by Janet Saros
Thursday, August 18, 2022
During a recent family vacation on the western side of my home state, I took a short drive to check out Muskegon, a town that I had never seen. I was taken aback when I saw a very fine seated statue of Lincoln in a park right in the middle of town. Determined to learn more, I went to trusty Google.
Unlike many of the towns on the shores of Lake Michigan, Muskegon is not primarily a vacation destination. It is a port city with both commercial and cruise ship traffic. The Lake Express ferry transports people and vehicles across Lake Michigan to Milwaukee. With a population of over 38,000, Muskegon is the largest town on the western coast of Michigan and the hometown of two Miss Americas, televangelist James Bakker, and - although he wasn’t born there – Buster Keaton who considered Muskegon his hometown because he spent many summers at the Muskegon Actors’ Colony with his vaudevillian family.
The most influential resident of Muskegon was lumber baron and philanthropist, Charles Hackley. And it is he who is responsible for my unexpected Lincoln.
Hackley was born in Indiana in 1837 and moved to Muskegon in 1856. Hackley worked his way up in the lumber business and opened his own lumber mill on the shores of Lake Michigan sometime in the 1860s. The mill thrived and Charles Hackley became very wealthy. By 1894 the lower peninsula of Michigan was completely deforested, and lumber barons moved on to the Pacific Northwest. Hackley chose to stay in Muskegon and revitalize the city. This brings us to Lincoln.
In 1890, Hackley donated land smack in the middle of town to create a park to honor Union soldiers. At the four corners of the park, he commissioned statues of Grant, Sherman, Farragut, and Lincoln. The Lincoln and Farragut statutes were done by Charles H. Niehaus a well-known sculptor of the time. In fact, Niehaus has six statues in Statuary Hall in the US Capitol - more than any other sculptor. All four statues in Hackley Park were dedicated on Memorial Day, 1900.
By 1904, Hackley had donated over $12 million ($400 million in today’s dollars) to the revitalization of Muskegon. It’s no surprise that the park, library, hospital, school, art museum, and stadium are all named after him.
The Lincoln statue in Muskegon is a very fine version of our favorite president and not something I expected to see on my Michigan vacation. Keep your eyes peeled for your own “unexpected Lincoln.”
Note: The Muskegon Lincoln is included on the Google map born of Dave Wiegers Lincoln Scupture Project. Accompanying information states that a replica of the Niehaus statue is in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
(Photo credit: Janet Saros)