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Minnesota State University, Mankato

Minnesota State University, Mankato

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‘Old Abe’ a Beloved Symbol

Landmark statue has been on campus since 1926.

2013-04-15
Bryce Stenzel, Mankato Free Press, 4-14-2013

The statue of Abraham Lincoln, which stands in Centennial Student Union at Minnesota State University, has a longtime association with the school. The landmark has been on campus since 1926, accord­ing to MSU’s archives.

The plaster sculpture, which has no marks to iden­tify its origin or creator, is a gift from alumni — a memorial of the graduates’ academic experiences.

During its first years in Mankato, the full- size like­ness of our 16th president stood in the town’s “nor­mal” school — Mankato State Teachers College, located on South Fifth Street downtown. The stat­ue was placed in the main hall of the administration building, or Old Main. That building still stands today as Old Main Village, a sen­ior retirement living com­munity.

Earlier in the college’s history, it had been custom­ary for the graduates of a particular class to pool their financial resources and purchase pieces of art, which were then displayed on campus. These memori­als included clocks, pictures and even stained- glass win­dows for the college chapel.

On Feb. 5, 1922, these memorials were destroyed in a devastating fire at the college.

Dr. Hiram J. Lloyd, who was a diagnostician at the Mankato Clinic and an active member of the class of 1900, organized the effort to replace the memo­rials from previous classes. From the money that was raised in this campaign, the statue of Lincoln was pur­chased, along with busts of Mozart and Shakespeare and several paintings for display in college halls.

“Meet me at Abe Lincoln” was a common phrase heard on campus, according to a 1944 edition of The College Reporter.

The sculpture and other alumni memorials were relocated in 1967- 68 when the Centennial Student Union was built on the upper campus. Their move was part of a commemora­tion of the founding of the college a century before.

The Lincoln statue has been moved several times. It stood for a time on the second floor of the first library building on campus. In 1978, it was moved to the Centennial Student Union building, according to MSU archives. Since then, “Old Abe” has been displayed at various sites around the student union.

I recall fond memories of passing by it when I was a boy, on my way to see a film being shown in the main auditorium ( Ostrander) with my par­ents. I used to look up at Lincoln’s craggy face and wonder what he was think­ing about.

During my college days, the statue was in an alcove on the side of the building that adjoins the Wigley Administration Center. The “Lincoln Lounge” was origi­nally the front entrance to the CSU. Today, the lounge and the statue are on the side of the building that faces the mall and Memorial Library.

Over the years, the stat­ue has endured being “dressed up” by pranksters and the victim of vandal­ism. A large chunk of mate­rial is missing from the bot­tom corner of Lincoln’s frock coat.

According to a story in the Oct. 15, 1953, The College Reporter, an acoustic ceiling was being put up in Old Main Hall and “a worker must have been a little disgusted and took it out on Old Abe for after the job was done the statue was missing a piece of material from his coat.”

The entire version of this story can be read in a print copy of the Mankato Free Press. Call the Mankato Free Press at 625-4451 or (800) 657-4662 to find out how to purchase a print copy. The Free Press also prints select stories online at www.mankatofreepress.com.

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