CROWN POINT — Among the Seward Johnson sculptures on display this year is a huge tooth positioned at the Sportsplex. Apparently it’s a wisdom tooth because the statues have been a smart public relations move by the city.
“We know when we have sporting events at the Sportsplex, the tooth is a huge attraction,” said Councilwoman Carol Drasga, who was instrumental in launching the annual attraction. “A lot of those people who see it then come downtown. When I talk to the merchants, they say the statues have tripled their business. I know it at least doubles it and triples it for some.”
This is the third year the city has leased the figures, most of them depicting people engaged in everyday activities. While many of them are life-size representations, the city brought the 31-foot-tall Abraham Lincoln to the city in 2016, and this year the huge tooth has been the object of much curiosity.
“The tooth is the big ‘Why?’ I tell people we want to encourage flossing, but it’s kind of like the Picasso in Chicago,” Drasga said. “The Picasso was criticized when it was first erected in Chicago, but now it’s an object of pride. When you have something that’s expected or usual, people are somewhat interested, but the tooth is kind of goofy and there’s more dialogue over it.
“The figure of the man next to the tooth scratching his head says it all. It makes you laugh and you enjoy it.”
This is the first time the tooth has been on display anywhere but the East Coast.
“They were thrilled we took it because no one else grabbed it,” she said of the curators of the Johnson figures.
Appropriately, several dentists are among the sponsors of the tooth. Sponsors are sought to cover the cost of transporting the figures to the city, and the city’s Redevelopment Commission pays for brochures and banners to publicize them and for the cost of the insurance.
“It makes it doable,” Drasga said of the sponsors’ participation.
Most of the 13 sculptures are situated around the downtown square. Drasga said they help get people out of their cars and walking around to view the figures. While doing that, they might notice a shop or restaurant they didn’t know about before, and they decide to try it out.
On a pleasant, sunny Wednesday, Lauren Jagiella and her two children Raegan, 4, and L.J., 3, of Crown Point, were posing for pictures with the statues with Robyn Vescovi, of St. John, and her son Drew, 3. The scene occasionally resembled trying to herd cats to get the kids positioned with the statues.
“They are awesome and fun,” said Vescovi, who has been back to see them a handful of times. “They are slightly freaky because they are so real.”
“They are super cool,” Jagiella agreed adding she’s been back about four times. “We walk around a lot with the kids and take pictures with different poses.”
Kevin Niebergal, of Crown Point, works for Digital Lobby and has an office in the historic Lake County Courthouse. From his window Niebergal said he watches people visiting the statues all day long, taking selfies and enjoying them with their kids. He said he went out at 10 one night and met a man from Georgia who asked about the John Dillinger Museum and said he came to see the statues, too.
“That’s fascinating to me,” Niebergal said.
Aria Manalan, one of the dealers and sellers in the Old Town Square Antique Mall, said, “We’ve had several people who said they came to town to see the statues. Some also said they were here last year. Crown Point is a destination point. We send them to see the tooth. They bring their friends, so we think it’s had a positive impact on our business, especially on the weekends.”
Susan James, owner of Great Harvest Bread Co., said, “It’s hard to tell how much of an impact they’ve had, but anything new in town is a good thing. It attracts people and creates excitement. We do get people who say they came to see the statues, so I hope they continue every year to do something else.”
Mike Adams, the Hot Dog Man, said the statues continue to bring people to town but not as many as in previous years.
“In the first month the interest was there, but it has waned through the summer. When they first came out, it was pretty active. We had large groups taking pictures, but I haven’t seen that this year. I’ve seen families, but not in the same numbers.”
Drasga said the statues provide great viewing for people-watchers. Families come to see the statues and get their pictures taken with them amid laughter and good times.
“The people are more entertaining than the statues,” she said. “I do a lot of people watching.”
The statues will be on display through November, but the city already is negotiating to get figures for next year. Drasga said she has been trying to get the large reproduction of the sailor kissing a nurse, which was copied from the magazine cover showing the celebrations for the end of World War II.
“Next to Marilyn Monroe, it’s the toughest one to get,” she said. “It’s such a thank you to all the men and women in the armed services. You can have all the controversy you want about war, but almost everyone appreciates those who have given service to the country.”