Friday, December 21, 2012

The Crusader: Victor Lawson Monument
Location: Graceland Cemetery, Chicago, Illinois
Erected: 1931
Medium: Granite
GPS Coordinates: N 41° 57.498 W 087° 39.505

Graceland Cemetery is located at 4001 North Clark Street in Chicago, Illinois, and was founded in 1860 by Thomas Bryan, a successful Chicago lawyer and businessman. Bryan hired landscape architect H. W. S. Cleveland to develop the original sixty acres of land and to turn it into a park similar to the cemeteries of Victorian England. Park designer and landscape architect Ossian Simonds was contracted to create a final plan for the cemetery when additional acres were later added. Simonds was a founding partner of the architectural firm of Holabird, Simonds, and Roche that designed all the buildings for the cemetery. Using native plants to enhance the rustic landscape in the cemetery, Simonds created an agrarian parcel of land with room for memorial markers and picnics--a green area for the living and a final resting place for the dead.

Graceland Cemetery officials often described it as “The Cemetery of Architects.” Architects Louis Sullivan, John Root, Daniel Burnham, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, William Le Baron Jenney, Marion Mahony Griffin, Bruce Goff, Fazlur Khan, Richard Nickel, and Dwight Heald Perkins were all buried in Graceland Cemetery. Other Chicago luminaries buried there include George Pullman, Potter Palmer, Jack Johnson, Martin Ryerson, William Kimball, John Peter Altgeld, Philip Armour, Marshall Field, Cyrus McCormick, Allan Pinkerton, and Victor Lawson.

Victor Fremont Lawson was the son of Melinda and Iver and Lawson, a Norwegian immigrant who arrived in Chicago in 1848. He became a wealthy man by buying and selling real estate and was the first Norwegian-American to became politically active. He served as a Chicago alderman and a state senator. When Victor was born on September 9, 1850, the Lawsons named him Victor Fremont in honor of John C. Fremont, the Republican Party’s first nominee for president. Victor attended grammar school and high school in Chicago and later excelled at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. The Chicago Fire of 1871 destroyed his father’s real estate business, but Iver regained part of his fortune during the next several years. When Iver died in 1874, Victor took over the management of his father’s business interests.

A Norwegian-language newspaper called the Skandinaven was one of Victor’s new partnerships, and he began to manage the family businesses in an office in the newspaper building. Melville E. Stone, the founder of a struggling new newspaper called the Chicago Daily News, also had an office in the same building. When the first issue of the Daily News was published on December 23, 1875, readers soon realized that it was a totally different kind of newspaper from others of the day. It was politically independent, printed stories that were very concise, and sold for one penny. After six months of financial difficulty, Melville Stone turned to his friend and former schoolmate Victor Lawson for help. Lawson agreed to help and bought the newspaper for $6,000. He became the publisher of the Daily News on August 1, 1876, and Melville Stone stayed on the staff as the editor. They bought the Post and Mail in 1878 since it was a member of the Associated Press. Because it tried to serve the whole urban population, the Daily News soon became a true mass-market newspaper in Chicago. From the beginning, the newspaper included popular fiction, household tips, local and national news, and any content that might appeal to a majority of the readers.

The Daily News started with an afternoon edition and introduced a two-penny morning edition in 1881. When it later published both editions for a penny, the Daily News maintained a circulation of more than 200,000. Lawson proved to be a genius in building circulation for the newspaper. He advertised through other publications, posters, postcards, calendars, and clocks. He ran contests and games in the newspaper to generate interest and readership. When Melville Stone retired in 1888, Victor Lawson assumed the positions of both editor and publisher. In the 1890s, the newspaper became a strong advocate for urban reform and campaigned for better city services. Because Lawson felt that the American people needed a direct source of international news during troubled times, he started the Daily News Foreign Service in 1898. Newspapers all over the world followed the model of the Daily News and created their own foreign offices. Lawson also started one of the first columns devoted to radio in 1922. The Daily News was always considered a writer’s newspaper and hired among others Carl Sandburg and Mike Royko. The Daily News published its last edition on Saturday, March 4, 1978.

Victor Lawson married Jessie Strong Bradley on February 5, 1880. The couple had no children partly because Jessie was chronically ill during most of her life. The couple made frequent trips to Europe searching for healing and restoration. Jessie maintained strong religious convictions throughout her life, and because or her beliefs, Victor never published Sunday editions of his newspapers. She died in October 1914. Lawson received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the University of Michigan in 1923 and a similar degree from Columbia University in 1924. Throughout his life, Lawson donated money to many charities including the Chicago Theological Seminary, the Daily News Fresh Air Fund, and the Y.M.C.A. Lawson died on August 19, 1925, at his residence on Lake Shore Drive in Chicago.

Although Victor Lawson frequently reprimanded his younger brother for not working hard and studying enough, Iver N. Lawson commissioned Lorado Taft to design an appropriate grave marker to honor his older brother and to mark his final resting place in Graceland Cemetery. Taft created The Crusader that portrays a medieval knight in armor looking off into the distance and holding a sword in his left hand and a shield in his right hand. A cross of a crusader is embellished on the shield. The statue was carved out of a solid block of granite and polished until it resembled bronze. The Henry C. Smalley Granite Company of Quincy, Massachusetts, furnished the granite. Victor Lawson’s grave is unmarked except for an engraved statement located on the base of the statue that reads: “Above All Things, Truth Beareth Away The Victory.” The phrase refers to a story in the apocryphal Book of Esdras.

For further reading:

Bach, Ira J. & Mary Lackritz Gray. A Guide to Chicago’s Public Sculpture. Chicago, Illinois: The University of Chicago Press, 1983.

Dennis, Charles H. Victor Lawson: His Time and His Work. Chicago, Illinois:
The University of Chicago Press, 1935.

Graf, John & Steve Skorpad. Chicago’s Monuments, Markers, and Memorials. Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing, 2002.

Lanctot, Barbara. A Walk Through Graceland Cemetery. Chicago, Illinois: Chicago Architecture Foundation, 1988.

“Unique Statue As Memorial To Victor Lawson.” Chicago Tribune. July 24, 1931.

Vernon, Christopher. Graceland Cemetery: A Design History. Amherst, Massachusetts: University of Massachusetts Press, 2011.

“Victor F. Lawson, 1850-1925.” Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society.
Volume 18, No. 3. October 1925.

“Victor F. Lawson Is Dead.” Chicago Tribune. August 20, 1925.

Weller, Allen. “Lorado Taft, the Ferguson Fund, and the Advent of Modernism,” in The Old Guard and the Avant-Garde: Modernism in Chicago, 1910-1940. Sue Ann Prince, ed. Chicago, Illinois: The University of Chicago Press, 1990.

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