For the past 94 years, a statue of President Abraham Lincoln has gazed over downtown Bakersfield, watching as the community grew from a small town of about 26,000 people to today being California’s ninth largest city.
The unveiling of the bust of President Lincoln was the subject of a large community event on Saturday, February 12, 1927. People gathered in a grassy area on the north side of the city’s courthouse square at 2PM on the 118th anniversary of the late president’s birth.
An article in the next day’s “Bakersfield Morning Echo” with the headline “Young, Old Pay Tribute to Great Emancipator” described the festivities:
“The ceremonies were simple but impressive, and devoid of the trappings of war. There was no military guard of honor, no blare of trumpets, nor the beating of drums. Instead the ceremonial was of the greatest simplicity.
“Four boys, honor pupils of the schools, Philip White, Walter Stiern, Fred Smith and Howard Scott, unveiled the statue, and then stood at attention as the flag fluttered in the breeze.
“The boys band of the Kern County Union High school played the national anthem, and every cap came off as the hundreds of eager eyed children pressed forward in silent homage.
“The boy scouts, in civilian dress, stood at attention, unmoved as the graven image, in salute to the flag and to the spirit of the immortal Lincoln.
“In the rear of the eager children facing the Lincoln statue were hundreds of grown ups, men and women from all walks of life, who had for an hour taken themselves from the routine affairs of life and joined in the observance of an appeal to higher ideals of loyalty and patriotism."
According to the article, a number of representatives from local civic organizations were seated on the speaker’s platform. Chairman of the day was Alfred Harrell, publisher of The Bakersfield Californian.
“Following the ceremonial a picture was taken of the statue with those participating in the program embraced in the group.
“At the close the audience joined in the singing of ‘America,’ with the band as accompanist.”
The Lincoln statue was a gift to the city from The Argonaut Club. The Argonauts paid for the cost of placing the statue in Bakersfield, according to a February 9 “Echo” article: the cement pedestal designed by C. W. Biggar cost $70, the bronze plate was $30 and the bust of Lincoln, $100.
(One of the four boys mentioned, Walter Stiern, would later be elected to the California State Senate from Bakersfield.)
The Lincoln bust was created by noted sculptor Peter David Edstrom. Born in Sweden in 1873, Edstrom and his family settled in Iowa in 1880. He later returned to Sweden to continue his art studies, then lived in Italy, Paris and London before returning to the U.S. He moved to Los Angeles in 1920 where he completed his sculpture, “The Monumental Lincoln,” in 1925 after working on it for four years in his Los Angeles studio at 1253 Fedora Street.
The Bakersfield bust is one of three replicas of the original known to still exist, according to the Lincoln Memorial Shrine. The others are in Riverside and Redlands. A replica also was given to the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce in 1926 but its status is unknown.
From his perch in front of the south entrance to the Kern County Hall of Records at the northwest corner of Truxtun and Chester avenues, Mr. Lincoln appears to be looking across the street at the statue of Col. Thomas Baker seated outside City Hall South.
Under the Lincoln statue the plaque reads,
TO THE YOUTH OF TODAY
NATION BUILDERS OF TOMORROW
THE ARGONAUT CLUB
Although Mr. Lincoln is placed at one of downtown Bakersfield’s busiest intersections where thousands regularly pass by, few may have noticed him. He is tucked off the sidewalk behind a row of towering palms.