The sun was just about to set as I was walking across Burlington Square Park, by the Metra station. I stopped for a moment to pull my sock up, and that’s when I overheard them.
“We did that? We fixed it?” said the boy. “Not just us,” said the man. “A lot of people gave money.” The boy was quiet for a moment, then he said, “But we did, too. You said.” The man just said, “It looks nice, doesn’t it?”
They were standing in front of E.M. “Dick” Visquesney’s “Spirit of the American Doughboy,” a design that in 1921 won an American Legion contest to commemorate World War I, and went on to make the self-promoting sculptor and monument carver a lot of money.
The doughboy, with rifle in left hand, is thought by some to be throwing a hand grenade with his right, though others say he is motioning those behind him to follow. In fact, it is similar enough to a cast bronze statue entitled “Over the Top to Victory” that Visquesney was once unsuccessfully sued for copyright infringement.
Visquesney made hundreds of the large, stamped sheet copper statues, and thousands of small ones, including some made as lamps and even incense burners configured to make the incense look like smoke wafting across No Man’s Land. One of the small statues, which in fact has a grenade in its right hand, is for sale on Ebay for $1,000.
Being lighter and 10 times less expensive than a similarly sized cast bronze, hundreds of the large statues were sold across a nation grateful that the Great War had been won. Five years later, when production of the doughboy moved from Americus, Ga., to Spencer, Ind., Visquesney made a companion piece, “Spirit of the American Navy,” which is a sailor holding his hat high above his head.
While the doughboy may well be the nation’s most seen statue, the sailor may be its least seen. Memories of war fade fast for those who do not have them seared into their minds or branded onto their bodies. Only eight copies of the sailor are known to exist, one of which, as you know, was featured in our Labor Day parade. It was purchased by Century Walk, which intends to permanently install it in Burlington Square Park, across from its companion statue, the doughboy.
That, of course, requires money for a pedestal, lighting, a sidewalk, and benches. When the doughboy needed repair and restoration a decade ago, the people of Naperville, and apparently the dad I overheard in the park, generously contributed the money to make it so. Century Walk is hoping they will be as welcoming to the sailor as they were the doughboy.
To make it easier to contribute, Century Walk has posted a project on the website citizinvestor.com, which lets public organizations raise money the way private companies are starting to, by crowdsourcing. Contributions are tax deductible, can be as little as $1, and can be made anonymously. However, no credit card will be billed unless the entire goal has been reached.
To donate, simply go to citizinvestor.com, click on The Spirit of the American Navy, click on Contribute to This Project, and follow the directions. Of the $77,000 required to reach the goal, $71,496 has been pledged, but there are only two weeks left. If the goal is not reached, all the pledges go away.
A successful community is one that provides opportunities for participation and ownership. One of the main reasons the Riverwalk is so revered is that so many people contributed their time and money to it. Simply knowing that his family helped fix the doughboy gave that boy I overheard a sense of identification and pride. That day, the statue became in some way his, and he will pass that feeling on.