NEW YORK—Abraham Lincoln was born in Kentucky in 1809 and became president of the U.S. Alexander Skene was born in Scotland in 1838 and became a gynecologist. Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. Dr. Skene discovered Skene's glands.
Barry Newman/The Wall Street Journal
The statue of Abraham Lincoln in Brooklyn's Prospect Park.
Lincoln, by most accounts, set foot in Brooklyn a couple of times. Brooklyn is where Dr. Skene spent his whole career. In fact, he is the only doctor in Brooklyn history to have a body part named after him.
And it's some body part: Recent research postulates that Skene's glands might be vital to the functioning of the elusive G spot.
What on earth could Abraham Lincoln have to do with the G spot? Just this: After a 116-year exile deep in Prospect Park, a statue of Lincoln is soon to be carted out into Grand Army Plaza, Brooklyn's monument to the North's victory in the Civil War.
But the site selected for the Lincoln statue has been occupied, since 1906, by a bust of the bald and bearded Dr. Skene.
"It was felt that bringing Lincoln back was very important," says Crystal Gaudio, who has been planning the presidential trip for Prospect Park. "If we have to move Skene, Skene has to move."
Still, the relative historical stature of great emancipators and Brooklyn gynecologists may not be set in stone.
"Our strong stance was that Dr. Skene should stay where he is," says Kathleen Powderly, an ethicist at Downstate Medical Center, east of the park. Downstate's roots are in the hospital Dr. Skene once headed. Dr. Powderly wrote her doctoral thesis about him. She has a T-shirt with his face on it draped over her office chair.
Barry Newman/The Wall Street Journal
The Abraham Lincoln statue should be moved to nearby Grand Army Plaza, pictured, says Richard Kessler.
"Monuments shouldn't all be for generals and politicians," she says. "Skene was a champion for women's health. Those glands weren't prominent. You didn't even notice them unless they were inflamed."
Some students of the Civil War see things her way. Tony Horwitz, whose new book, "Midnight Rising," carves a warts-and-all Lincoln figure, puts it like this: "He's on the penny, he's on the Mall. Enough Lincoln, already. It's time gynecologists get their due."
In the president's defense, it should be noted that it isn't easy for a statue to find a place to park in Brooklyn, and this one of Lincoln has been circling the block since 1869.
That's when it was put up in the plaza—the first time—by Calvert Vaux and his partner Frederick Law Olmsted, the Lincoln partisan and landscaper of Prospect Park. It was the nation's very first monument to Lincoln, 20 feet tall and paid for by donations of $1 apiece from 13,000 Brooklynites. Olmsted placed it on the commanding northern edge of his plaza's ellipse.
"Let it stand, not for one year, or for 10 years," the Rev. Dr. R.S. Storrs orated at the unveiling, "but while the hills remain on their ancient foundations!"
Make that 26 years. A grandiose triumphal arch went up in the plaza in 1892, trolley tracks were laid. "The boys," said the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, began making Lincoln "a target for every kind of missile." The dour president was out of place. In 1895, he was hauled to a Prospect Park lakeside, joining a bust of Beethoven.
Olmsted would have hated that. Another park impresario made it worse: In 1959, Robert Moses filled in the lake, and left Lincoln to gaze at the rear fence of a skating rink for 52 years.
Now Prospect Park is spending $70 million to dig out the lake and bring back Olmsted's layout. Lincoln will ruin the view, so the park has raised $465,000 to dislodge him again. But where to?
The obvious place is facing north at the plaza's tip, where he was before. "It was the focal point of the original plan," says Charles Beveridge, who has edited Olmsted's papers for 30 years. That space has been grabbed, however, by a bust of John F. Kennedy.
"Why not move JFK?" asks Laurie Olin, a noted landscape architect who has described Prospect Park as "a meditation on post-Civil War America." But a presidential swap, says the park's Ms. Gaudio, would be too much of "a political challenge."
One living park fixture, Richard Kessler, is convinced Olmsted had Lincoln face north to defy proslavery tycoons in Manhattan. Mr. Kessler, 65, hands out tracts to that effect in the plaza.
"People nod their heads until I'm done talking and walk away," he said while crusading there one autumn day.
If JFK won't be budged, Mr. Kessler thinks Lincoln could fit in well between the arch of triumph and a fountain adorned by Neptune, Tritons, and a boy grasping a cornucopia. Ms. Gaudio rejects the idea because it would make the president "look kind of puny."
The only spot for Lincoln, the park has ruled, is Dr. Skene's. It's at the top of the plaza directly across from JFK, facing south. But a new spot for Dr. Skene has required some effort to locate.
There is no question of sending him to Scotland. In any case, the chief of Clan Skene, Danus George Moncrieff Skene, who is 67 and retired, has no room for "the glands man," as he calls him. "I'm sitting in a small house in Shetland," he says. Nor will he land in Skene Manor on Skene Mountain in upstate New York, named for a Skene who was declared an enemy of the state in the Revolutionary War.
The park did offer Dr. Skene to Long Island College Hospital, his original institution. But LICH only has room for his head, not the marble slab behind it, which also has memorable value: Its 38-year-old designer married Dr. Skene's 60-year-old widow in 1903.
A last possibility, Downstate Medical Center's backyard, is unacceptable, says the center's Dr. Powderly, because Dr. Skene would lose his "public presence." So a compromise has been struck: Once Lincoln takes over Dr. Skene's spot, Dr. Skene will cross traffic to a new spot, less grand, on Grand Army Plaza.
The park will clear the bushes for him, but it has no money for a plaque to explain who he was. Passersby may wonder, as many have before, what brings a bust of a Scottish gynecologist to a Civil War memorial in Brooklyn. They will find no mention of his glands.
Write to Barry Newman at email@example.com
Corrections & Amplifications
Abraham Lincoln visited Brooklyn in 1860, before he was elected president. An earlier version of this article incorrectly said he had never been there.
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