Daily Herald: 'Laughing Lincoln' sculpture coming to Naperville's Central Park
April 30, 2018 — Source: Daily Herald — Author: Marie Wilson
Picture Abe Lincoln.
Now ditch the top hat and beard and imagine him younger, not so stern.
That's the image of the nation's 16th president to be portrayed in a new piece of art being created for downtown Naperville, a sculpture called "Laughing Lincoln."
"We don't want just another Lincoln sculpture," said Brand Bobosky, longtime chairman of the nonprofit public art group Century Walk Corp. "We want a sculpture that people are going to see him in a different light."
The reason Century Walk wants a Lincoln sculpture at all has to do with the historical and political moves that led to the creation of Central Park as DuPage County's original public square. It has to do with two 1830s-era state legislators who helped establish the space as the county seat and with a 1980s-era Naperville City Council member who remained ever-focused on protecting the land.
The players here are Honest Abe, Naperville town founder Joseph Naper and the late Naperville businessman and council member Don Wehrli.
According to Bryan Ogg, former curator of research for the Naper Settlement, Lincoln may have helped establish Central Park when he was a state legislator in 1839. Naper, then a state legislator as well, was pushing to create a new county called DuPage out of nine townships in Cook, and Lincoln voted against his party to help make that happen.
When the county was created, leaders chose Naperville as its seat and built a courthouse in what now is Central Park.
The vote occurred when Lincoln was 30 and a lawyer of modest means, used to working with his hands and his mind, said Mary Lou Wehrli, one of Don Wehrli's children, who is helping plan for the "Laughing Lincoln" sculpture.
Wehrli said her father knew the history of the park and worked all his life to keep it open for community use.
"He'd like a statue of Lincoln where people can touch his nose and have that tangible connection to the man, to Abraham Lincoln, to the history of Central Park and the future of Central Park," she said shortly after her father's death in 2015.
Younger than the depictions of the 16th president at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, Lincoln Hall at the University of Illinois or the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, among many others, "Laughing Lincoln" could inspire generations, Wehrli said.
At 30, Lincoln didn't know he'd be president or sign the Emancipation Proclamation and later the Thirteenth Amendment to make slavery unconstitutional. But he was already working, in smaller ways, to build a state and a nation, she said.
"I look at it as an honor to our current and future 30-year-olds," Wehrli said, "our young men and women who are making a huge difference in all of our lives."
After her father's death, Wehrli and her siblings sought donations to Century Walk to help fund the $73,000 sculpture, which could cost a total of $100,000 with site work and installation in the park at 104 E. Benton Ave.
Before the sculpture is set to be dedicated on Dec. 2, during a gala planned to coincide with the state's official bicentennial celebration on Dec. 3, Century Walk is hosting a Laughing Lincoln Jubilee.
The free event, set for 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 30, in Central Park, will celebrate the park's history leading up to the creation of the life-size Lincoln now taking shape at Clark's studio in Wyoming.
The jubilee, Wehrli said, "will be an old-timey, 1830s county fair experience."
Century Walk also plans to hype the sculpture's arrival with a social media campaign, encouraging people to snap photos with the 48 pieces of public art it has commissioned since 1996.