Lincoln’s legacy taking a beating elsewhere, but Bakersfield bust of Great Emancipator seems secure

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BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — The nation he helped preserve more than 150 years ago has fourscore statues honoring Abraham Lincoln — and probably many, many more — including the one in downtown Bakersfield at Chester Avenue and Truxtun Avenue.

But you have to know where to look to find it, because unlike the statue of Father Garces at the center of the Garces Circle, he’s tucked away, off the sidewalk between two giant palms.

Lincoln rests on the side of the county’s Hall of Records, where he faces a statue of Col. Thomas Baker directly across Truxtun Avenue.

The statue — a bust, actually — was dedicated on Feb. 12, 1927, 94 years ago, a gift from the Argonaut Club, and it was a major event in this city of then 26,000.

The sculptor was Peter David Edstrom, born in Sweden, raised in Iowa, settled in Los Angeles. The Lincoln sculpture in Bakersfield — one of three replicas known to exist — is a copy of the one he worked on for four years, unveiling it in L.A. in 1925. The others replicas are in Riverside and Redlands. Edstrom called it, “The Monumental Lincoln.”

It might seem hard to fathom, but Lincoln’s image had taken something of a beating of late. He didn’t always express beliefs about race relations we would embrace today — having once, in 1857, denounced interracial marriage.

Renowned sculptor Benjamin Victor, a Bakersfield native now working in Idaho, says judging historical figures by today’s standards is problematic.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea to ever downplay the flaws of our heroes,” he said. “If it brings out something that causes deeper thought on their legacy, that’s OK to me. That’s history.”

But judging 19th century figures with 21st century eyes is exactly what the San Francisco Board of Education did last month when it voted to remove the name of 44 individuals, including Lincoln — whose policies toward Native Americans were criticized — and George Washington, who owned slaves, from 44 schools in the city.

The move further cemented San Francisco’s image as a bastion of liberalism. Said Democratic strategist Brian Brokaw after the 6-1 vote, “We’ve become parodies of ourselves.”

Presidents have been in the news over the past six weeks — two presidents in particular — and many of us look forward to not hearing any more about them for a while.

But, setting aside the opinions of the San Francisco Board of Education, the rest of us should be able to agree on the virtues of this man who stands watch where we live.

The Abe Lincoln bust downtown isn’t the only tribute to the 16th president in Bakersfield. The Bakersfield City School District office on Baker Street — which was formerly a school — also contains a statue of the Great Emancipator.

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