30 feet of Abe

Lincoln’s legacy lives on in Troy

By John Hamilton

Photo: A monumental “Modern Man” discusses the Gettysburg Address with a 30-foot-tall Abraham Lincoln in Seward Johnson’s sculpture, overlooking downtown Troy

On April 14, 1865, Abraham Lincoln had just begun his second term as President of the United States and was watching a production of the play, “Our American Cousin” when he was struck down by John Wilkes Booth at Ford’s Theater. Lincoln would die of his wounds at 7:22 the next morning.

His body was taken across the country to Springfield, Illinois, where he was finally laid to rest. The potential of Lincoln’s second time will forever be the subject of discussion and speculation, but his legacy continues on in many different forms all over the country. Included in this celebration of Lincoln is Troy Ohio’s Sculptures in the Square exhibit.

Displayed in the Downtown District of Troy is a 30-foot statue of Abraham Lincoln, weighing in at several thousand pounds. He stands with another gentleman, simply known as “The Modern Man,” looking over the Gettysburg Address and talking about what it means. The statue is part of a long line of artwork from noted sculpture Seward Johnson, who is best known for life-size and monumental bronze statues of famous American icons.

“Some of [Johnson’s] other works include Forever Marilyn, which is Marilyn Monroe with her skirt blowing aloft in the famous film promotional shoot,” explains Paula Stoeke, curator of the Seward Johnson Atelier.

“Some of the pieces from the Icons Revisited series were made first as life-size sculptures, but the artist then decided to make them monumental-scale.” Other work of Johnson’s includes replica statues of the famous World War II picture of a sailor and nurse kissing celebrating the end of the war entitled Unconditional Surrender, and another inspired by the Grant Wood painting, American Gothic, called God Bless America.

The New Jersey native’s art has been called “kitsch” and hasn’t been the favorite when it comes to some art scholars and critics. But Stoeke believes that there is more to Johnson’s work and believes people should come and witness it.

“I want readers to understand that [Johnson] is a person with a great sense of humor,” Stoeke says when asked to describe the artist. “He is also naturally curious and philosophical. These qualities are always reflected in his artwork.”

The statue, titled Return Visit, is one in a long line of these statues to be featured in Troy.

“It has been with the community since 2003 and it was another chance to enhance, getting people involved in the community,” Katherine Hayes, executive director of Troy Main Street says, “the mission of [Sculptures in the Square] is to bring free public art to the community.”

Obviously everyone knows who Abraham Lincoln is—but who is this “Modern Man” that is next to him and why is he here?

“The person next to Lincoln is a contemporary American citizen, a ‘modern man,’ who is walking with the former president and talking with him about the principals behind the Gettysburg Address,” Stoeke explains. “In this way the sculptor wanted to show that the concepts of the address are still relevant today.”

“We’ve thought about having a naming contest for him,” Hayes says when asked who she thought the “Modern Man” was supposed to be.

This towering tribute to Lincoln and his legacy will be on display until October 31, giving plenty of opportunities for people to come and get a photo with it at one of their selfie stations. Hayes also hopes this not only brings the community together but it helps draw in others to come and explore Troy and its other upcoming events.

“This is so unique and not that many people have seen Seward Johnson’s work and so that should draw in a lot of people,” Hayes says. “Given the historical significance, this being the 150th Anniversary of Lincoln’s death, I think that will draw in a lot of people.”

“We want to invite everyone to come see the towering Lincoln sculpture in Troy,” Stoeke echoes. “It’s fun just to experience the perspective of its scale! It also gives families the opportunity to talk about Abraham Lincoln and the historic impact of his address to the nation.”

When Lincoln passed on in the early morning hours at the Petersen House, then-Secretary of War Andrew Stanton famously said, “Now he belongs to the ages.” Stanton was more than correct with this statement as Lincoln’s legacy lives on in the teachings of his philosophies, in films and literature and of course up in Troy, Ohio where a giant 30-foot statue stands for many to look upon and admire.

The sculpture depicting Abraham Lincoln alongside “The Modern Man” will remain on display in historical downtown Troy through October. For more information, please visit troymainstreet.org.

Reach DCP freelance writer John Hamilton at JohnHamilton@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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