For nearly 120 years, the memory of Emil Ambos has been perpetuated through his statue on his grave at Green Lawn Cemetery on the West Side.
On Monday, a new day began for his legacy, as the cemetery officially unveiled its recently restored statue of Ambos, commonly referred to as the “Fisherman’s Statue”.
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“Restoring this statue was a top priority because of its history and artistic merit, combined with its popularity with people who visit the cemetery,” said Randy Rogers, president of the Green Lawn Cemetery Association, the group at non-profit which owns the cemetery and is responsible for its preservation and restoration.
The bronze statue was cast in 1901 and depicts Ambos, who died in 1898, seated on a log holding a fishing rod in one hand and a fish net in the other with a bucket at his feet.
“He was a gentleman and a playboy,” Rogers said. “He was a ‘Bruce Wayne’ type figure in town,” in reference to Batman’s wealthy alter-ego.
Restoration of the statue was necessary due to both vandalism and age.
In the late 1990s, a vandal broke into the cemetery and shot the statue, hitting it in the center of Ambos’ straw hat. A few years later, the fish began to disappear from the spar. This was all happening as the statue began to turn green, a common discoloration from bronze exposed to the elements.
“We decided the only way to do it right was to insert it away from moisture,” said Mike Major, the Urbana-based sculptor who performed the restoration. “We actually had to clean the surface to get all that oxidation out. I also re-sculpted the fish based on a photo where there was still a fish left.
Major first sandblasted the statue to remove the oxidation before applying a mixture of wax and acid which restored the original brown hue. After bolting the new fish and a bucket handle, he applied a final coat of wax to prevent oxidation. In total, the restoration lasted about 2 1/2 months.
“If this statue is waxed every year, it will last for eternity,” Major said. “But if it is neglected, it will probably be 15 to 30 years depending on how much sand is blowing in the wind.”
The restoration, which Roger said cost around $ 30,000, was paid for by the cemetery council endowment combined with the annual donations the cemetery receives. The restoration was part of the preparations for the 175th anniversary of the cemetery, which will take place in 2023.
For Roger, the restoration not only cleaned up one of Green Lawn’s most famous statues, but also brought new attention to the history of Ambos, which Roger considers important for any cemetery.
“It’s really rewarding when we do restoration work here in the cemetery, because not only are we preserving the history of our city, but we are also preserving those stories,” Roger said. “We have people buried here who are well known; we have people here who are not. But when you come in and start researching them, you find they all had a story. “
Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story distorted the age of the statue.