Monday, June 13, 2011

The Incredible Three-Headed Lincoln

In the mid-1800s, Lockport, Illinois, was an important town on the Illinois & Michigan Canal, which was nearly 100 miles of 19th-century engineering prowess that connected Lake Michigan with the Illinois River and thus the Mississippi. Aside from a spontaneous visit to a Lockport Sonic a few years ago, we hadn't been to the town or its historic district in a long time -- since Lilly was very small, maybe the late '90s. We went again on Saturday. Since our last visit, a plaza called "Lincoln's Landing" has been created. It was dedicated on Lincoln's bicentennial birthday in 2009, in fact.

Lincoln's Landing is next to the canal and also near the handsome limestone Gaylord Building, which used to house the headquarters of the canal. Renovated in the late 20th century, the Gaylord Building now is owned by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and houses a restaurant and a museum about the canal. We took a look around the museum, which isn't that large and charges no admission (so I was happy to put a little in the donation box). Of particular interest to me was a room devoted to Lincoln and the I&M Canal. As a Whig believer in internal improvements, he was a supporter of the canal throughout his political career, though I imagine that once he became a railroad lawyer, his attachment wasn't quite as strong.

The room displayed a map of Lincoln's circuitous route back home to Springfield after his single term in Congress. If I'd read about the trip before, I must have forgotten it, but the way home in 1848 for the future president took him on a speaking tour of New England on behalf of presidential candidate Zachary Taylor and the Whig platform; then along the Erie Canal to Buffalo, where he met VP candidate Millard Fillmore; then by steamer to Detroit and afterwards to Chicago, which took him through the Straits of Mackinac; and from Chicago to Springfield. The trip can be reviewed in the September and October 1848 pages of this astonishingly detailed web site, the Lincoln Log.

So did Lincoln come to Lockport in 1848 or any other time? Make at speech at the site of the Lincoln Landing in Lockport? Do anything in Lockport? Well, maybe. He got around a lot, especially in Illinois. Search the Lincoln Log and "Lockport" comes up twice, neither mention in the context of the man visiting the town, but surely not every place he went was recorded. No matter; every town in Illinois needs a Lincoln site, so Lockport now has one.

Complete with its own odd Lincoln statue as a centerpiece. I've seen a few Lincolns in my time, but none quite like this. I took to calling it the Incredible Three-Headed Lincoln.

Three-Bodied would be more like it, since the bronze Lincoln bodies are joined. It's the creation of by a Brooklyn-based artist, David Ostro, for his first major commission. "Unlike the 200 or more existing statues in the U.S. which showcase the former president in formal propriety, the life-size bronze at Lincoln Landing offers a surprising change from the usual expectations," says the press release issued on behalf of the artist. (One quibble: former presidents are those men who have held the job in the past but who are still alive. Two Bushes, a Clinton and a Carter at the moment.)

"The artwork depicts Lincoln as a young Illinois legislator on his visit through Lockport in not one, but three interlocking poses," the release continues, without being specific about that visit. "The work is installed on a reconstitution of the old I&M Canal wall. The base of the statue captures a seated Lincoln dangling his legs off the edge of the wall, reaching a hand into the depths of what was once canal water, though now only earth remains. A second figure draws out of this seated form, pushing upwards, contemplating a discovered object closed in hand. With the third figure, Lincoln finally stands. Determined to gain his balance on the landing, he tears upwards and outwards from his former selves and pockets the mysterious object."

Pocketing a "mysterious object"? Is that really part of Lincoln lore? What did he find, one ring to rule them all?

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