On this day in 1809, a boy was born in a one-room log cabin at Sinking Spring Farm, Hodgenville, Kentucky. From such a modest beginning arose one of America’s greatest heroes—and, possibly, history’s most-popular president.
78 years later, before a crowd of 10,000 onlookers, Abraham Lincoln’s only grandson (and namesake) helped to unveil a statue of the great man in Lincoln Park, Chicago. Sculpted by the Irish-born American, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, the 12 foot tall statue was praised immediately as a tremendous work of American art and the greatest sculpture of Lincoln from the 19th century. It became very popular and was re-cast for installation in other locations, from London to Mexico City.
Saint-Gaudens revered the 16th president, having seen the man at his inauguration, then, after his assassination, lying in state. He utilized photographs of the president as well as a “life mask” cast in 1860 of the still-living president.
Augustus Saint-Gaudens was born in Dublin, Ireland (1848) to an Irish mother and French father. At six months of age, Augustus and his family sailed for New York City where the boy was raised. He travelled to Europe as a young man to study and, upon return, became a leading artist of the Beaux Arts movement. He gained notoriety for his important Civil War memorials, including the Robert Gould Shaw Monument (in Boston Common) which commemorated the African-American troops of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. He also designed a $20 gold piece, still considered one of the most beautiful American coins ever minted.
Late in life, Saint-Gaudens founded the “Cornish Colony” in New Hampshire, a retreat and workspace for other artists: sculptors, painters, writers, and architects.
Saint-Gaudens died in Cornish, New Hampshire in 1907.