Ezzard Charles Sculpture on WKRC

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.

New Statue Will Celebrate Cincinnati Boxing Legend Ezzard Charles

By TANA WEINGARTNER  NOV 2, 2018

After several years of planning, a statue honoring Cincinnati boxing legend Ezzard Charles is finally about to become reality.

Andrew VanSickle got interested in Ezzard Charles a few years ago when he bought a house just off Ezzard Charles Drive in the West End. He and his dog, Bill Murray The Pug, like taking walks in Laurel Park, midway between Music Hall and Union Terminal.

Soon after moving in, the pair stopped to talk with some young children standing under the Ezzard Charles street sign.

"I asked the kids, 'Do you know who Ezzard Charles is?' One pointed up to the sign and didn't say anything, and a second kid in the group said he was mayor," VanSickle recalls. "I knew then that, wow, such a great history of Ezzard Charles, maybe there should be something around here that actually reminds people of who he was."

A statue, he decided, would be the perfect way to honor one of the country's best boxers, and give children and the community someone to look up to.

"In this generation and the coming generations they need something to pick their phones up to and have a selfie with and have something to share," says VanSickle. "It's great to have a street, but the idea of actually having a place where you can go and experience Ezzard Charles is going to be a great thing, something you can share with your family.

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Sculptor John Hebenstreit holds the clay model he'll use to create an eight-foot bronze statue of Ezzard Charles.

"It's going to be, I think, another landmark in Cincinnati."

As it turns out, the Cincinnati Parks Foundation agreed. Executive Director Jennifer Speiser says the foundation's board recently gave the go-ahead to begin raising funds for the $275,000 project in the West End's Laurel Park.

"We're doing a lot of different fundraising for eight different parks [and] Laurel Park is one of them," she says. "Out of all these projects, we feel like this is the project that so many people will stand behind and support."

Some support will come from FC Cincinnati. The statue is included in the stadium benefits agreement between the team and the West End community. Laurel Park is one block west of the team's planned soccer stadium.

Ezzard Charles would pass the spot where the park now stands on his regular training runs between Union Terminal and Music Hall.

Sculpting A Legend

Sculptor John Hebenstreit brought his clay model to the WVXU studios. His work is featured several places around Cincinnati, including the Black Brigade monument in Smale Riverfront Park. He was eager to be part of the project and had the model ready to go well before the park foundation gave final approval.

The plan calls for a plaza about the size of a boxing ring with a five-foot tall gray granite pedestal at the center topped by an eight-foot tall Ezzard Charles in his traditional boxing stance.

"We want him to look like a very determined, strong, vital individual, the way that people remember him as a boxer," Hebenstreit says.

Nicknamed the "Cincinnati Cobra," Charles was more than the world heavyweight boxing champion - he was the man who famously beat Joe Louis in 1950. He also was a veteran who worked with kids and spoke three languages. Born in Georgia, he was a musician and loved jazz, bringing records home from his travels abroad.

"That may be what's most important about the statue," says Hebenstreit. "He wasn't just a boxer. He really cared about the West End and he invested time into Cincinnati."

When finished, the statue of Ezzard Charles will stand eight-feet tall upon a five-foot, granite pedestal in the West End's Laurel Park.

CREDIT TANA WEINGARTNER / WVXU

The base of the statue will feature information about Charles' life, and a companion mobile app is in the works.

The goal is to begin casting the statue in bronze by the spring. Hebenstreit says that should give him plenty of time to get the sculpture just right.

"I've never had the opportunity to sculpt a figure this exposed, literally," Hebenstreit says with a laugh. "He's only going to be wearing his boxing shorts and that poses some challenge. When you're working with just the raw figure you have to really know what you're doing."

He's intent on capturing Charles' face perfectly, saying he sees a little something different in every image. If the timetable and fundraising go as planned, the statue will be ready for unveiling next fall.

Ezzard Charles was diagnosed with ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease, in 1966. He died in 1973. A year later, his hometown named Ezzard Charles Drive in his honor.

Editor's note: Music used in this story is "Ezz-Thetic," from jazz musician George Russell's album Ezz-Thetics, written in honor of, and dedicated to, Ezzard Charles.

Learn more about the Ezzard Charles Interactive Bronze Sculpture