Monday, July 4, 2022

Chicago's Unofficial Mascot Lions are Missing and Here's Why

 By Pamela Meyers

A 1933 Postcard
Source: P. Jones; Art Institute
of Chicago

Many people who live in the Chicago area take them for granted. Even if they live and work in the city and they often walk past them, they are accustomed to seeing them there so they pay scant attention. Until now. Recently, the sculpted brass lions who have stood guard outside Chicago’s Art Institute for over 100 years were removed. Not forever. They are being cleaned and will return. Seeing photos of their empty platforms, I wondered how they came to be there at all. 

When the Columbian Exposition (also known as the 1893 World’s Fair) was held in Chicago, the building that houses the Art Institute was included in the fair even though it wasn’t directly located on the fairgrounds. Since the building was earmarked to be used as an art museum after the fair ended, it was one of only a couple fair buildings (the other being the Museum of Science and Industry) that wasn’t made of plaster. At the end of the exposition’s run, the building remained open to the public to begin its new life as an art museum. 

The Art Institute in 1893 before the lions arrived
Source: Art Institute of Chicago

Already Edward Kemeys, a well-known local animalier (a sculptor of animals), had
Edward Kemeys
Source: P. Jones; Art Institute
of Chicago

been commissioned to sculpt a pair of lions that would flank the main doors to the museum, but they wouldn’t be ready until May 1894. Ever since the two-ton lions have held their positions on either side of the steps leading to the museum’s front doors. 

Kemeys described the lions by calling them “Northern” and “Southern.” He said that the northern lion was in a position of being on the prowl, with his back up ready to roar and spring. He stated the southern lion was in an attitude of defiance, closely watching something in the distance. 

Over the years, the city has informally adopted them as its own. At Christmas, they each wear a holiday wreath around their necks and whenever a local pro sports team makes it to the finals, the lions wear the team hats 


Source: Wikipedia

During the height of the Covid pandemic, the lions even wore masks!

As stated earlier, a few weeks ago a flatbed truck took the lions away for deep cleaning and they won’t be back for about five weeks. A planter has been placed on each of the two pedestals. You can bet those planters won’t be wearing any Bears helmets and Cubs caps. 


The lions took a road trip down the Chicago expressways!
Source: Sperry Walker;

Somehow these planters don't make adequate 
substitutes for the lions.
Source: The Art Institute of Chicago

Have you been to the Art Institute in Chicago? Did you have your picture taken with one of the lions? A lot of people have.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for posting today! I can't wait to see a picture of your lions all cleaned up and looking more magnificent than ever.