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Third Obstacle: Slipping into Ruins

With assurance through Facebook that I would be able to have my targeted number of participants in spite of plunging temperatures and my expired CTA pass, I turned my attention from Chicago’s South Side to the democratic educational spaces located a bit closer to my home in Wrigleyville. This time, as I armed myself with extra layers of everything in addition to the aforementioned materials, my escort through the cityscape was my 110-pound longhaired dog (yes, as my reader could imagine, she had been rescued from a shelter). As she and I sped across Chicago’s infamous ice-coated sidewalks, looking, I am sure, a bit like Iditarod competitors, I thought I was ready to slide into home base. I was wrong.

As I shifted gears from Jackson to Lincoln Park, I encountered my third obstacle, one that had first been evident in Jackson Park. Both parks were rife with ruins. Chicago first set aside $10,000 in 1864 to establish and improve a “portion of the lands which later came to be named Lincoln Park” (Burnham, 1909, p. 44). The park was the “first lakefront park” installed in Chicago, extending for a mile from North to Fullerton Avenues. It was “renamed Lincoln Park after the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln in April 1865” (Condit, 1973, p. 19). As I tripped on broken concrete lining the Lakefront, I was reminded that following a severe winter storm in 1885, Chicago began implementing the breakwater system forming its Lakeshore today, increasing Lincoln Park’s size from when it was first founded a year earlier. By 1899 Chicago City Council established the Special Park Commission (SPC), believing parks were essential “in preventing crime, promoting cleanliness, and diminishing disease,” with the intent “to improve the health and morals of the people, and to stimulate local pride and patriotism” (ibid, p. 44). Chicago city planners’ ideals are similar to hooks’ place-based pedagogy—establishing a sense of place that will strengthen a sense of community. After hours of slipping through ice and snow on my numerous visits to Lincoln Park with my large dog, I was relieved to learn it had reached its full 1208-acre form during its last expansion in the 1950’s (On-site plaque). As the breakwater system gained momentum, Lincoln Park functioned as a solution to rapid development in Evanston, becoming site to which “100,000 cubic yards of waste” were “annually conveyed to the Lake front” (Condit, 1973, p. 50).[1] The park, a creatively beautiful landfill program from which current “green” ecological projects may learn a valuable lesson, abuts Diversey Harbor. Like monuments and the democratizing space surrounding them, Chicago’s harbors are also a highly planned space. Burnham proposed that “as the city grows, the increased boating facilities will afford the opportunities for indulging in one of the most universally popular sports, while at the same time imparting life to the otherwise monotonous stretch of water” (Burnham, 1901, p. 110). The park was “open land, and it was here that the city first concentrated its energies…creating parks out of wild shoreland” (Condit, 1973, p. 20). As a man-made sculpted space, it was intentionally evocative of nature, with meandering trails leading to small wooded areas, “an informal landscape treatment” in which public works of art, monuments based upon historical events, had been scattered (Burnham, 1909, p. 52). Although Lincoln Park seemed to replicate the formless growth that had originally dotted the lakefront, for me, with no sense of direction, the space became a maze in which I could easily get lost searching for the eleven sculptures installed in the park by the time Burnham penned his plan. As I immersed myself in Lincoln Park’s history, I was expecting a brush with American antiquity. I was shocked, instead, to find ruins. After researching Burnham’s Plan, I learned in the past Chicago had intentionally designed the participatory democratic educational spaces surrounding their public art for economic, cultural, recreational and aesthetic purposes. By comparing the 1909 plan with the 2012 proposal, I noted those same goals were still the motivating factors for Chicago’s city planners. The two pieces, viewed side by side, revealed how looking “critically” upon the historical textual monument, the 1909 Plan that may have seemed outmoded, the current city planners produced an effective reading, producing a “critically” transformed plan for Chicago’s future cultural initiatives. Since Lincoln Park is built upon landfill placed atop the lake, visitors to the area may rightfully expect heaving concrete. The monuments scattered across the park, though, are littered with anything from broken bottles to scraps of tissue paper left behind by people who use the area as public restrooms. Additionally, in more remote areas, crumbling pediments are missing pieces knocked off by vandals, and graffiti is scratched, painted or drawn upon many works. In Lincoln Park, the inscriptions from Lincoln’s famous speeches incised into the exedra on August Saint-Gaudens’ Abraham Lincoln are nearly illegible, eroded with time. George E. Wade’s 1893 Fountain Girl (left) has been recently replaced after being stolen sometime in the 1970’s (on-site plaque). A busy police officer, who kindly took the time to respond to my inquiry regarding Count Jacques de la Laing’s 1889 Robert Cavelier de la Salle (below), was unable to tell me where I could find the sculpture, located ½ block away on the busy intersection of Clark and LaSalle Streets, even though I showed him Bach and Gray’s (1983) picture of it (p. 130). Within less than 100 yards of Louis T. Rebisso’s towering 1891 Ulysses S. Grant Memorial (below), with its series of high steps used by athletes as an added exercise to their jogging regiments, stands another pedestal with no monument on it, and the marker designating what once stood on the pedestal has also been removed. When I spotted the empty pediment, I was reminded that while on my first CAF tour, I spied what appeared to be a child holding a set of crutches, perched atop a building located at 619 West Chicago Avenue. I asked the docent about the history of the piece. She replied, “the information has been lost,” a fact confirmed in Bach and Gray’s Guide (pp 109-110). During the tour, I assumed the building was quite old since the information has been lost. I was shocked to learn it was less than 100 years old. I realized how quickly and easily names and dates are lost, a problem I knew was frequent with Prehistoric art, not something I expected to encounter within modernism. The older works along Chicago’s Lakefront are as neglected. The Monument to Emmanuel Swedenborg (below), located across Diversy Harbor and looking west toward The Grant Memorial, no longer has the plaque identifying the artist or year of installation, though an inscription dated from 1931 indicates it has been installed within the last century. Further north, Cyrus Edwin Dallin’s 1890 A Signal of Peace, is broken and damaged, while John J. Boyle’s 1884 The Alarm (left), has been defaced with an anarchy symbol, which also has been placed on the Chicago Public Art Group 2011 Collaborative, Rhythm & Views. Leonard Crunelle’s 1919 Richard J. Oglesby (pictured, below) is littered with so much broken glass in the glinting, setting sun, the path appears to be a glass mosaic with the dirt serving as grout while the concrete pedestal upon which the colossal bronze monument sits is decaying, and the heads of the granite eagles are missing. The sculpture, set on a high hill, serves as a toilet for the homeless, who frequently sit on the nearby granite bench included in Hermann Hahn’s 1913 Monument to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, a particularly poignant picture since the sculpture’s inscription boldly proclaims Goethe to be “The Master Mind of the German People” (on-site inscription). Nearby, John Angel’s 1940 Alexander Hamilton (right), what once was a 78’ high installation featuring a multi-leveled slate, limestone, and polished black granite monument, is also in ruins. In spite of the$1 million trust fund provided by the same donor who gave Chicago its better-known Clarence Thomas Buckingham Fountain, all remaining of this monument is the gilt figure of America’s second President, and the heavily damaged gold leaf glints oddly as though it had been recently hit with a glitter bomb while the figure looks southward toward Chicago’s skyline in the setting sun. The monuments in Lincoln Park, as with those in Jackson Park have, indeed, fallen into ruins.

[1] Markers indicating the original shoreline may be found between North Cannon and Stockton Drives, providing an opportunity for interdisciplinary discussion of art, local history, geography, and ecology.

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