Lincoln returns to Lincoln Hall

Lincoln returns to Lincoln Hall

URBANA — Abe and his famous nose are back.

After more than a year in exile, the bronze bust of the 16th president once again sits in his gold-leafed niche on the marble staircase just outside Lincoln Hall's ornately restored theater.

UI ironworkers reinstalled the bust of Mr. Lincoln on Wednesday — twice, actually, once to satisfy television cameras and again after they had secured him with bolts to the marble slab underneath. No more trips to the golf course for Abe (more on that later).

"It's nice to have him back," said Ruth Hoffman, an adviser for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, who added, "I miss his gold nose."

Before Lincoln Hall's $58 million renovation began in 2010, the bust was moved into protective custody, restored and displayed at the Spurlock Museum during its 100th anniversary in 2011.

The $6,800 restoration by a Chicago firm removed all of the statue's dings, nicks, scratches and remnants of "bronze disease." A new bronze patina was added, which also obscured Abe's shiny nose, rubbed for luck by generations of test-taking college students.

Hoffman became the first to rub Abe's restored nose, just minutes after his return to Lincoln Hall on Wednesday.

"I wanted to start the tradition. And it can't hurt. I've got exams coming up this year," said Hoffman, director of the freshman seminar, who is studying for a Ph.D. in history.

Workers were careful with their historic cargo, which was created in 1923 for Lincoln Hall by sculptor Hermon Atkins MacNeil, at a cost of $450.

"Since the building is named for him, it's kind of a big deal for him," said UI ironworker foreman Dan Hiner. "We definitely didn't want to scratch him, we didn't want to drop him."

The bust arrived riding on a dolly and wrapped in a protective quilt, Abe's no-longer-shiny nose just visible between the folds. Workers raised the platform with a hand crank up to the alcove's height, then gently unwrapped the statue and lifted it onto the marble shelf.

Lincoln, his arms still folded pensively, clutching a legal document, had no comment.

Later, workers pulled the bust back out and carefully bolted it to the marble slab through precut holes. Once it was painstakingly centered and leveled in the alcove, a mason sealed the joint with plaster of Paris, securing it in place.

The statue is now backlit by a tiny light that spills out from either side.

Dan Steward, who recently joined the UI sociology faculty from Ohio Wesleyan University, was thrilled to walk in Lincoln Hall and find workers preparing for Abe's arrival.

"I am very excited," he said. "I'm new to campus. I've never seen him before. It's a big event."

Steward said his colleagues are thrilled with the upgrades to the building, from high-tech classrooms to the central air-conditioning to the new cafe and courtyard. He was even more impressed with the efforts to preserve much of the original building and the attention to detail, including the marble and gold-leafed Memorial Hall and Lincoln Hall Theater.

"I can see why the university community is excited about this," he said.

"It'd be nice if they could get this to shine," he added, pointing to the plaque set in the wall with the words to Lincoln's famous Gettysburg Address.

On that note: The Lincoln bust was once kidnapped from Lincoln Hall in 1979, only to be found a few days later on a tree stump in the old UI golf course on Kirby Avenue. The perps were never caught, but the college has an audio recording, its voice electronically masked, sent from a fake address in the Chicago suburbs.

The confessor starts out by expressing his respect for the Great Emancipator and taking issue with a recent article in an LAS newsletter that suggested the long-ago robbers might have damaged the bust.

The voice claims to be from the "Statue Liberation Society" and said the people involved were "college pranksters" who are now mostly professionals in accounting, law and management, and they never harmed the statue.

The bust was found near the eighth hole on the golf course, with a note attached: "I scored on four seven hours ago, and all I've got left is my head."

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