What an affront! City will install Lincoln statue the ‘wrong’ way

for The Brooklyn Paper
Share on TwitterTweet
Share on Facebook

Get our stories in your inbox, free.

Like The Brooklyn Paper on Facebook.

A 140-year-old Abraham Lincoln statue will soon face backwards at its new locale in Grand Army Plaza — an affront on history that one Emancipation-obsessed activist says will make the park’s co-designer, if not the 16th president himself, roll in his grave.

The Great Rail Splitter will finally return to his original spot in Grand Army Plaza after years of exile in the Concert Grove — but he will be facing south instead of north, as he was when the statue was originally installed in 1869.

“It’s highly symbolic,” said history buff neighbor Richard Kessler. “This is not how [park designers] envisioned it.”

Indeed, Lincoln-boosting Prospect Park architect Frederick Law Olmsted specifically requested that the statue face north — although the reason behind his request may not simply have been to demonstrate Lincoln’s Civil War affiliation.

Kessler’s amply footnoted theory suggests that the towering copper statue was positioned north to face the home of Manhattan’s wealthy Astor family, which hated Lincoln’s anti-slavery agenda. The goal was to show that Honest Abe wasn’t scared to confront his powerful enemies head-on.

Even today, at the site, there is still a clear line of vision from the spot at which the statue once loomed — at the very top of the plaza, facing Manhattan — to the former location of the Astor mansion, where the Empire State Building now stands.

“It’s incredible,” Kessler said, explaining the view is no coincidence.

The statue was the first Lincoln memorial erected in the Union. But in waning days of the 19th century, city leaders snatched it up and hauled it to the lower terrace of the Concert Grove, where Lincoln remains in exile.

Officially, the city claimed Lincoln had been dwarfed by the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch in Grand Army Plaza — although Kessler believes there’s more to the story: The statue was cast into exile by 19th-century officials who didn’t like what Lincoln stood for: Defeating the Confederacy, freeing the slaves and restoring the Union.

The timeline adds up: Rutherford B. Hayes became president in 1877, largely on his promise to remove Union troops from the South, ending Reconstruction and prompting reform nationwide.

A few years later, Brooklyn Park’s commissioners, whose terms and loyalties dated back to Lincoln’s days, were replaced — and by 1896, Honest Abe’s statue was moved.

That’s part of the reason that the city secured $340,000 last year to move the dead president back into the spotlight at Grand Army Plaza, noting it’s “more historically accurate.” The only glitch in the plan: This time, Lincoln would be placed on the north end of the plaza, facing the hated south.

Kessler has fought the deployment, but even he admits, “I know no one else who is concerned.”

Indeed, Robert Minsky of Grand Army Plaza Coalition, scoffed at the notion that the Lincoln’s position matters, saying his presence alone will make the plaza more charming. “I don’t think anybody cares what way he faces,” he said. “The Civil war is over.”

The city echoed that idea, saying it could not install the statue facing north, at least without moving the bronze bust of John F. Kennedy, which now occupies Lincoln’s old home at the top of the plaza.

“The new location places the Lincoln statue in an area that is prominent and appropriate in scale,” said Paul Nelson, spokesman for Prospect Park Alliance. “The statue will face south so that it will be in full sun.”

Of course, what long-dead Olmsted thinks about the whole thing is mystery — although the statue sculptor himself, H.K. Brown, would likely consider it an upgrade: Researchers discovered a letter Brown penned to Olmsted, requesting that the sculpture face better light in the plaza. Brown’s statue-direction of choice: west.

Today’s news:
Share on TwitterTweet
Share on Facebook

Get our stories in your inbox, free.

Like The Brooklyn Paper on Facebook.

Reader Feedback

Joey from Clinton Hills says:
secret gay agenda from the revisionist "Abe Lincoln was gay" crowd.
Oct. 14, 2011, 10:45 am
S from PPW says:
Damn bike lane!
Oct. 14, 2011, 2:28 pm
gimme from around says:
da ol' lincoln money shot
Oct. 14, 2011, 4:38 pm
Richard Kessler from Park Slope says:
We all agree that the work of Olmsted and Vaux has enriched our lives, and their plan for Prospect Park might be their best effort. Grand Army Plaza was the first piece of the Park opened to the public. If the fact that Olmsted and Vaux wanted the Statue to face North isn't enough for today's administrators, they should think again. The JFK bust is fine where it is. One reason the administrators give for facing Lincoln south is that they find meaning in the two slain Presidents facing each other. It also means they will face in opposite directions. They should face in the same direction.

The Lincoln statue should stand between Defenders Arch and Bailey Fountain, facing north along the Plaza’s axis, overlooking the large public gathering area
surrounding the fountain basin. The backdrop of the Lincoln statue silhouetted against the Arch, beautiful and historically correct, would provide a perfect venue
for school field trips, political speakers, touring historians and local after-dinner strollers.
Oct. 14, 2011, 10:15 pm
Hank Vaux from GAP says:
Bring back the Electrical Fountain!
Oct. 15, 2011, 8:38 am
John from Westminster Road says:
How about making the Park Circle entrance more pedestrian friendly by removing the traffic circle and placing a comtemporary sculpture there?
Oct. 16, 2011, 2:44 am
Larry Olmstead from Windsor Trce says:
Let's ban all the cars in Brooklyn, just like in 1869 when the statue was installed. That was a time when people knew what to do. Also, there were no bicycle lanes then, so there was no danger to worry about.
Oct. 18, 2011, 7:57 pm

Enter your comment below

By submitting this comment, you agree to the following terms:

You agree that you, and not or its affiliates, are fully responsible for the content that you post. You agree not to post any abusive, obscene, vulgar, slanderous, hateful, threatening or sexually-oriented material or any material that may violate applicable law; doing so may lead to the removal of your post and to your being permanently banned from posting to the site. You grant to the royalty-free, irrevocable, perpetual and fully sublicensable license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, perform and display such content in whole or in part world-wide and to incorporate it in other works in any form, media or technology now known or later developed.

First name
Last name
Your neighborhood
Email address
Daytime phone

Your letter must be signed and include all of the information requested above. (Only your name and neighborhood are published with the letter.) Letters should be as brief as possible; while they may discuss any topic of interest to our readers, priority will be given to letters that relate to stories covered by The Brooklyn Paper.

Letters will be edited at the sole discretion of the editor, may be published in whole or part in any media, and upon publication become the property of The Brooklyn Paper. The earlier in the week you send your letter, the better.