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What should be done with Chicago’s Balbo Monument?

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Curbed readers weigh in on the monument from fascist dictator Benito Mussolini

Flickr Creative Commons/rchdj10

For decades, an ancient Roman column given to Chicago by Italian dictator Benito Mussolini has stood in Chicago’s Grant Park, but this week, the discussion of its merits and what to do with it has moved from social media and into the Chicago City Council.

This morning, the Chicago Sun-Times published a story which indicates that 14th Ward Alderman Ed Burke and 36th Ward Alderman Gilbert Villegas are preparing for a formal push to have the Balbo Monument removed from Grant Park.

“I’m amazed the citizens of Chicago have not demanded that these symbols of fascism—a street and a statue bearing Balbo’s name—donated by Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, a sidekick of Adolf Hitler, be removed decades ago from the city’s landscape,” Burke told the Chicago Sun-Times. Burke’s plan is to petition the Chicago Park District to have the monument removed and to also introduce a plan in the City Council to rename Balbo Drive after “a late Chicago mayor who never was honored by having a building or street dedicated to his memory.”

Given to the city of Chicago in 1933 by Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, the monument is an ancient Corinthian column atop of a podium with an inscription that honors fascist Italy and General Italo Balbo’s transatlantic flight from Rome to Chicago for the 1933 World’s Fair.

In recent days, calls to have the monument removed continue online via social media and a petition. Another petition asks the city to rename Balbo Drive after journalist and civil rights activist Ida B. Wells.

But what exactly should be done with the Balbo Monument and Balbo Drive?

Curbed readers left dozens of comments on a story from earlier this week, making various suggestions from placing the monument in a museum to working with the Italian government to rededicate it.

A number of commenters, such as spellbound dogfighter, says that the monument should simply be removed:

Yes, it should be taken down and should have been a long time ago. There are endless individuals more deserving of this street name.

Commenter Exchange suggests that there is an opportunity to coordinate with the Italian government to rededicate the monument but says that renaming Balbo Drive is in order.

Certainly the drive should be renamed. But the ancient column is more associated with the Italian culture than the short lived fascist government. Why not work with the current Italian government and simply rededicate the monument?

The Roman column belongs in a museum, reader JimA in Chicago says.

How about putting the monument in a museum where the weather can’t melt that ancient pillar.

Reader Yostradamus says that a placard should be added to the monument as a reminder and warning to the dangers of fascism.

Why not just put up a placard next to the monument putting it in context? Make the monument a warning to the evils of fascism and leave it in place. Certainly the road should be renamed.

A number of commenters, such as Fever28 suggest that the column should remain in Grant Park and that the suggestion of removing controversial monuments is a slippery slope.

Let me say this in unequivocal terms for you. I HATE MUSSOLINI AND ALL OF HIS HENCHMEN. That said, my concern is what you’d like to remove next to satisfy you. Or can your lust to censor ever really be satisfied?

And finally, reader City Guy says that it’s important to consider the context of this monument when discussing its merits and whether it has a place on the Chicago lakefront.

It is important to put the Balbo monument in context.

1. Balbo was not just an Italian aviator. He was a leader of the Black Shirts, a fascist thug who helped lead the March on Rome that installed Mussolini as ruler of Italy. He had no connection to Chicago that I know of other than flying here during the 1933 World’s Fair.

2. The act of flying here wasn’t that special from my understanding. It was a publicity stunt not Lindbergh crossing the Atlantic non-stop for the first time ever.

3. My senses is the real reason the statue is here is that Mussolini used it as a way to increase his popularity and the Chicago political machine to recognize the large Italian community.

Of all the amazing and important things that have happened in Chicago, this event was not very important. And I don’t think it is appropriate to celebrate a facist thug.

The best suggestion was to re-plaque and re-contextualize the monument.