By Patrick F. Cannon
The Chicago area is blessed with many monuments. Some are vast, like the Buckingham Fountain, donated by Kate Buckingham in honor of her brother Clarence. Few people who see its glories have a clue who Clarence was, but they’re glad it’s there.
Many of the monuments include a statue. In my recent wanderings, I’ve come upon statues of Shakespeare, Schiller, King Wenceslaus, Grant, Lincoln and two Native Americans who seem to stand guard at the Congress Parkway entrance to Grant Park. I kind of feel sorry for them. They’re called the Bowman and Spearman, but the sculptor has forgotten to give them the actual weapons. Legend has it that they once had their weapons, but vandals swiped them. Not true. Maybe the sponsors just ran short of dough and the sculptor wasn’t willing to toss them in gratis.
Unless you don’t watch or read the news anymore – and who could blame you? – you’ll know that statues of Confederate generals are being toppled throughout old Dixie. Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson have come in for particular attention. Jackson was a brilliant general and something of a religious fanatic. He apparently treated his slaves decently, making sure they learned how to read and write, primarily one supposes so they could read the good book. Also, Lee was probably the greatest commander on either side in the Civil War and widely considered a decent man. When the war ended, he urged his fellow Southerners to accept their defeat and pledge their loyalty to the Union.
Nevertheless, strictly speaking, they were traitors, whose statues ought not to be on public ground. They’re there in the first place because the Federal Government and its courts enabled the states of the old South to turn back the clock and create a new version of slavery called Jim Crow. If the “lost cause” white supremacists and their pals in the Ku Klux Klan want to venerate Lee and Jackson, let them erect statues in their back yards next to the Weber.
In Chicago, we have our own monument madness. First, there’s the ongoing kerfuffle about Balbo Drive and the classical Roman column donated to Chicago by Benito Mussolini to commemorate General Italo Balbo’s seaplane journey from Italy to Chicago. You can look up the bios of these two gents; suffice to say they were notable Fascists and ended up being our enemies during World War II. Nevertheless, some members of the Italian-American community consider it a personal insult that anyone would want to make any changes.
As it happens, our Italian-American friends are also under siege about Columbus Day. Many of our progressive souls, including my friends in Oak Park, have replaced Columbus Day with something called Indigenous Peoples’ Day. It seems Christopher was responsible for every bad thing that subsequently happened to the peoples who were already living in the Americas. Alas, he was a man of his times. There is no reason to believe that the results would have been any different had the first man to demonstrably set foot in the New World been a Dutchman, an Englishman, a Spaniard or a Portugeezer (how would you spell it?).
We can’t, unfortunately, expect historical figures to think and act as we would like. We venerate Abraham Lincoln for freeing the slaves, and believing that African-Americans were entitled to the same rights as all citizens. He never thought, however, that they were equal in other ways. In our enlightened times, he might well be considered a racist. Should we then topple all his statues, and rename Lincoln Park?
In an effort to be helpful to my Italian friends, I do have a suggestion about the Balbo problem. By all means, keep the Roman column; after all, it’s the real thing. Just take up a collection for a new base that could read: “This ancient Roman column commemorates the great achievements of the ancestors of the eminent Italian-Americans who have contributed so much to the greatness of their adopted City of Chicago.”
Oh, and rename Balbo Drive. How about Vito Marzullo Drive?
Copyright 2017, Patrick F. Cannon