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Robert Burns Lives!
Follow-up Story of Chicago’s Defaced Robert Burns Statue


Edited by Frank R. Shaw, FSA Scot, Dawsonville, GA, USA
Email: jurascot@earthlink.net

In last week’s article, I wrote about the Robert Burns statue in Chicago’s Garfield Park and of my reaction to the missing bronze plaques. Our editor, Alastair McIntyre, asked for any input you might have regarding the statue, and my thanks for the responses - I appreciate hearing from you.

John Hollingsworth of Clan Thom(p)son Society was kind enough to send me an article from The New York Times dated November 20, 1892, along with two photographs. His commentary dealt with the ten-foot bronze statue to be unveiled during the 1893 World’s Fair and is described below.

The design represents the poet standing, bareheaded, and musing over some fancy which has apparently just come to him while at work. The pose of the figure is easy and graceful, and all the details are carefully worked out. The head is modeled after that in Nasmyth’s portrait, the only one for which the poet sat so far as is known. The statue represents no new features, and aims to be merely a reproduction in bronze of Nasmyth’s picture, with the addition of a few technical details.

The statue is to stand on a pedestal of Scotch and America granite, 12 feet in height, and in its main division four bronze panels will be inserted showing scenes from the life or works of the poet, the exact themes not having yet been selected.

Mr. Stevenson, the sculptor of the Chicago statue, has won much praise in Scottish artistic circles for the figure of Burns he contributed many years  ago to the memorial structure at Kilmarnock, Scotland.

Over the weekend I heard from my Scottish friend and fellow Burnsian, Clark McGinn who resides in London and is the immediate past-president of the London Burns Club. Clark asked if I had spoken with Gus Noble, president of the Illinois Saint Andrew Society, and went on to mention that “last year we (he and Noble) were talking on this very subject and I think that, but for the financial crises, they would have replaced the panels. I am sure Gus has more background.” I replied to Clark that I had already emailed Gus Noble and was waiting for his reply.

The email from Gus came this past Monday and confirmed, “Yes, a sad story which goes back to the War – when the plaques were stolen.” Gus went on to say, “I’m in discussions with the School of Art Institute of Chicago about whether it might be possible to go to Milwaukee, take a cast of their plaques, and manufacture new ones for our statue…or perhaps even a new design.”

As a side note, the Illinois Saint Andrew Society sponsors The Scottish Home in North Riverside, Illinois, an intermediate care facility for the elderly. This commitment shows the charitable nature of our fellow Scots in Illinois, and we should all be as generous in our benevolent work. While we may not be able to fund a nursing facility for our elderly, we do need to join them in working to replace the missing plaques on the historic statue of Burns that is now over a hundred years old. Whoever stole the plaques during the War probably sold them as scrap metal. Back in the 1970s, before the modern soap dispensers were introduced, there was a brief soap shortage in the Atlanta area. At our elderly facility, bars of Ivory soap were put out on an “as needed” basis but they quickly began to disappear. I came up with the idea of putting a sign by each soap holder that read, “He who steals my soap will always have dirty hands!” Yes, the bars of Ivory soon stopped disappearing. As to the person(s) who stole the plaques from the Burns statue, no matter how many times they have washed their hands since, if they are still alive, they still have dirty hands.

I let Gus know that some of us would be willing to make a donation to the cost of the plaques at the appropriate time and that I would be willing to ask you, our readers, to do the same. Scots are great when it is time to come forward to help with a needy project, and this is certainly one that qualifies. It is ironic that the other vandalized statue mentioned in last week’s article (the memorial and statue in Kilmarnock) was also the work of the same sculptor, William Grant Stevenson. The good folks in Scotland put that one back together even better than it was and we can do the same! Now, let’s see how long before we can restore the lost luster to this handsome statue in Chicago. I’m asking Gus to let us know when donations might be made for the missing plaques.

I recently won on eBay the attached postcard which shows an old image of the Garfield Park statue.  The postcard is dated October, 1910 and mailed from Chicago to Mrs. F. R. Denton, in Denton, Nebraska. The plaques, still in place, are as beautiful as ever. I do not know what the lettering at the bottom of the plinth is, graffiti maybe, but I do not recall seeing it last week in Chicago. Interestingly, the only message on the postcard was this phrase, and ironically the date on the bottom of the plinth is October 16, 1910, the same month and year this card was postmarked. (FRS: 10.15.09)


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