Statue of Ezzard Charles to be created for Laurel Park in the West End
CINCINNATI (WKRC)- Andrew VanSickle was walking along Ezzard Charles Drive with his dog in 2014 when some kids from the area asked him about the dog. After a bit, he then asked them what they knew about Ezzard Charles Drive's namesake.
"They didn't know, and I was kind of surprised. One pointed to the street sign and another kid chimed in that he was mayor. So, right then and there, I knew that something had to happen," VanSickle said.
So, VanSickle set out to get a sculpture of the world-famous boxer erected.
"[Charles] is a man that everybody can look up to. That's why the sculpture is going to be 13-feet tall because I want to see those kids look up to a character," VanSickle said. "I think it's gonna be a tremendous Cincinnati landmark for 100 years to come.”
VanSickle said Charles was much more than a boxer.
"Ezzard Charles fought for our country [in the] U.S. Army. He spoke three languages and was an expert tailor," VanSickle said.
John Hebenstreit was selected as the sculptor.
"The problem with him is that his head is really unusual, and if you were to pull up, say you were pull up, you know, a page full of photographs, you discover that it looks like you're looking at ten different people, and it really does it; it's really hard to piece him together," Hebenstreit said.
The finished statue will be of Charles in his boxing trunks. That means Hebenstreit will have to accurately detail his torso. He said normally he doesn’t have to worry about those details.
"It's going to be incredibly difficult to get that just right, at least for me. I want it to be just right, so I need a little bit more time. Usually I would maybe take three months, or I could even do less than that," Hebenstreit said.
VanSickle said it won't just be a statue in Laurel Park off Ezzard Charles Drive. It will have an interactive component.
"You'll be able to pull out your phone and see fight clips. See things such as how the park looked before in the 1940s-1950s. Possibly see other things about Ezzard Charles as well and learn a little more about Cincinnati parks," VanSickle said. "Paint can peel and lights can dim, but bronze is going on and on and on. Bronze sculptures are just the perfect thing, and that's why they been such a tradition for the past few hundred years in America.”
Boxing coaches at the Dohn Fitness Academy said they try to teach the young boxers the rich history of Cincinnati's athletes, including Ezzard Charles.
"You have to look at your history and you've got to be a good citizen as well, so get involved in your community," Andrew Williams, director of boxing at Oasis Elite Boxing at Dohn Fitness Academy said.
Williams said he was surprised there wasn't already a statue honoring Charles.
"I'm very happy to see him getting the recognition. He is due; this city is due; it's time for the city to recognize these athletes and to do a 12-foot sculpture, it makes me proud not only as a fellow boxing enthusiast, but as a black man. I'm proud that the city is looking at these athletes and appreciating these athletes," Williams said. "The reason I got involved with boxing was because we had so many kids going to the Olympics and I was surprised that nobody in the city knew anything about it.”
VanSickle and Hebenstreit said they plan on meeting with the family of Ezzard Charles at some point.
"I think they need to be a part of not only the creation of the statue but most certainly the unveiling of it," Hebenstreit said.
"Our story has got to be told. Coaches like Ron Siler, who went to the 2004 Olympics, and now he is here coaching and mentoring these kids -- all these stories have to be told. We have to reach back and look to Ezzard Charles and appreciate that he brought the spotlight to us and it's our job to carry the torch," Williams said. “It is our job as mentors to teach them about the history, you know what I mean? Again, kids are playing video games or something like that, and if you want to be in the sport of boxing you gotta know history.”
If everything comes together as planned, the statue is expected to be unveiled in October 2019.