2009-02-12 / Front Page

Lincoln statue brought out for 200th birthday

By Patti Cassidy

A bust of Abraham Lincoln has been moved from storage to the Town Council chambers. A bust of Abraham Lincoln has been moved from storage to the Town Council chambers. If you look up as you walk along Narragansett Avenue right near North Main Road, you'll see Abraham Lincoln gazing out at you from the attic window on the second floor of the Jamestown Historical Society.

It can be an eerie feeling, especially when the sun lights the window up in the late afternoon and the white bust really looks like a ghost. Old Abe's been on this perch for years. Before that, when he sat at the head of the old building's narrow stairs, he gave some volunteers quite a shock. The statue was donated to the historical society years ago.

Jamestown has two identical Lincoln statues. As of this week, Lincoln's 200th birthday anniversary, the second statue has been taken out of storage and placed on a small table in the Town Hall's council chambers where Abe can watch as town business is conducted. One can only conjecture as to what he'd say about 21st century ways of island government with its computers, telephones and casual attire. Hopefully, he'd be proud of the way our town carries on the real core of democracy that he defended so fiercely.

Lincoln only visited the Rhode Island three times in his life (including once to deliver a two-anda half hour speech at Railroad Hall in Providence and 10 days later to repeat his performance in Woonsocket). Lincoln easily carried the Rhode Island vote both times he was elected President of the United States.

The first time Lincoln defeated Stephen Douglas by almost 5,000 votes in Rhode Island. In 1864, he trounced General McClellan 14,343 to 8,718 in the Ocean State. When he declared war on the Confederacy and called for troops to defend the Union, Rhode Island was the most dedicated state in the north to respond. It provided the highest percentage of soldiers per capita to fight. And Jamestown, of course, was a training site for the military at Fort Dumplings, Fort Getty, Fort Greble and Fort Wetherill.

By 1892, the town had renamed Ferry Meadow as Lincoln Street and declared it a public thoroughfare.

For years, the second Lincoln statue was in storage with other American heroes in Town Hall. President George Washington, President Theodore Roosevelt, and aviator Charles Lindberg sat patiently waiting for the glory they'd known in Clarke School 50 years ago.

Linda Warner remembers seeing the busts there when she was a student. They shared pride of place with cases of natural history specimens in the hall, which she found fascinating.

The busts were actually part of a tradition. They were originally given to the Thomas H. Clarke School by its eighth grade graduating classes as gifts to remember them by and to inspire succeeding classes. When the school was closed in 1955, the busts were rescued by the Jamestown Historical Society, according to the late town historian, Mary Miner.

All of the busts were purchased from a catalogue put out by the Caproni and Brother Company in Boston, and the tiny brass plaques on the back of the busts are stamped with their logo. Well known all over the country, Caproni specialized in quality plaster replicas of famous statues "for the decoration of schools, libraries, and homes." They were not only used to beautify buildings but to teach the public about art as well. According to one source, the salesmen who came around to take orders were "pretty persuasive." But everyone was pleased in the end.

Jamestown's Abe Lincoln statue was created for Caproni by Max Bachman, a German immigrant who also did large-scale architectural sculptures for the old World Building in New York City. He also specialized in sculptures of Native Americans.

Now, Abe Lincoln sits and watches the Jamestown's government at its best. And, Abe still gazes out at Narragansett Avenue from the second floor of the Jamestown Museum across the street. Meanwhile, Washington, Roosevelt and Lindberg remain quietly in the new Town Hall's basement, waiting their turn in the sun.

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