Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Lincoln in Jersey City: an enduring spirit

Reporting for Hidden New Jersey has made me a real fan of the statues that stand in many of our older parks. Where I once took them for granted, I've come to realize that they often say a lot about the communities they're in: what the locals find important and what they value.

Take, for example, the Lincoln sculpture at the JFK Boulevard entrance to Jersey City's Lincoln Park. Memorials to our sixteenth president are common enough in cities and towns in the northern states, but there's something remarkable about this one. It's said to have been the second-largest Lincoln monument at its dedication, but what's even more notable is its design and how it got there in the first place.

Ivan found it and thought enough of it to bring me to visit it. Indeed, I could see why he found it so remarkable. Unlike the more majestic representation at his memorial in Washington, D.C., the seated, clean-shaven Jersey City Lincoln sits pensively on a boulder, seeming to contemplate a troubling issue. An adjacent plaque labels it "Mystic Lincoln," erected in 1930 by the Lincoln Association of Jersey City, with contributions from local school children. Ringed by a semi-circular bench, the statue invites passers-by to stop and consider the president's work and the challenges he took on during his tenure. In this deeply personal work, sculptor James Earle Fraser depicted a very human man with troubles that reached into his very core.

Digging a bit deeper into its history, I discovered that the statue also represents an enduring dedication to Lincoln and his achievements. Jersey City is home to the nation's oldest continually-operating Lincoln Association, which has met on February 12 every year since 1867 to commemorate the Great Emancipator's birth.

Though New Jersey's electoral votes failed to go to Lincoln in both of his elections and opinions of him were mixed, Jersey City was home to many who supported the president before and after his untimely death. According to its website, the founders of the association were civic leaders and businessmen who vowed to meet annually to "discuss the obstacles [Lincoln] overcame in his early years, his firm and fair philosophy, his vision and courage, and his many achievements."

Since then, the yearly ceremonies have included re-enactments and readings from Lincoln scholars. Anyone who reveres the former president's memory is welcome to attend the events, which are now held at the sculpture and in the Casino in the Park nearby.

Just as important as the annual event is the daily presence of Lincoln's words, themselves, in the walls within the memorial area:

"That government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from the earth." 

"With malice toward none and charity toward all." 

"Let us have faith that right makes might and in that faith let us to the end dare to do our duty as we understand it." 

Immortal words all, and well worth considering through the ages.


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