In front of the grandstand of the Harlem race track, now present day Forest Park Mall on Roosevelt and Des Plaines, stood the tribute to the Egyptian queen sculpted by Edmonia Lewis, The Death of Cleopatra.

Mary Edmonia Lewis, sculpted this masterpiece for the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition.  She was inspired to respond to the principles that the Centennial was celebrating including unity and liberty -yet the Centennial seemed ambivalent to the centuries of Africa slavery, the Civil War and the failing efforts of Reconstruction.

The 2,000-pound statue had traveled after the Centennial Exhibition to a saloon on Clark St. in Chicago and later was placed at the Harlem race track as a monument to mark the grave of the track owner’s favorite horse, Cleopatra.  The Death of Cleopatra statue had endured hardships- including being painted by boy scouts and later scrapped in a salvage yard before it was found in the 1980’s. 

Forest Park’s Conservation of Sculpture and Objects studio director, Andrezej Dajnowski, in conjunction with the Forest Park Historical Society and the Smithsonian, restored it to its near-original state after repairing the nose, sandals, hands, chin, and other damaged areas.  It is now on display at the Smithsonian Institute.

Edmonia Lewis, Cleopatra’s creator, was the daughter of an Ojibway woman and a Haitian father.  She was the first woman of African-American and Native American heritage to achieve international fame as a sculptor.

Her work includes themes relating to black people and indigenous people of the Americas into Neoclassical style.

John Brown medallions, 1864–65

Colonel Robert Gould Shaw (plaster), 1864

Anne Quincy Waterston, 1866

A Freed Woman and Her Child, 1866

The Old Arrow-Maker and His Daughter, 1866

The Marriage of Hiawatha, 1866–67

Forever Free, 1867

Colonel Robert Gould Shaw (marble), 1867–68

Hagar in the Wilderness, 1868

Madonna Holding the Christ Child, 1869

Hiawatha, collection of the Newark Museum, 1868

Minnehaha, collection of the Newark Museum, 1868

Indian CombatCarrara marble, 30″ high, collection of the Cleveland Museum of Art, 1868

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1869–71

Bust of Abraham Lincoln, 1870 

Asleep, 1872 

Awake, 1872 

Poor Cupid, 1873

Moses, 1873

Bust of James Peck Thomas, 1874, collection of the Allen Memorial Art Museum, her only known portrait of a freed slave

Hygieia, 1874

Hagar, 1875

The Death of Cleopatra, marble, 1876, collection of Smithsonian American Art Museum

John Brown, 1876, Rome, plaster bust

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1876, Rome, plaster bust

General Ulysses S. Grant, 1877–78

Veiled Bride of Spring, 1878

John Brown, 1878–79

The Adoration of the Magi, 1883

Charles Sumner, 1895


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