Nathan Hale, 1899 (dedicated 1940)
Bela Lyon Pratt
Plaza, Chicago Tribune Building
435 North Michigan Avenue
Bela Lyon Pratt (1867-1917) first came to prominence for his colossal group of sculptures entitled “Genius of Navigation” at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. A native of Connecticut, he studied art at Yale University and at the École des Beaux Arts in Paris. Many of his best-known works are in Boston, the city were he spent most of his life.
The first bronze casting of this portrait of Nathan Hale (1755-1776) was commissioned by Yale University, where Hale was educated. The New Haven lawyer George Dudley Seymour was instrumental in securing the commission and influenced Pratt’s design process during the 1890s. Seymour believed that the statue should depict the Revolutionary spy as “young, fresh, unspoiled, country bred,” and that it should “have the sincerity and nobility of a work of Greek sculpture,” if it were to reach the hearts of viewers. Although Seymour also believed that the value of “correct dress” was overestimated in statuary, Pratt resisted any urge to imitate the Greeks in terms of nudity. Hale is shown handcuffed and in contemporary dress as he awaits his execution by the British.
The individual responsible for commissioning a bronze replica of the Hale statue for Chicago was Colonel Robert R. McCormick, publisher of the Chicago Tribune. McCormick had ushered in the Reserve Officers’ Training programs into Chicago high schools and he believed that Hale was an appropriate model of patriotism for students to emulate. Situated in a plaza just north of the entrance to the Tribune building, the statue was placed upon a pedestal designed by Leo Weissenborn and dedicated to the Reserve Officers of America on June 4, 1940.