“A Bit of Beautiful Athens in Commonplace Chicago” – Chicago Tribune, 1918
The Logan Square neighborhood encompasses 3.23 square miles and takes its name from the dramatic public space where the great Chicago Boulevard system ends its northward track and turns to the east. That space — originally 400 feet by 400 feet — is named for Gen. John Alexander Logan, an American soldier and political leader. Although not technically located at its center, it is the heart of the neighborhood.
Gen. John A. Logan Statue by Augustus St. Gaudens, Grant Park, Chicago
There is no statue of the general there. One was suggested in 1895, but the $40,000 initiative went nowhere; instead, a statue of Gen. Logan was dedicated in 1897 in Grant Park. Logan Square sat empty for another 20 years until being chosen in 1914 as the site to commemorate the centennial of Illinois statehood in 1918.
The architect of the Lincoln Memorial (1914-1922) in Washington D.C., Henry Bacon was retained to create a fitting monument celebrating the event in 1915. He envisioned a fluted Doric column with the same proportions and scale as those used in the colonnade of the Parthenon, which sits atop the Acropolis in Athens, Greece. The column is of the same design as Bacon used for the Lincoln Memorial. There, one represents each of the 36 states in the Union at the time of Lincoln's death.
Image: Monument as proposed by Henry Bacon, 1916 (West Chicago Park Commission)
To support the weight and stabilize a 75-foot-high monument, engineers designed a 38-foot-deep, steel-reinforced concrete foundation that reached the hard pan. Work began in August 1916.
At ground level is a 40-foot-square stepped platform surrounded by the original bronze lampposts and marble benches. Resting on it is a 12-foot diameter, nearly 10-foot-high pedestal of interlocking marble pieces. The bas-relief on the pedestal was designed and executed by sculptor Evelyn B. Longman, a graduate of the Art Institute of Chicago. The figures are allegorical and depict the many contributions of the state of Illinois to the Union over its first 100 years.
Image: Evelyn Longman and an assistant carving the base in 1917.
Longman’s forms, which she described in great detail, start on the south side of the monument with an enthroned female figure representing Illinois. Continuing to her right are idealized figures representing agriculture, manufacturing, transportation, education, and lastly, fine arts — “the culmination of civilization.” On her left side are an American Indian family, Franciscan missionary Father Père Marquette, explorer Robert de La Salle (officially, René-Robert Cavelier, sieur de La Salle), and Indian-fighter Gen. George Rogers Clark. The north side contains a commemorative plaque.
Image: Cross-section of Centennial Monument column and base
Above this circle is a 42-foot, 6-inch fluted shaft, 6 feet, 4 inches in diameter at the base and tapering to 5 feet in diameter at the top. It is composed of 13 solid segments, or drums, of Tennessee pink marble varying in height from 4 feet at the base to 3 feet, 1 inch at the top.
Atop the column is a Doric capital. On it sits a 10-foot-tall, 8-ton American eagle, also carved of marble, but originally to be bronze. The eagle serves as the symbol of both the United States of America and the state of Illinois. With an eagle sitting atop a Greek column, Longman represented the link between the early democracy of ancient Greece and our country’s democratic principles.
B.F. Ferguson Monument Fund
Funding for the work came from the B.F. Ferguson Monument Fund, which was (and still is) administered through the board of commissioners of the Art Institute of Chicago. The West Chicago Park Commissioners, who owned Logan Square at the time, formally granted permission for the erection of the monument and provided the necessary grading and landscaping. The fund continues to maintain the monument today.
Chicago received a gift that caused much joy within its municipal art society when Benjamin Franklin Ferguson died on April 10, 1905 and bequeathed a charitable trust of $1 million ($28.5 million today) toward the purchase and maintenance of public statuary, monuments, and artworks. The fund stipulated the types of art that could be considered and that works appear in public spaces.
Ferguson had become wealthy with the profits from a career as a lumber baron. His charitable trust spelled out terms whereby the Art Institute was empowered to defray the cost of the “... erection and maintenance of enduring statuary and monuments, of stone, granite, or bronze, in the parks and on the boulevards or in other public places, commemorating worthy men and women of America or important events in America history.”
After retiring from active business, Ferguson passed his time traveling abroad. By 1899, he was widowed, and according to the Chicago Daily News, “… the dearth of statuary in Chicago was brought to his attention by the immense numbers of such public works of art he saw in European cities and cause[d] him to make Chicago his heir.” He had no close relatives, and the few distant ones didn’t contest the will.
Ferguson left the gift to his city and its people, not a personal memorial to himself or his family. Over the next century, 17 of Chicago’s most notable public monuments and sculptures have been funded using Ferguson’s trust, including Lorado Taft’s Fountain of Time and Fountain of the Great Lakes, Henry Moore’s Nuclear Energy at Chicago Pile-1 (the world’s first nuclear reactor) and Man Enters the Cosmos, and the 1976 Isamu Noguchi fountain at the Art Institute. Although there was talk of erecting a memorial specifically in Ferguson’s honor, it so far has not occurred.