Freethought plays in Peoria, thanks to FFRF donors

11ingersollAn illustrious Illinois freethinker is being restored to his pedestal.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is delighted to announce that, with the help of 238 generous donors from 43 states plus Puerto Rico, it has raised the money to refurbish a historic statue in Peoria to America’s most famous “infidel,” Robert Green Ingersoll. Private donations have paid all the costs to renovate the 1911 statue that is owned by the city of Peoria.

Thanks to the successful fundraiser that FFRF organized, the statue has been restored a year ahead of schedule. The project cost about $27,000. The Peoria Park District will hold the dedication in Glen Oak Park, Peoria, Ill., on Ingersoll’s birthday, Aug. 11, at 10:30 a.m. The plaque on the new base will cite Ingersoll’s famous lines:

“Happiness is the only good. The time to be happy is now. The place to be happy is here. The way to be happy is to make others so.”

FFRF is sponsoring its own dinner party for Ingersoll friends and aficionados in Peoria the night before. Speakers will include descendants Jeff Ingersoll, who directs the Robert Green Ingersoll Memorial Committee, and R.E. (“Elliott”) Ingersoll, a professor of counseling psychology and faculty member at Cleveland State University who has been featured on TED Talks and is a musician. He’ll provide the entertainment, along with FFRF Co-President Dan Barker, who has put to music several memorable Ingersoll poems and orations.

Also briefly speaking will be Center for Inquiry’s Tom Flynn, FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor and Margaret Downey, with the Memorial Committee. Attendees include Ingersoll enthusiasts as far away as Florida. Learn more or sign up here

Ingersoll, a Civil War colonel and attorney who served as Illinois’ attorney general, was thrust into national fame in the political field, then as an eloquent orator and fearless freethought advocate. In an era without sound amplification, Ingersoll could attract crowds as large as 10,000 and commanded major speaking fees. Friend to four presidents, he was a rising political star, until he began lecturing as a nonbeliever. Once asked how much his significant library cost, Ingersoll replied that it probably had cost him the presidency. He has been dubbed Peoria’s “most famous citizen.”

Ingersoll was born in Dresden, N.Y., in 1833, and launched his career in Peoria, where he met his wife, Eva, whom he praised as “a woman without superstition.” A celebrated family man, he and Eva had two daughters. Eventually, Ingersoll moved to Washington, D.C., New York City and a mansion in upstate New York. Many biographies memorialize Ingersoll, including Professor Orvin Larson’s work, “American Infidel,” reprinted by FFRF

The original dedication of the 1911 statue by Italian sculptor Fritz Triebel was attended by 6,000 individuals, including Ingersoll’s widow, daughters and grandchildren, and was covered by The New York Times. Donors from all states had contributed.

“We do hope to ‘seed’ more statues to Ingersoll in the cities he lived in,” says FFRF’s Gaylor.

FFRF thanks all of the donors, including 16 who contributed $1,000 and whose names will appear on the new base of the statue. It is also grateful to Peoria Humanist Society’s Ken Hofbauer, who brought the statue’s condition to the city and FFRF’s attention, Jeff Ingersoll of the Memorial Committee who helped fundraise and work with the Peoria Park District, and Zenos Frudakis, a sculptor who helped arrange the foundry work at Laran Bronze, Philadelphia.

View flyer showing condition of statue prior to restoration.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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