Abraham Lincoln monument installation
9/8/2016, 3 p.m.
Sunday, September 11 is a day that will go down in history, not only because of the 15th anniversary of the tragedy at the World Trade Center in New York, but also because of the long-overdue installation to be made at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood in Will County by the The Department of Illinois Buffalo Soldiers of District 11 American Legion and the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery Support Committee.. They will install a life-sized statue of Abraham Lincoln at the entrance to the cemetery in a solemn ceremony. The event marks both a needed completion to the overall look of the cemetery, but a long overdue recognition of the Buffalo Soldiers.
Five years in the making, the project involved a massive fund-raising effort to raise $110,000 to complete the statue and the installation. Abraham Lincoln is one of four veteran’s cemeteries in Illinois and 131 nationwide. His image throughout the state and, indeed, across the nation, is ubiquitous, but this will be one of the few times that his likeness will be installed at a time that is not associated with his birthday, or an anniversary celebration of an event centered around his life and career.
Joliet artist Kathleen Farrell was commissioned to create the bronze sculpture for the national cemetery. Farrell said her image of Lincoln is more realistic than many of those proffered. "There are some very interesting ones strewn out there," she opined.
A 6 foot 4 high school basketball player from Kankakee was the model for the Lincoln sculpture. Farrell also used a mold of Lincoln's face that was cat when he was alive, in order to create a realistic image.
"I wanted something powerful and dynamic that expressed the emotion of the man and not just a lifeless piece of metal," she said.
Few people know that Lincoln started the national cemetery system in 1862 as the casualties from the Civil War mounted. Prior to that, soldiers were often buried at the site where they perished or at a military post with nothing more than a shabby wooden headboard with a handwritten inscription in paint or chalk. Today, veterans and their family members are buried at a national cemetery for free.
"In addition, Lincoln's political career began in Illinois before he became the national's 16th president. So it’s fitting that he be honored at a cemetery in Illinois," Farrell said.
The presence of the Buffalo Soldiers is also an integral part of the ceremony, with special significance locally.
"At one point, the Buffalo Soldiers were very strong, especially in the 1950s and 60s," said post adjutant and District 11 Sergeant at Arms James Shaw. "These days, we are mostly seen as the Color Guard for the annual Black Pride Parade and we also served as Color Guard for the traveling Viet Nam Memorial.
Various local and state public officials will be in attendance at the statue dedication, according to District Commander Tony Arellano. "This is a project that has been three years in the making, from the inception of the idea, to the fundraising and the commissioning of a local artist to create the statue. This was truly a grass roots effort in every way."
The Abraham Lincoln statue project is the focal point of a much larger project, involving a $22 million dollar expansion and renovation of the cemetery. The Lincoln statue will be erected in the cemetery's Memorial Walkway.