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New Lincoln statue unveiled

PETERSBURG - Nine-year-old Chris Monte of Hillsboro, N.J., was one of thousands of people Saturday evening who anxiously awaited the unveiling of the "Lincoln the Surveyor" statue near the visitors center at Lincoln's New Salem State Historic Site.

Chris, who said he considers Lincoln one of his "heroes," had asked his parents, Gail and Anthony Monte, to bring him to Illinois to see the Lincoln sites. They began planning the trip in early spring. He said that when he found out he would be witnessing the unveiling, as well as a candlelight tour of the village, he was very excited.

"It's amazing. I can't believe I'm actually here. I've never been to something so special," Chris said as he took pictures of the life-size bronze cast statue - which depicts a 25-year-old Lincoln with his surveyor's compass and staff - to show his classmates back home.

"He's always loved Lincoln," Gail said about the young scholar.

Bob Church, executive director of the Illinois Professional Land Surveyors Association and chairman of the statue project, said the event was the culmination of a dream that began for him in the 1970s.

Church said he'd always been interested in Lincoln's career as a deputy Sangamon County land surveyor between 1833 and 1837. He tried to find a copy of Adin Baber's book, "A. Lincoln with Compass and Chain," and in 1979 he was able to purchase two unsold cases of the book from the publisher.

On Lincoln's birthday, Feb. 12, 1980, Church asked Dr. Wayne Temple and artist Lloyd Ostendorf to autograph the books at the Long Nine Museum in Athens. Both had helped Baber with the book.

The volumes quickly sold out, and Church eventually got permission from Baber's daughter to have the book reprinted.

In 2000, Ostendorf and Church discussed the possibility of creating a statue of Lincoln as a surveyor. Ostendorf agreed to come up with a drawing on which to base the statue, but he died weeks later, Church said.

"I thought the project would end with the death of Lloyd," Church said.

However, Ned Ostendorf, also an artist, said he'd complete the drawing that his brother had begun, Church explained.

The Illinois Historic Preservation Agency then gave its OK to erect the statue at New Salem, and sculptor/artist John McClarey was commissioned to create the statue, Church said.

In an effort to raise funds for the project, copies of Baber's book, Ostendorf prints and replicas of the statue were offered for sale. In addition, donations from surveyor associations across the country, as well as private individuals and companies, have helped raise the nearly $130,000 needed to make the statue a reality.

As the sun set Saturday and the Porta High School band played, Maynard Crossland, director of the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, unveiled the long-awaited statue. He was joined by Church, McClarey and other dignitaries at the event, which also commemorated the 75th anniversary of the Illinois Professional Land Surveyors Association.

David Hedrick, site manager of New Salem, said the statue of "Lincoln the Surveyor" will forever be a testament to the transformation of Lincoln from an unskilled laborer to a surveyor, a lawyer, a statesman and eventually president of the United States - a transformation that, for a large part, took place in the village of New Salem.

"It is my hope that as visitors pass this statue for the next several centuries, they will not only gain an appreciation for what Abraham Lincoln accomplished here at New Salem, but will personally gain a sense of hope for improving their own station in life."

Ann Gorman can be reached through the metro desk at 788-1519.

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