What a difference a year makes. Less than a year, really.
Had Chicago’s 13-foot-tall, 3,500-pound, heavily re-gilded statue of Alexander Hamilton been returned to its reddish granite plinth last October — in tandem with the arrival in Chicago of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony Award-winning “Hamilton,” a musical that generated something of a mass theatrical hysteria — crowds would have gathered en masse to pay homage to the celebrity Founding Father who overlooks the elegant triangular intersection of Diversey Parkway and Cannon and Stockton Drives in Lincoln Park.
Re-gilding Chicago’s Alexander Hamilton — the statue
But while “Hamilton” (the show) still attracts crowds eight times a week to The PrivateBank Theatre (where it is scheduled to run until at least Jan. 7, 2018), the reinstallation of the statue of the Founding Father last month — after a lengthy, $52,000 restoration by the Conservation of Sculpture & Objects Studio — has generated relatively little attention or celebration. It’s not because he fades into the landscape. In fact, with his sparkling gold leaf veneer he looks like he has been subjected to the Midas touch. The human touch is sadly gone.
Chicago’s Alexander Hamilton sculpture, newly cleaned, re-gilded and reinstalled in Lincoln Park, now faces north. | Hedy Weiss
Over the Fourth of July holiday, hundreds of revelers could be seen strolling past the statue on their way to the lakefront, but I didn’t see a single person stop to gaze at the man. Had they done so they might have noted that this first Secretary of the Treasury, and architect of the nation’s financial system, has now been so heavily gilded from head to toe that he would feel far more at home in the Palace of Versailles (although that would be a place far more in character for Francophile Thomas Jefferson), or perhaps at the Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida that serves as a certain president’s retreat.
In fact, as passersby encounter sculptor John Angel’s Hamilton these days they might wonder what this “bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot in the Caribbean by providence, impoverished, in squalor” (to quote Miranda’s lyrics), might make of such ostentation. The best that can be hoped is that a decade or two of Chicago winters will weather the statue’s surface and result in a less royally glittery, more approachably human appearance.
There is one improvement, though it is controversial: Hamilton now looks north, positioned so that anyone driving south toward the Fullerton entrance to Lake Shore Drive can see his face rather than the shapely rear-view outline of his tailcoat. This re-orienting of the statue (a return to its original pre-1993 direction) caused a bit of consternation among locals when the statue was first hoisted back into place in June. Some complained he now looks away from the downtown skyline, and in addition, that the name “Alexander Hamilton” chiseled into the plinth is now on its “back” (southern) side. (Chiseled into the northern side are the words: “Gift of Kate Sturgis Buckingham, 1858 – 1937,” who also made a gift of the Buckingham Fountain to Chicago). But this re-positioning allows the many drivers on the road closest to the statue to get a better view of the man whose reputation has already been shined to a high gloss, and could have done with a little less gilding.