Abe Lincoln sits almost as a sideshow to the park’s largest memorial, Benjamin Harrison, in the southeast corner of Indianapolis’s War Memorial Plaza. Harrison, stout and stately, stands atop a pedestal that says “Great lives do not go out–they go on.” Another inscription touts him first and foremost as “A citizen faithful to every obligation” and points out that he served as “A volunteer soldier in the War for the Union.” (see below)
Every president should get his own statue, I suppose, including the genial-but-unremarkable ones (or, as I like to call them, the “mediocre bearded presidents from the midwest”). Harrison’s grandfather, William Henry, the hero of the Indiana battle of Tippecanoe and later the shortest-serving president of the U.S., also has a statue just a few blocks down the street at Indy’s war memorial.
The irony, of course, is that the truly great life memorialized in the park sits a couple hundred yards to Harrison’s left: an eight-foot-tall statue of Lincoln sculpted by Henry Hering of New York. The pose is reminiscent of the Lincoln Memorial but without the size and grandeur and nobility. This Lincoln is much more casual, lifting his hand in a casual gesture as if to offer a friendly “Hey” to folks who walk by.
Originally commissioned in 1901 from a $10,000 bequest by lumberman Henry C. Long, the statue went unconstructed because Indy City Fathers couldn’t agree on a location. For thirty-one years, the money accrued interest, totaling more than $25,000 before someone in city government “remembered” the lost Lincoln account and revived the project.
Because Illinois hails itself as “The Land of Lincoln,” most people forget Abe spent the fourteen most formative years of his life in Indiana. That boyhood is symbolized by a statue of the young Abe that stands near the statehouse (which I, unfortunately, missed in my travels on Saturday). The adult Lincoln depicted in the bronze statue never lived in Indiana—but he seems glad to have visitors there just the same.