Since April 2022, there has been much discussion about changing the name of Long Beach’s Lincoln Park to something less divisive. After the city established the Equity and Human Relations Commission, talk of renaming Lincoln Park and removing both the Lincoln statue and the 13-foot penny sculpture has been in the news. Native Americans point to three acts against indigenous people carried out during Lincoln’s tenure as President – 38 Dakota men hung in 1862; forcing 8,000 Navajo to march 450 miles to a new reservation in 1863, resulting in more than 2,200 deaths; the 1864 Sand Creek Massacre in Colorado in which approximately 230 Cheyenne and Arapaho men, women and children were killed by American soldiers. I won’t delve into the politics of the issue, but will give a brief history of how the park got its name.
Pacific Park 1890
In the 1880s, when Long Beach city founder William Willmore established the town that would become the city we know today, he set aside free land to be used as a park. The park, then known as Pacific Park, offered a number of sports activities such as shuffle ball, croquet and horseshoes. It also housed an alligator pit, an aviary and a whale house which eventually was removed to make room for a library.
The city’s biggest draw was the sea, followed by Pacific Park, the Pike amusement zone, the annual Chautauqua, and several Civil War reunions hosted by the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR). In 1906, patriotic citizens decided to erect a soldier’s monument in the southeast corner of the park to pay tribute to those who had fought to keep the United States united. But politics then, like now, got in the way with jealousies among members of the Sons of the Veterans’ Auxiliary over who would get credit for the monument.
In 1914, the local women’s auxiliary of the Grand Army of the Republic decided to rejuvenate the movement to erect a memorial to those who were involved in the Civil War. A monument to Lincoln was decided upon.
The statue was the third of its kind in the United States. It was similar to one located in Lincoln Park, Chicago, designed by Augustus St. Gaudens, and erected there in October 1887. There was a similar monument on the battle field at Gettysburg. The Long Beach monument was 22 feet 8 inches high, 7 feet of this was for the Lincoln statue itself. The weight was 146,100 pounds, cut from granite quarried at Fresno. The base was of solid cement. The cost was $3,000 ($80,000 today).
On July 3, 1915, at 2 o’clock in the afternoon, thousands cheered when the two American flags draping the figure of Lincoln fell. The guns of the U.S.S. Chattanooga boomed a national salute. The Municipal Band burst into the strains of the Star Spangled Banner. Robert Lincoln had been invited to the unveiling of the Lincoln memorial statue, but he could not come. Instead, Col. James M. Emery, secretary of the Monument Association, gave a presentation address and James Hair recounted the history of the monument movement.
Since then, the Lincoln statue has stood surveying the park named for the President best known for freeing African American slaves. It has been moved several times – to the grassy area of the roof of the 1977 Main Library, then back to the entrance of the park itself when locals asked for it to be put back where more could see it. Where will it be removed to if recent politics decide its fate? Perhaps to the public service salvage yard where many of Long Beach’s forgotten items of the past have been relocated, then forgotten.
If you are interested in learning about the first soldier monument commissioned for the park, which was cast but never paid for, and the unsightly base which was erected, just follow this link to my website’s yearly blog of events for1915.