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Robert Burns Lives!
Burns Statue in Chicago

Edited by Frank R. Shaw, FSA Scot, Dawsonville, GA, USA

Years ago, thanks to the influence of Thomas Keith, a Burnsian friend in New York City, I became interested in visiting as many locations with statues of Robert Burns as possible. This week was no exception as Susan and I boarded the Green Line train in downtown Chicago for a twenty-minute trip to Garfield Park.

It had not been easy task to uncover information about this particular statue. Internet articles seem to be repetitive and very similar with the only the barest of facts. The City of Chicago Official Tourism site states that Governor Charles S. Deneen dedicated the Burns statue, sculpted by William Grant Stevenson of Scotland, on August 25, 1906, culminating an effort that began in 1880 by the Burns Memorial and Monument Association. The Chicago statue is bronze and originally had four bronze bas relief plaques on each side. Stevenson was a well regarded sculptor in Scotland and his work was highly valued. A similar statue can be found in Milwaukee only it does not include the plaques.

Susan and I have visited Burns statues and memorials throughout the United States from California to New York, and we have traveled the width and length of Scotland visiting various ones as well. Statues of Burns are numerous in America. Authors Robert Crawford and Christopher MacLachlan reveal on the back cover of their new publication, The Best Laid Schemes, that ‘there are more statues of Robert Burns in the United States than there are of any of any American poet”. It is well known that Andrew Carnegie provided 3,460 busts of Robert Burns to the libraries he built in the United States. No wonder Burns can be referred to as “the man who became a statue”.

A common factor on the nearly two dozen statues we have visited in America and Scotland is that they are well kept and are a focus of pride by the cities which received them. Only one other of which I am aware has been as desecrated as Chicago’s Garfield Park statue which appears to be abandoned and is a monument stripped of its virtue. Sure, we had the Kilmarnock vandalism incident a few years back, but the good folks there put everything back even better with added protection. As far as I have been able to determine, nothing has been done to replace the plaques by any group of Burnsians or the city of Chicago.

It is the missing plaques in Chicago that prompt this article. Sometime back they were stolen, but I have been unable to determine when. A search of Chicago newspapers has been fruitless thus far. So my search needs to be refined and I am asking you, the readers of this article, to assist me and let me know the year the plaques were stripped from the base of the statue. This knowledge will allow me the opportunity to seek out articles in the Chicago papers. I can follow-up with another commentary about this beautiful statue of Robert Burns that now stands disgraced, defrocked of its plaques. Or if you have a newspaper article with the details, please share it with our readers.

One cannot help but ask why something hasn’t been done to replace the four bas relief plaques. If tombstones can depict scenery, so can this plinth. I will always remember how shocked, appalled, and angered I was at seeing our Bard disgraced with nothing being done to replace the stolen plaques. If it is money that keeps the statue from being repaired, I’ll make a donation as I am sure any Burnsian worth his salt would do to repair the statue base. Your comments, pro or con, will be appreciated and shared with our readers in a follow-up article. (FRS: 10.08.09)

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