May Day 2011: Eagle Columns

[I often wonder how many of the parents whose children play at the foot of Eagle Columns recognize who Altgeld was and why Lindsay called him an eagle.  And how the Eagle Columns relates to the workers’ holiday that originated in Chicago.  The text and graphics below were taken from a Eagle Columns-3 Chicago Park District site Vachel Lindsay’s poem is available at the Poetry Foundation site among others, along with a biography of the poet.  Richard Hunt’s remarkable work can be found at his web site. — Lew Rosenbaum]

Eagle Columns
LOCATION: South of W. Wrightwood Avenue and west 
of N. Sheffield Avenue
INSTALLED: 1989
SCULPTOR: Richard Hunt
Prominently located at the corner of Wrightwood and Sheffield Avenues,
this contemporary sculpture features abstracted eagles that appear to
be rising from bronze pylons. Sculpted by Richard Hunt, the artwork
memorializes politician John Peter Altgeld and poet Vachel Lindsay, two
individuals who played a prominent role in Illinois history.
During the late nineteenth century, Illinois Governor John Peter Altgeld
(1847–1902) made a decision of conscience that essentially destroyed his
career. Soon after Altgeld’s inauguration, his law partner, Clarence Darrow
asked him to review the cases of the anarchists who had been blamed for
the Haymarket Riot of 1886. Altgeld became convinced that the men had
been unfairly convicted of murder, and despite public outcry, he pardoned
the three living “bombers” in 1893. Altgeld received harsh criticism even
after his death. This sentiment finally changed in 1913, when Vachel
Lindsay published “The Eagle that is Forgotten,”a poem that prompted
many citizens to recognize the previous governor as a forgotten hero. As a
result, a figurative sculpture of Altgeld was erected in Lincoln Park in 1915.
In the late 1980s, after many decades in which few sculptures were
placed in any of Chicago’s parks, a grant from the National Endowment
for the Arts and donations from local residents funded this sculpture by
internationally-recognized artist Richard Hunt. Born and educated in
Chicago, Richard Hunt (b. 1935) lives and works out of a large converted
street car barn near the park and monument. Hunt believes that sculpture
has an important role within the community. He has asserted: “Public
sculpture responds to the dynamics of a community, or of those who
have a use for sculpture. It is this aspect of use, of utility, that gives public
sculpture its vital and lively place in the public mind.”
In 2008, the Wrightwood Neighbors Association began working with the
Chicago Park District to conserve the monument which had deteriorated
and been damaged by skate boarders. Richard Hunt consulted on the
conservation project and the Eagle Columns were rededicated in June of
2010.

The Eagle That Is Forgotten

by Vachel Lindsay

(John P. Altgeld, Governor of Illinois and my next-door neighbor, 1893-1897. Born December 30, 1847; died March 12, 1902.)

Sleep softly . . . eagle forgotten . . . under the stone.
Time has its way with you there, and the clay has its own.
“We have buried him now,” thought your foes, and in secret rejoiced.
They made a brave show of their mourning, their hatred unvoiced.
They had snarled at you, barked at you, foamed at you day after day,
Now you were ended. They praised you . . . and laid you away.
The others that mourned you in silence and terror and truth,
The widow bereft of her crust, and the boy without youth,
The mocked and the scorned and the wounded, the lame and the poor,
That should have remembered forever . . . remember no more.
Where are those lovers of yours, on what name do they call,
The lost, that in armies wept over your funeral pall?
They call on the names of a hundred high-valiant ones,
A hundred white eagles have risen the sons of your sons,
The zeal in their wings is a zeal that your dreaming began
The valor that wore out your soul in the service of man.
Sleep softly . . . eagle forgotten . . . under the stone,
Time has its way with you there and the clay has its own.
Sleep on, O brave-hearted, O wise man that kindled the flame—
To live in mankind is far more than to live in a name,
To live in mankind, far, far more . . . than to live in a name.
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