Lincoln statues. The book, "Lincoln in Illinois" features photo of 91, from the Augustus Saint-Gaudens memorial in Lincoln Park to the bust outside his Springfield tomb, its nose rubbed to a shiny bronze by Republican candidates seeking luck at the polls.
But the strangest, and saddest, Lincoln memorial is a five-foot tall concrete head resting in a neglected patch of grass at the corner of the 69th and Wolcott streets. I visited the statue on Sunday, and took the above photograph.
The bust, which was sculpted by Phillip Bloomquist, was placed in 1926 to advertise the Lincoln Gas Station, which occupied the same corner. (Wolcott Street was originally named Lincoln Street, but its name was changed in 1939 to avoid confusion with Lincoln Avenue.) At the time, Englewood was a middle-class neighborhood, populated by Germans, Irish and Italians.
The gas station is gone. So are the Germans, the Irish and the Italians. But the Lincoln bust is still there. When Slate photographer Camilo Vergara first saw it
, in 1997, the bust had been painted black, perhaps to reflect the change in the neighborhood. Vergara returned a year later, to find the bust had been repainted white, its -- and Lincoln’s -- original color. On Vergara’s final visit, in 2007, the bust had been painted once again, by a street gang: “The Gangster Disciples, a well-known Chicago gang, had used the statue to mark their territory. They had defaced one side of Lincoln with their symbol, a Star of David.”
The star of David is no longer visible, but neither are many of the distinguishing features of Lincoln’s face, which has been worn smooth by the decades. His nose is missing, making him look like a South Side sphinx. His bow tie is receding into his shirt. Only the side-parted shock of hair, copied from the Lincoln Memorial, which was dedicated four years before Bloomquist sculpted his bust, identifies the statue as Lincoln.
Lincoln died 148 years ago today. This is as good a time as any to suggest that his Englewood memorial needs a major restoration job -- not just for the sake of a neglected statue, but for the sake of a neglected neighborhood.