Welcoming Lincoln and modern man home
Susan Star Paddock, Secretary, Lincoln Fellowship of Pennsylvania
(June 25, 2022) If you’ve walked in the Gettysburg square since this Spring, you might have wondered what happened to the statue of President Abraham Lincoln talking with a 20th century visitor. Since installation in 1991, “Return Visit” has become the most photographed statue in Gettysburg. People enjoy posing beside or between Lincoln and the “Modern Man.”
This compelling sculpture was commissioned by the Lincoln Fellowship of Pennsylvania and created by the famous J. Seward Johnson. The sculpture commemorates Nov. 18 and 19, 1863, when Gettysburg welcomed President Lincoln for the dedication of the Soldiers National Cemetery. In the iconic work, Lincoln points to the bedroom in the Wills House where he spent the night before Dedication Day. Beside him, “Modern Man” holds a copy of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, which has become the most memorized speech in history. Pulitzer Prize historian James McPherson named the statue by remarking that it looked like Lincoln had made a “Return Visit,” and that name has stuck.
Johnson’s sculptures are all quite realistic, and this one is no exception. Historian and Lincoln expert Gabor Boritt and other specialists supplied Johnson with detailed information including photographs, shoe size, hat measurements, analysis of Lincoln’s clothing, and bronze copies of plaster casts made of his face and hands.
The statue proved so popular that Johnson created eight huge duplicates ranging from 25 to 31 feet tall, made of aluminum. These travel from place to place across the country. A 31-foot statue arrived in Chicago the same week that the Chicago Cubs won the World Series, and the ensuing celebration swirled around the giants, while Modern Man wore a Cubs fan shirt over his white sweater.
Well-loved and touched statues can deteriorate. In 2021, the Board of Lincoln Fellowship realized it needed complete restoration at the Seward Johnson Atelier. That decision sparked a campaign to raise the existing statue maintenance fund up to $22,000 to pay the costs. Lincoln Fellowship did receive enough to proceed, thanks to generous donations through the Adams County Community Foundation’s Giving Spree, and other donors (Giving Spree is a one-day giving event that benefits numerous local charities that will be held again on Nov. 3).
On June 29, 2022, the newly revitalized statue will be returned to Gettysburg. It is our community treasure. When the statue was dedicated on Remembrance Day on Nov. 19, 1992, Seward Johnson was the main speaker. He stated, “I grew to feel Lincoln, the man, the individual.... a person of great dignity and vision.... I wanted him here on the sidewalk within our reach. That’s why I have done my best to bring Lincoln to the likeness of life ... to live amongst us and among the coming generations of Americans. We welcome him back here today, to breathe new life into his message of equality and dignity for us all.”
Lincoln Fellowship of Pennsylvania is a 501(c)3 Organization
P. O. Box 3372, Gettysburg, PA 17325