Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Stephen A. Douglas Tomb and Memorial


Stephen A. Douglas Tomb and Memorial, 1881
Leonard Wells Volk
Douglas Tomb State Memorial Park
636 East 35th Street

            Stephen A. Douglas (1813-1861) was born in Vermont but moved to southern Illinois in 1833 and soon became a leader of the Democratic Party. He was small in stature, only 5 feet 5 inches tall, but his large head and imposing shoulders contributed to his nickname “the Little Giant,” in addition to his staunch defense of Andrew Jackson while serving as a U.S. Representative. Douglas may be best known, on a national level, for a series of debates with Abraham Lincoln that were dominated by the issue of slavery held during Douglas’ bid for re-election to the U.S. Senate in 1858 and again in 1861 when the Democrats were soundly defeated in the presidential election. When the secession of southern states occurred, Douglas, at Lincoln’s request, toured the border states seeking support for the Union. His health had been failing and he died in Chicago, shortly after completing the trip, on June 3, 1861.
            Plans for his memorial were in the works shortly after his death but the designs were lost in the Chicago Fire of 1871 and there were problems raising sufficient funds. Douglas’ remains are contained in a Vermont marble sarcophagus topped with a bust. Four plinths at each corner of the mausoleum hold idealized allegorical female forms representing “Illinois,” “History,” “Justice” and “Eloquence.” Additionally, there are four bronze panels on the base depicting the “advancement of European civilization in America,” which is fitting due to Douglas’ strong support of western expansion.
            Atop the mausoleum is a 46-foot-tall granite column that holds a 9-foot 9-inch bronze portrait of Douglas, rendered in a realistic manner with his waistcoat pulling at its buttons and his hair somewhat disheveled. This style of monument was a logical choice for Leonard W. Volk (1828-1895), who trained as a stonemason in St. Louis and then studied in Rome, where he came into contact with ancient monuments such as Trajan’s Column. Volk was related to Douglas by marriage (his wife was Douglas’ cousin) and the politician sponsored Volk’s education in Rome and the opening of his studio in Chicago in 1857. The artist’s most lasting impact, however, came from the plaster casts he made of Abraham Lincoln’s face and hands in 1860, which were used by nearly every sculptor who has made his portrait. The original casts are housed in the Smithsonian Institution.

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