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Groundbreaking Set For Ezzard Charles Statue In West End

artistic rendering of bronze statue of man in boxing stance atop a stone pedestal surrounded by a concrete oval with benches and trees in the background.
Cincinnati Parks Foundation
An artist rendering of the planned Ezzard Charles memorial in Laurel Park.

After a handful of issues and delays, the Cincinnati Parks Foundation is finally preparing to install an eight-foot tall bronze statue of Ezzard Charles in his traditional boxing stance. Groundbreaking on the monument to the "Cincinnati Cobra" is scheduled for October.

"We're going to do an official groundbreaking on Saturday, Oct. 9, which will be the 4th annual Ezz Fest," says Jennifer Spieser, executive director of the Cincinnati Parks Foundation. She says Ezzard Charles II and his family are expected to attend.

The statue will be installed in Laurel Park in the West End where Charles lived and trained. Spieser says the pandemic is partially responsible for the delayed unveiling, which had been set for October 2020 and then spring 2021. The current plan calls for an unveiling sometime next year.

"Originally we had a location that was closer to Ezzard Charles Drive, and after we got out there with a group of architects in February, we realized there was a gas emissions line that we could not build over successfully," Spieser says. "The (new) plaza (will be) pushed back more toward the center of the park."

Though pushing the timeline back again was disappointing, Spieser says it allowed for more fundraising and current plans call for a larger pavilion with more amenities like benches and artistic touches like phrases inscribed in the pavement.

About The Statue

Sculptor John Hebenstreit created the statue. His work is featured several places around Cincinnati, including the Black Brigade monument in Smale Riverfront Park.

The eight-foot bronze statue will stand atop a five-foot tall gray granite pedestal. The base will feature information about Charles' life. A companion mobile app and walking tours are also in the works and slated to be ready for the groundbreaking.

The Parks Foundation calls it the "first interactive bronze sculpture" because visitors will be able to "interact with the sculpture digitally through your smartphone with various learning applications."

Ezzard Charles

Charles lived in the West End. He would pass the spot where Laurel Park now stands on his regular training runs between Union Terminal and Music Hall, and on toward Mt. Adams.

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

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.

Senior Editor and reporter at WVXU with more than 20 years experience in public radio; formerly news and public affairs producer with WMUB. Would really like to meet your dog.