Sculpting History: Who Decides What Historical Markers Go Up In Chicago?

As statues are removed in cities across the United States, we revisit a story about what it takes to get one put up in the first place.

Christopher Columbus statue in Grant Park before and after removal
Only the base of the statue of Christopher Columbus now stands in Grant Park after Mayor Lori Lightfoot ordered its removal July 24. Julie Corsi, Carrie Shepherd / Flickr, WBEZ
Christopher Columbus statue in Grant Park before and after removal
Only the base of the statue of Christopher Columbus now stands in Grant Park after Mayor Lori Lightfoot ordered its removal July 24. Julie Corsi, Carrie Shepherd / Flickr, WBEZ

Sculpting History: Who Decides What Historical Markers Go Up In Chicago?

As statues are removed in cities across the United States, we revisit a story about what it takes to get one put up in the first place.

In the last week, three statues of Christopher Columbus were removed in Chicago—one from Grant Park, another from Arrigo Park in Little Italy, and the third from the South Chicago neighborhood.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot ordered the “temporary” removal of the statues after protesters and police clashed at the Grant Park site, where protesters demanded the statue be removed and even tried to topple it themselves.

Chicagoans remain divided about what should happen now that the statues have come down, and Chicago isn’t the only city that’s been engaged in a debate about historic monuments. In cities across the country, many people have called for the removal of confederate monuments, while others say removing these statues is like erasing history.

But how does someone get a monument in the first place? What goes into that process?

Those are questions we revisit in this week’s podcast episode, which originally aired in 2018. Reporter Jake Smith discovered what it takes to successfully create and install a public memorial—and the long, expensive and bureaucratic process that’s behind it.

Jake Smith writes and reports in Chicago. You can follow him @JakeJeromeSmith. Lynnea Domienik is the intern for Curious City. You can get in touch with her at ldomienik@wbez.org.