Lincoln’s statue gets little love in Union Square

Lincolnstatue1917mcnyAfter his death, president Lincoln was embraced by the public. But his image in bronze wasn’t beloved by critics.

Shortly after Henry Kirke Brown’s bronze statue of Abraham Lincoln was unveiled at the southwest end of Union Square in 1870, one critic loathed it.

“A frightful object has been placed in Union Square,” stated The New York Times in September.

“It is said to be a statue of a man who deserves to be held in lasting remembrance as a true patriot, a sincere, unselfish, noble-hearted chief in times of great trouble and perplexity—Abraham Lincoln. But it does not resemble Mr. Lincoln. The lines which give the face character are not there. . . . “


“The sculptor has tried to atone for this defect by putting plenty of hard lines in the clothes, which are enough to distract anybody who thinks that dress need not of necessity increase the hideousness of man.”

Lincoln2014nyparksThe writer poked fun at the “pantaloons” Lincoln was wearing, as well as his toga.

“It is like the hideous nightmare . . . . How much it costs to make it and put it up, we do not know, but we will gladly receive subscriptions toward the expense of taking it down and sending it off to Chicago, where ‘works of art’ of this kind are highly appreciated.”

Yikes. The public seemed to be okay with this depiction of the martyred president—in those post-Civil War years very much beloved, even by New Yorkers.

But when Union Square underwent a redesign in 1930, and the Lincoln statue moved to its current home in the north-central part of the park (above), workers didn’t treat the statue with about as much respect as the Times did.


Here it is, looking like it was toppled over during an air raid in a hardscrabble, treeless Union Square of the Depression.

[Top photos: MCNY; middle: NYC Department of Parks and Recreation; bottom: NYPL Digital Gallery]

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6 Responses to “Lincoln’s statue gets little love in Union Square”

  1. Crown Heights Kid Says:

    I was interested to see a large sign in Yiddish in the background – it is for the “Freiheit” Yiddish language newspaper. From Wikipedia: “Freiheit in its time was one of the most prominent Yiddish newspapers published in the United States which made significant political contributions that related to the formation of the International Fur and Leather Workers Union, as well as many of the needle trades unions in the United States including the Amalgamated Clothing Workers union”.
    The building still stands on Union Square East between E 15 and
    E 16 St – just north of the “Babies R Us” store. The ground floor is a Vitamin Shoppe.

  2. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Thanks for the info. I never knew Union Square was home to a Yiddish newspaper…I always assumed they would be on the Lower East Side, like The Forward.

    • Crown Heights Kid Says:

      In the early 1900s Union Square was the epicenter of the city’s left wing. It is said that political rallies took place in the square daily. Half of all the communists in America were thought to live within walking distance. Freiheit (Freedom) was a self described “Communist fighting newspaper” that remained in circulation until 1988, and published from its’ Union Square headquarters until the late 1930’s when the building was bought by Klein’s Dept Stores.

  3. MrAnchovies Says:

    Reblogged this on mranchovies and commented:
    Go See This …..

  4. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    The story of Freiheit would make a great post itself! Klein’s hung around until the early 1970s, I think. Thanks CHK.

  5. beforemybigbreak Says:

    Your blog is so great

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