It is only logical that Lincoln City has a statue honoring its namesake, and there is quite a story behind it.
The bigger-than-life-size sculpture depicts a beardless Abraham Lincoln reading a book while sitting on a grazing horse. It commemorates the momentous decision the 40-year-old Lincoln made to decline President Zachary Taylor’s offer to become governor of the Oregon Territory. He is beadles because he didn’t grow his first beard until later, in 1860 when he ran for president of the United States.
It was 1849, Lincoln’s term in Congress had expired, and his political career lay in ruins. Some of Lincoln’s friends presented his name to President Taylor for the governor position. Their thinking was that since Oregon would probably soon join the Union, Lincoln would no doubt become its U.S. senator and, thus, be able to return to Washington in a very good position.
His wife, however, had other ideas.
Mary Todd Lincoln had experienced all the frontier life she wanted, and she objected vigorously to coming west. She not only did not want to raise her children in such an untamed land, but she didn’t want to leave the social whirl of Springfield, Illinois.
The story goes that she often reminded her husband, after he was elected to the office of president, that if it hadn’t been for her advice when he was wavering, he would still be governor of a territorial outpost.
So, the statue in Lincoln City depicts the Lincoln who had abandoned politics and returned to his law practice. The one who, for the next four years, rode from village to village studying everything he could find about history, literature, and political theory.
The 14-foot bronze Lincoln on the Prairie is the creation of the late internationally celebrated New York sculpture Anna Hyatt Huntington (1876-1973). It is one of three casting from the same mold; the other two stand in Springfield Illinois and Salzburg, Austria.
Huntington, who once studied under John Gutzon de la Mothe Borglum (best know for the 60-foot heads of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt that he carved at Mt. Rushmore), dedicated the statue to students of all ages in the old Oregon Territory.
Dr. Marjorie Barstow Greenbie (1891 – 1976) was a writer, historian and feminist who wrote among other titles, Lincoln’s Daughter of Mercy, and suggested to Huntington that she send one of the Lincoln statues to Oregon. The Margaret Brent Fellowship of Washington D.C. gave it to Lincoln City as a gift.
Huntington entrusted Greenbie with responsibility for placement of the statue in Oregon. In 1965, a hundred years after Lincoln’s assassination, then-Governor Mark O. Hatfield had the statue placed and dedicated in the newly formed Twenty Miracle Miles of Lincoln City.
The statue seemed to resist moving west as much as Lincoln himself. Moving an 8500-pound statue from the East Coast was not easy. It started out in New Jersey, sailed by barge to New York and traveled by train to Chicago
From there it became more complicated. “Because of tunnels and overpasses, it had to be routed up through Canada by rail, back into the United States in Montana, and eventually west to Salem, Oregon,” Thomas K. Worcester wrote in The Oregonian on April 2 1972. “From Salem, it was transported to Lincoln City on a special flatbed truck with crews moving ahead to push up power and telephone lines so the truck could pass underneath.”
When the crate was opened, they discovered that when the railroad cars were “humped” at a stop in Montana, two hooves and a rein were broken and the horse’s nose was separated from the base. Vancouver sculptor James Lee Hansen repaired the work in time for the dedication.
Though not many people know the statue of Lincoln on the Prairie exists, it sits waiting for you less than a minute’s drive off the highway (One block east of HWY 101 on 22nd Street – turn east at the Dairy Queen). It is worth the visit.