It is a curious fact that Chicago’s two most prominent lakefront parks host a contradiction: there is a statue of President and General Ulysses S. Grant in Lincoln Park and a statue of President Abraham Lincoln in Grant Park.
There are some good, but not so obvious reasons for this, and one slight mystery.
Lincoln Park was created first, shortly after the assassination of President Lincoln. According to the Encyclopedia Chicago, part of what is now Lincoln Park was originally a cemetery. It would be decades before the park would come to resemble what we see today.
In the following decades workers excavated artificial ponds, mixed tons of clay and manure into the sand, and, after some failed experiments, largely stabilized the shoreline. By the end of the century many enduring features of the park were in place, including abundant greenery, fountains and statuary, winding walkways, bicycle paths, and the beginnings of the Lincoln Park Zoo (1868), Lake Shore Drive (1875), and the Lincoln Park Conservatory (1892).
A statue was made by artist Augustus Saint-Gaudens that is known as “Standing Lincoln.” Then, in 1891, a memorial statue for General Grant was placed in the city’s most prominent park at the time: Lincoln Park.
So there wasn’t even a park named for Grant in which to place a statue. Grant Park, which borders the Loop and is often called the city’s “front yard,” wasn’t formally created until 1896. Even then, there were train tracks running between the park and the lake shore. It wasn’t until much later that the tracks were put below grade.
The statue of Lincoln known as “Sitting Lincoln” (also by Saint-Gaudens) “sits” in Grant Park. It was placed there in 1926.
Buckingham fountain is the main attraction of Grant Park. Then there are the Indian warrior statues at Congress Parkway, the Bowman and Spearman. There is a statue of another Civil War general by the name of John Logan.
Here’s the main oddity: there is no statue of former President and General Ulysses S. Grant in his namesake park in Chicago.
I have no idea why that is. Nor does anyone else seem to know why.
Whatever the reasons for the placement of the statues of two of Illinois’ most famous historical figures, I had a little fun with this oddity at the expense of Chicago aldermen in my novel CHICAGO TIME. No alderman, to my knowledge, has ever yet suggested that the statues of Grant and Lincoln be switched for the sake of consistency. But I still wouldn’t put it past them.
Though a new statue of Grant in Grant Park would probably stop the questions about the contradiction that pop up from time to time.