Maud Hart Lovelace, Mankato’s famous literary daughter, grew up several blocks from Lincoln Park. In an article written for the “I Remember Mankato” series published in the Mankato Free Press in 1952, Maud wrote, “As we grew older we made more trips downtown, pausing to play by the fountain at Lincoln Park or rest under the big elm there.”
The park and the fountain were an important landmark in Maud’s Deep Valley. Maud and her friends stopped to play there when they walked downtown. The Harts passed Lincoln Park every time they went downtown.
Maud mentions the little park and the fountain several times in the Betsy-Tacy books.
“Lincoln Park was a pie-shaped wedge of lawn with a giant elm tree and a fountain on it.”
“Lincoln Park came into sight, cool and green under its elm, the waters of its fountain sparkling.”
“”We’ll go over to the Park,” said Betsy, and you can wash up in the fountain.” They ran across the street to Lincoln Park, and Tib washed her face and hands in the fountain. Betsy and Tacy picked a bouquet of clovers and pinned it over the chocolate spot on the front of her dress.””
~ From Betsy and Tacy Go Over the Big Hill ~
After Betsy and Phil’s break up in Betsy In Spite of Herself, Maud writes…“She found herself at Lincoln Park, that pie-shaped piece of land with a big elm tree and a fountain on it, which stood where Broad Street met Hill. Instinctively, in her trouble, she had headed for Hill Street and Tacy. But she stopped at Lincoln Park. She washed her face and hands in the fountain and dried them on her handkerchief and sat down on a bench and looked up at the sky.” Betsy works out the problem by herself, when she realizes, “‘To thine own self be true!’” That’s what I have to do if I’m going to get out and make something of myself…she had done her confiding to the stars in Lincoln Park.”
Lincoln Park, the small triangular piece of land bordered by Broad, Lincoln and Grove Streets in Mankato, was made into a park in the mid-1880s. Wishing to perpetuate the memory of the honored dead of the Civil War, the Alexander Wilkin Post, Grand Army of the Republic placed a bronze monument of a Civil War private soldier holding a musket at parade rest on a pedestal in the center of a stone basin. A dedication ceremony was held on Memorial Day, 1893 (Maud was a year old). The soldier’s monument was called the Boy in Blue.
Sadly, the Boy in Blue did not remain on active duty guarding his park very long. In 1894, vandals broke off the musket he was holding. This happened again in 1911, when the musket was completely broken, and the soldier’s fingers were pried off the statue—making it vulnerable to damage from corrosion caused by moisture. A windstorm toppled the figure and it was not repaired. Exposure to the elements and neglect continued to take their toll. By 1922, citizens were asking for the fountain’s removal. In 1927, that was done. A small granite monument was installed in 1935 to replace the statue and fountain, and remains there today.
Maud’s grandfather, Solomon Palmer, was a Civil War veteran. Undoubtedly this monument brought back memories of her father to Stella Hart, memories she would share with her children, Kathleen, Maud and Helen. Maud wrote about Solomon Palmer in Betsy’s Wedding, “They had discovered in the Ray’s basement an old drop-leaf table. Mrs. Ray’s father, when he came to Minnesota after the Civil War, had made it himself out of a black walnut tree…Joe and Betsy dragged it out in triumph.”
I’ve always wished the fountain was still in Lincoln Park and in 2011, along with local historian Bryce Stenzel, organized a committee to raise the funds to rebuild the “Boy in Blue”. To date we have raised $25,000 of the $100,000 needed. Construction on the stone pool base for the monument is scheduled to begin in the spring!
I can’t wait to sit by the fountain in Lincoln Park just as Maud did so many years ago. This project is an ongoing, grassroots community effort. You can help return the Boy in Blue to active duty, guarding Mankato’s most historic neighborhood, during the sesquicentennial observance of America’s Civil War (2011-2015). For more information on how you can help, visit www.boyinblue.org and follow us on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/BoyinBlueProject