This month the Knoxville History Project highlights a few more downtown statues. After The Hiker (see below) was erected on the Knox County Courthouse lawn in 1940, almost a half century passed before a new sculpture appeared downtown. The deadlock was broken in 1988 when “The Oarsman” (aka Rowboat Man) appeared on the corner of Gay Street and West Church. However, by the end of the century, several other statues appeared in quick succession: the Treaty of Holston statue on Volunteer Landing came in 1997, the Alex Haley Statue in Morningside Park in 1998; and the “Beloved Woman of Justice” bust at the Howard Baker Federal Courthouse in 2000. Four more statues have appeared this century, two of which are described below, plus the two Woman’s Suffrage statues on Market Street covered in previous articles.
Learn more about other local statues, buildings, cemeteries, neighborhoods, and parks in Historic Knoxville: The Curious Visitor’s Guide, a 200-page full color guide to the city’s historical places, available in local bookshops and gift stores and online at knoxvillehistoryproject.org
The bronze statue in Krutch Park honors Rotary Club leader William Sergeant (1919-2011), a longtime Oak Ridge resident who was a leader in the effort to eradicate polio worldwide. It is sometimes erroneously associated with TVA photographer and philanthropist Charles Krutch who left a bequest to the city to build the park, and who bore a passing resemblance to Sergeant. Designed by Hungarian sculptor Lajos Biro (a fellow Rotarian), the statue was installed in 2006 as a “Centennial Statue” - Rotary International was founded in 1905. Biro’s other downtown work, also funded by the Knoxville Rotary Club, is a bust of Col. David Chapman (a wholesale druggist and leader of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park movement for whom Chapman Highway is named) at the East Tennessee History Center.
One of downtown’s most recent statues at Lincoln Memorial University's Duncan School of Law is an original statue of Abraham Lincoln. “Lincoln: The Final Summation” was sculpted by Pennsylvania-based Wayne Hyde, who attended its unveiling. Lincoln likely never set foot in Knoxville, but his father lived in East Tennessee for a time, and his presidency obviously had a major effect on the city, where many locals considered themselves “Lincolnites.” The LMU building dates to the prairie lawyer’s congressional years, when it was built in 1848 as the official state Deaf and Dumb Asylum, later Tennessee School for the Deaf.
On the Knox County courthouse lawn, a statue honors soldiers of the Spanish-American War of 1898. Although it has been often misperceived as an explorer or Civil War soldier, the bronze man in the broad-brimmed hat is named “The Hiker” to symbolize US soldiers of that short war. It was designed by another Pennsylvania artist, Theo Alice Ruggles Kitson, and dedicated by a local veteran’s group, Jack Bernard Camp No. 1 in 1940. Lt. Jack Bernard, a former UT student, was among 81 American casualties at the Battle of El Caney in Cuba, on July 1, 1898, and is buried at Knoxville’s National Cemetery.
The "Doughboy" statue(aka “Over the Top”) in front of the former Knoxville High School on Fifth Avenue honors soldiers lost in World War I, including many alumni who attended that school. It was erected by members of the 117th Infantry Regiment in 1921 and dedicated the following year at a ceremony attended and led by local veterans General Lawrence Tyson, Gen. Cary Spence, and notably General of the Armies John J. "Black Jack" Pershing. It was once a site of speeches and poetry readings on Memorial Day. The statue was painted by vandals in 1948 and pulled down with chains by a gang of miscreants in 1967. It has fared much better and has been more respected in recent years.
The mission of the Knoxville History Project (KHP) is to research, preserve, and promote the history and culture of Knoxville, Tennessee. Through research and engaging programs, KHP tells the city’s stories, focusing on those that have not been previously told, and those that connect the city to the world. KHP’s stories, programs, and publications educate and help residents and visitors understand the city’s past and its complicated but dynamic heritage, and to inspire an appreciation for the city’s culture.
Donations to support the work of the Knoxville History Project, an educational nonprofit, are always welcome and appreciated. Learn more at KnoxvilleHistoryProject.org