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UW-Madison’s Lincoln statue turns 100

June 22, 2009 By Kiera Wiatrak

He’s sat, stone-faced, through snowstorms and student protests, and he’s endured as countless graduates crawled into his lap to whisper their aspirations into his ear and, maybe, kiss his cheek. One hundred years ago today (June 22), the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s Abraham Lincoln statue was unveiled atop Bascom Hill.

The Abraham Lincoln statue is a replica of Adolph A. Weinman’s original, erected in Lincoln’s native town of Hodgenville, Ky. Weinman was commissioned by UW–Madison alumnus Richard Lloyd Jones, who purchased the farm where Lincoln was born in 1905.

People from all over the country marveled at the Lincoln statue in Kentucky, so much so that several cities, states and universities sent in bids for a replica. These included Philadelphia, St. Louis, the universities of Illinois and Washington and the state of Nebraska, which offered a whopping $25,000.

Jones, however, wouldn’t hear of a replica going anywhere else but his alma mater. The idea was an easy sell to then-UW-Madison President Charles Van Hise. And after coaxing Weinman to turn down Nebraska’s $25,000 in favor of UW–Madison benefactor Thomas E. Brittingham’s $6,500 offer alongside $1,500 more from the university, and convincing the Kentucky legislature to release the rights to the statue, the Lincoln replica was unveiled in the middle of Bascom Hill between North and South Halls in 1909, 100 years after Lincoln’s birth.

Lincoln was moved to his current location after 10 years of standing “like a mushroom sticking out of the sod,” according to a 1917 On Wisconsin magazine article in 1919.

Now, 100 years later, it’s time to celebrate.

On Saturday, July 25, the 1st Brigade Band, a recreation of an actual Wisconsin band that marched with Gen. William Sherman during the Civil War, will parade through Camp Randall Park. Then, Gov. Jim Doyle will join impersonators of Abraham Lincoln, former Gov. Alexander Randall and other historical figures from the Civil War for a short program in the park.

That evening, the 1st Brigade Band will play a concert at the Memorial Union Theater.

The 1st Brigade Band will reconvene on Wednesday, Sept. 16, at the Lincoln statue. They will join UW–Madison Chancellor Biddy Martin and members of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission, who will talk about Lincoln’s connections to Wisconsin.

They’ll explain that the university wouldn’t exist as we know it if Lincoln hadn’t signed the Morrill Land Grant College Act, allowing UW–Madison to purchase a 195-acre “experimental farm” for $28,000 in 1866. They’ll also mention that Camp Randall was once a Union soldier training camp and, at one point, a prisoner of war camp for Confederate soldiers.

Lincoln will be cleaned and waxed for the occasion.

Since 1909, the Lincoln statue on Bascom Hill has not only seen university history being made; he’s been a part of it. The first two white men to die in Wisconsin are buried at his feet. Someone painted him red during the McCarthy era. In 1999, student activists gathered around a decorated Lincoln to protest sweatshops.