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Hiawatha statue takes a long time to take down, finally removed Tuesday

Brad Williams

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After 59 years of standing along the Mississippi River, Hiawatha has left La Crosse’s Riverside Park for a yet-undisclosed destination.

The 25-foot Indian statue criticized for many years as a caricature of native Americans was placed on a trailer Tuesday morning and transported from the park, upon orders from the city park department.

Workers began the removal process early Monday morning, spending several hours chipping concrete from the statue’s base before cutting through a steel support beam inside the statue.

The statue has had several defenders, who are upset that the city didn’t hold a public vote on whether to keep Hiawatha in the park.

In 2000, the city council narrowly defeated a plan to remove the statue, after a report from a study committee recommending that Hiawatha be taken down.

Park director Jay Odegaard says another artwork could take Hiawatha’s place, but there’s more red tape now for installing a statue than existed when the Indian was installed just before La Crosse’s first Oktoberfest in 1961.

The family of sculptor Anthony Zimmerhakl will now take possession of Hiawatha, with plans to have the statue displayed on private property.  

Many people in social media have accused city leaders of trying to sneak the statue out of the park in the middle of the night, before a scheduled Monday news conference about Hiawatha’s future.

Odegaard says the decision by City Hall to take down the statue was not meant to judge the value of the Zimmerhakl artwork. 

A native of Prairie du Chien, Brad graduated from UW - La Crosse and has worked in radio news for more than 30 years, mostly in the La Crosse area. He regularly covers local courts and city and county government. Brad produces the features "Yesterday in La Crosse" and "What's Buried on Brad's Desk." He also writes the website "Triviazoids," which finds odd connections between events that happen on a certain date, and he writes and performs with the local comedy group Heart of La Crosse. Brad been featured on several national TV programs because of his memory skills.

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    Kent Porter

    August 12, 2020 at 6:01 am

    Congrats Mr . ex Mayor , I guess you can stop sleeping on the couch now that your protesting , pepper sprayed wife got you to do what she wanted , you might want to start looking for a new job , voters are not happy !!!! Write in – Kent Porter for Mayor , take our city back !!!

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