Warner Todd Huston
August 9, 2006
Chicago -- no heroes live here
By Warner Todd Huston

The news of Chicago's newest statue was all over the TV and newspapers last week. As the Pantheon of the "famous" who have received the honor of a full sized, free standing statue in Chicago increased by one, the City stood in admiration of ... (drum roll, please) ...Irv Kupcinet.

You'd be forgiven if you'd have said "who??"

Local TV and newspaper personality, Kupcinet, often called "Mr. Chicago," was a long time Sun-Times newspaper columnist who's column consisted of pointless "mentions" of the famous, the not so famous, the infamous and the odd restaurant owner that old Irv wanted a free meal from who graced the night life in the Windy City.

In short, he wrote a gossip column. And not even a juicy one.

Certainly he led a long life, was quite well-known in the city's entertainment community, and his 60 year long association with the Sun-Times is interesting as part of Chicago's checkered history.

Still, you may ask what he did to get a statue?

It's a good question.

I ask the same thing, and I am a resident of the area.

This is the criterion for bronze monuments in Chicago, now, I wondered? Writing a gossip column makes one a high enough caliber of citizen to get a 9-foot tall statue raised in your honor? A lifetime of gratis meals in exchange for a "mention" in the daily paper is enough great works to be memorialized forever in bronze and on public display for all to see, ostensibly forever?

It got me to thinking about just who in the past has it been that received these full sized, sometimes outsized, monuments in this great city? Who were they, when did they get a statue, and what did they do that made them "worthy" of such a memorial. The investigation of this question led me to a disturbing fact.

There's no Chicagoan left who's worthy of the statues with which they are being honored. On second thought, maybe that isn't fair to say. Maybe it's that we are a society that no longer understands what makes one worthy of such an honor in the first place?

A quick perusal of the famous, important, and worthy people who have gotten full sized statues in years past in the city read like a veritable who's who of the famous and important not only of Chicago history, but the history of the state, the country, and the world. Unfortunately, recent ones read more like a who's who of the daily sports section of the newspaper or a TV guide listing.

The list of honorees previous to the current century in Chicago spans the history of the USA and other countries most notably Germany and Poland, reflecting the long-standing ethnic diversity of the city. It boasts of patriots, soldiers, philosophers, writers, great politicians and those who gave their lives in service to city, state, and country.

Patriot and Founding Father, Alexander Hamilton (1757-1804), has been honored twice with one of them being placed in Lincoln Park in 1954. Czech patriot, Karel Havlicek (1820-1856), is honored on Solidarity drive after his statue was first erected in Douglas Park in 1910. A memorial to German patriot and writer, Franz Reuter (1810-1874), was raised in Humbolt Park in 1893. The Father of our country, George Washington (1732-1799), has several such statues across the city. Not to mention the many Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) statues that grace the Parks and byways of a great city in the state that calls itself the "Land of Lincoln."

There are also statues to the Haymarket Riots of 1886, Giuseppi Garibaldi, Christopher Columbus, Hippocrates, Scottish poet Robert Burns, Leif Ericson, William Shakespeare, Nathan Hale, Benjamin Franklin and a host of other notables who were consequential, important and inspiring people, people worthy of being remembered for their works of greatness.

Noticeably, all these statues were erected before the mid 1970s. With most of them being created in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Many dozens of great and honorable personages have been memorialized by these works of art and deservedly so.

Now, what have we seen erected in the last 20 years, or so? Who was so famous, that has offered the world so much, that we have forever cast their likeness in fine metals or expensive stones to be looked up to by succeeding generations of citizens as men worthy of remembering today?

  • Basketball player, Michael Jordon, forever leaping to score that basket was unveiled in 1994. Heck, Mike is still even alive. Shouldn't a notable be dead when his giant statue is erected?

  • Baseball player from the New York Yankees, Joe DiMaggio, got one in 1998. Joe was actually at the unveiling of his "honor."

  • Harry Caray, A baseball announcer for the Cubs and White Sox baseball teams, had his dedicated in 1999. At least the man famous for saying "Holy Cow" had the good sense to be dead before his statue was revealed to the world.

  • Another radio sports announcer, Jack Brickhouse, got dipped in bronze in 2000.

  • And, not to be outdone, the whole Chicago Blackhawks hockey team got a gargantuan monument in the same year as did Jack "HEY! HEY!" Brickhouse.

So, there you have it. We now live in a society that has gone from memorializing and idealizing men like George Washington and William Shakespeare to looking with awe at men like Harry Caray and Irv Kupcinet! We've gone from wondering at the life and works of the "Father of our country" and the "Great Emancipator" to sports guys and gossip columnists who are famous for saying "Holy Cow" and mooching free meals for a living.

How we have fallen so and ended up celebrating men of entertainment as if they had realized great and consequential acts, or were high minded men of valor and learning is disheartening to say the least.

Harry Caray would have laughed himself silly over it all. That is, when he wasn't too drunk to notice.

© Warner Todd Huston

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