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Fort Wayne’s Lincoln Mystery

A statue of the young Abraham Lincoln in Fort Wayne represents the president-to-be as more of a “dreamer and poet… than…rail-splitter.”

Hoosiers take pride in knowing that Indiana was home to Abraham Lincoln during a portion of his childhood. But history buffs might be stymied on discovering a statue of the young Lincoln in Fort Wayne, knowing that Lincoln spent his boyhood in the southern part of the state.

What’s now called branding provides the key that unlocks the mystery of what might seem to be a misplaced memorial. Having founded the Lincoln National Life Insurance Company, Arthur F. Hall sought to reinforce his firm’s association with its namesake–“a name so proud,” Hall wrote, “so simple and strong that the whole world would love it.”

In 1905 the company president obtained permission from Lincoln’s only surviving son to use his father’s image on stationery and in marketing, an agreement that ultimately resulted in the commission of a bronze sculpture of the youthful president-to-be for its Fort Wayne headquarters.

Paul Manship, celebrated sculptor of the Prometheus at New York’s Rockefeller Center, was awarded the $75,000 commission in 1928, and set about researching Lincoln’s family history. Visiting the president’s mother’s grave near Corydon and reading letters written by Lincoln’s law partner, Manship gleaned an impression of young Abe more “dreamer and poet… than… rail-splitter.”

After retreating to his Paris studio for three years, Manship produced the 12-foot bronze sculpture dedicated in the plaza in front of the Lincoln National Insurance Company building in Fort Wayne. A crowd of 4,000 gathered to watch the 1932 event; more still followed the event via newsreel and national radio coverage.

In Manship’s rendition, the young Lincoln marks his place in a book with the index finger of his right hand while his left rests on the head of an adoring dog; an axe rests at his side. The dog was one the boy had allegedly rescued from the Wabash River during the family’s move from Indiana to Illinois; “I could not endure the idea of abandoning even a dog,” he once wrote his law partner.

Manship’s sculpture celebrates the self-taught, humanitarian pioneer whose Indiana boyhood was a point of pride from Corydon to Fort Wayne. The Lincoln Financial Group of Philadelphia—which grew out of the Fort Wayne insurance company—still uses the 16th president’s image in its corporate branding.

A Moment of Indiana History is a production of WFIU Public Radio in partnership with the Indiana Public Broadcasting Stations. Research support comes from Indiana Magazine of History published by the Indiana University Department of History.

Source Article: Source: James A. Percoco, “Abraham Lincoln Statues in the Hoosier State,” Indiana Magazine of History, Vol. 105, no. 4 (Dec. 2009): 342-364.

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