In Chicago, Marilyn statue scratches an itch

Today’s column from The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.)

In Chicago, Marilyn statue scratches an itch


July 23, 2011

In real life, Marilyn Monroe stood just 5-foot-5½.

But, these days, the Hollywood blonde is statuesque.

A week ago Friday, Forever Marilyn – a 26-foot-tall, 34,000-pound sculpture of Monroe captured in her iconic dress-flapping pose from the 1955 flick “The Seven-Year Itch” – was officially unveiled in Pioneer Court along Chicago’s Magnificent Mile.

And ever since, the sculpture, designed by New Jersey-based kitsch artist Seward Johnson, has been blowing gusts of debate throughout Chicago, proving that nearly five decades after her death, Monroe can still make headlines.

And turn heads.

Forever Marilyn has its critics – blogger Abraham Ritchie called it “Downright creepy and sexist,” – but she has her supporters, too. For example, a retired journalist friend of mine commented this week on his Facebook page: “With due respect to friends who find it offensive – I understand the reasons – it’s fun. And I’m guessing Marilyn would think so, too.

“([Ex-husbands] Arthur Miller and Joe DiMaggio, not so much.)”

As for myself, I lean toward that latter statement. And this week, Forever Marilyn stirred my thoughts about the many other statues in the Windy City.

And I thought I’d blow a few interesting facts your way …

Statues’ central park

Carving out a swath of green on Chicago’s North Side, Lincoln Park is one of the most popular parks among city residents.

And statues.

Since 1884, 20 statues have been erected throughout the 1,208-acre public space, with most going up between 1880 and 1900 and between 1910 and 1930. The majority immortalize wealthy individuals or politicians – including, the park’s namesake, Abraham Lincoln – while some depict historical events.

Among the statues in Lincoln Park, there’s also one honoring former President Ulysses S. Grant. But, ironically, in Grant Park, there’s no Grant statue there. But there is another Lincoln one.

You figure that one out.

Welcome to Andersenville

While Grant might be under-represented statue-wise in Chicago, Scandinavia makes a strong showing.

Particularly for guys named Andersen.

Curiously, among the 20 statues in Lincoln Park, there’s one of Danish fairytale writer Hans Christian Andersen, who guards a western entrance to the Lincoln Park Zoo. And, there’s another of Capt. Magnus Andersen, who sailed a Viking ship across the Atlantic in an open boat for Chicago’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, proving that Norse explorer Leif Ericson could have successfully crossed the Atlantic before Christopher Columbus.

La Salle County immortalized

There are 102 counties in Illinois, but out of all of them, La Salle County’s connections seem particularly prominent among the statues in Lincoln Park.

Of the 20, one depicts three-term Illinois governor and Civil War vet Richard J. Oglesby, who has a county town named after him. Two more, called The Alarm and The Signal of Peace, were given in memory of the Ottawa Indians, who have the county seat named after them.

And a fourth? Well, it depicts explorer Robert Cavelier de La Salle, who has the entire county named after him.

The statues that roared

Perhaps the most beloved of all the statues in Chicago are the pair of bronze lions that guard the western entrance to the Art Institute along Michigan Avenue.

Most people know that every year during Christmastime, the lions have evergreen wreaths placed around their necks. And most know that whenever a Chicago sports team plays in a championship game, the lions are decked out in that team’s uniform.

But few probably know that the lions have names. When he created them, sculptor Edward L. Kemeys, christened the south lion as “stands in an attitude of defiance,” while the north lion is “on the prowl.”

Forever Marilyn had best watch out.

Nearly 50 years after her death, Marilyn is still turning heads.