Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk Memorial, 1941
(cast 1949; dedicated 1955)
Midway Plaisance, east of Blackstone Avenue
Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk (1850-1937) was founder and first president of Czechoslovakia, serving in that position from 1918 to 1935. Educated in Vienna and Leipzig, Masaryk served as a Visiting Professor in Slavic Studies at the University of Chicago in 1902. During the First World War, he worked to encourage Allied support for the founding of a Czech state following the war and he was recognized as the head of the new state of Czechoslovakia in November 1918 following the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian empire.
In the years immediately following Masaryk’s death, a group of Americans of Czechoslovakian descent approached sculptor Albin Polášek, a native of Czechoslovakia and head of the sculpture department at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago, to submit a proposal for a monument honoring Masaryk. In an attempt to please as many of the patrons as possible, Polášek offered a proposal for an equestrian portrait of Masaryk, although the artist would have preferred a symbolic representation. Fortunately for Polášek, a Chicago park district committee ruled against allowing any more “portrait statues” to be installed in city parks. Subsequently, Polášek crafted a memorial that features an 18-foot bronze equestrian statue of a “Blanik knight,” referring to the legend of Saint Wencelaus, leader of a band of knights who slept under the Blanik mountain in Bohemia waiting for the opportunity to deliver their people from oppression. Placed atop a 20-foot granite plinth and 64 x 84 foot base, the bearded, barrel-chested figure strikes a commanding pose on the east end of the Midway Plaisance.