The Vanishing Beethoven

Forty-six years ago, this month, a Beethoven bust vanished from Chicago's Lincoln Park.  

In comparison to photo at end of blog, this image appears to show the pedestal to have been vandalized.

Prior to its mysterious disappearance, Ludwig's likeness had graced Lincoln Park gardens for seventy-four years, 1897 to 1971.

According to this postcard -- which features the Shakespeare statue at a distance -- this country-style garden was once named Hardy Flower Garden, although I have never seen this name used any other place.

The garden that the Beethoven bust once adorned is sometimes referred to as the English gardens and hosts a bronze of the English bard, the Star of Poets, William Shakespeare.

Photo from 1899 book has caption which reads "Country Flower Garden looking north."

Beethoven was purposefully placed close to and facing the Friedrich von Schiller statue (1886), which faces the Lincoln Park Conservatory and formal gardens.  A 'dialogue' between the two portrait statues was sought since Schiller's poem "Ode to Joy" (written 1785) inspired Beethoven's final complete symphony, his Symphony No. 9 (composed 1824)

Both works rapturously celebrate the unity of all mankind.

Reportedly, the Beethoven bust had inscribed on its pedestal, "Alle menschen werden brueder," All men become brothers, words from the chorus of Beethoven's 9th symphony as well as from "Ode to Joy."

Bust modeled by Danish American sculptor Johannes Gelert, the same artist who sculpted Lincoln Park's Hans Christian Andersen statue.

The benefactor of the artwork was Carl Wolfsohn, a Chicago music teacher and conductor.  On the day of the unveiling on June 19, 1897 he spoke to the crowd and said,

"My heart is full of gratitude that fate has enabled me to give the city of my adoption and its people this gift.  Beethoven's genius has been the safeguard in my long musical career...I have felt it a thousand times what Beethoven said of his own music ...., 'I fear not the fate of my music; it cannot fare ill.  He who comprehends it will be free of all woe which burdens others."

Beethoven Symphony No. 9 — Ode to Joy (Excerpt)


  1. I've always enjoyed Beethoven's music and found his life story very moving. He belongs in Lincoln Park for many reasons, including Chicago's rich German heritage. as anyone ever tried to recreate this bust? Has anyone every tried to raise money to replace this bust? It could be done. Today in Chicago (and around the world) we need to make the statement "All men become brothers." What would it cost? $50K? It could be done! Who wants to help organize this!!!???

  2. Hi Krista,
    I've enjoyed your posts for several years about Chicago's lost Gelert Beethoven; we are both fans of this magnificent portrait bust!
    Perhaps a small, motivated group may yet someday achieve success in recreating and installing this work (the bust at least, the Parks Department may still posses the 'raindrop granite' base in one of their construction yards.
    If you'd like additional photos of this work, just before installation, just after, and also mid-century, (some scanned from early glass slides - and their cleaned-up Photoshop versions!), just let me know. I only ask that when you use them, you also credit my research and photo work.
    All the Best,
    Lou Berkley
    San Francisco