The Gilded Lady of Jackson Park

February 16, 2010


(photo by Lee Bey)

I was driving through Jackson Park a few days ago and spotted--as I have for years--the 30 foot tall goddess of gold watching over the park as she has done since 1918.

Even though she's had a little work done here and there, the old gal looks pretty good for a 92-year-old.‚  I decided to hop out with the camera and get a closer look at The Republic, designed by Daniel Chester French, best known for his sculpture of Abraham Lincoln seated at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC.

The Republic is a replica of French's original plaster colossus that stood in the Court of Honor at Chicago's 1893 World's Columbian Exposition held in Jackson Park.‚  The figure wears a laurel around her head and holds a staff in her left hand that reads "Liberty" and a globe and an eagle--the fair's symbol--in her right. But here's what I didn't know about the statue until I stayed up too late last night doing research (and can you believe it leads to Andy Warhol? More later):


(photo by Lee Bey)

*The original fair statue was 64ft tall, not including the 30 ft base, and at the time was the tallest statue built in America (owing to the fact that much taller Statue of Liberty--a gift of the French--was built in France. But still:‚  It was the second-tallest statue in America.

*The Republic was also called America at the time of the Fair. It was referred to as Columbia during the statue's planning stages.‚  They should have kept "Columbia."


(photo by Lee Bey)

*Daniel Chester French considered rendering the original with bronze garb and a face and arms of ivory.‚  Instead, it was plaster-coated wood like most of the fair buildings.‚  But a version of The Republic that he did for Forest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale CA following the fair comes pretty close to what French imagined for Chicago--only it's in marble and bronze: Check it out here.

*The original plaster World's Fair statue turned dilapidated and was torched at daybreak in August, 1896 on orders of South Park District commissioners as part of a park clearance program. The Chicago Tribune at the time said witnesses saw black smoke coming from The Republic and then "a red cloud" where the head of the statue had been.

*French also designed the The Republic replica. It was built to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Columbian Exposition. The statue sits where the fair's administration building once stood.


(photo by Lee Bey)

Oh yes. About Warhol:

Edith Minturn Stokes, the wife of architect Isaac Newton Phelps Stokes was French's model for The Republic. This 1897 painting of her with her husband does show a resemblance. A niece of Edith's--born after her death--was Edie Sedgwick, 1960s actress/socialite/fashionista and member of the Andy Warhol retinue.‚  She was born Edith Minturn Sedgwick.