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Construction to finally begin on Ezzard Charles statue in the West End

Cincinnati Parks Foundation
An image of the clay sculpture of Ezzard Charles created by artist John Hebenstreit.

After pandemic and other delays, construction is finally beginning on a planned statue of Ezzard Charles in the West End. The Cincinnati Parks Foundation says work is scheduled to begin Wednesday in Laurel Park along Ezzard Charles Drive.

"It's taken a long time," says Jennifer Spieser, executive director of the Cincinnati Parks Foundation. "Certainly the pandemic had something to do with it, and also just because that the foundation was raising money for more than a piece of public art. We wanted this project to include an accessible plaza and benches in a park that historically never had a park bench."

The statue will be installed in Laurel Park in the West End where Charles lived and trained. The statue was initially planned to go near the road, but the location was pushed further back from the street because of underground utility concerns.

"We're including signage of the life and legacy of Charles because he was more than just a heavyweight boxing champion — which was amazing — but he was a veteran; he was bilingual. He was a true ambassador to the communities he lived within and that storytelling will be shared. We also included a Cincinnati Cobra route, which will mimic some of the runs that Ezz was actually utilizing when he was training to fight Rocky Marciano," Spieser says.

The original unveiling date of October 2020 was pushed to spring 2021 and then pushed again. It is now set for Oct. 1, 2022 during the 5th annual Ezz Fest.

"The goal is the plaza is finished before, and then the statue will be erected just days before the true dedication on October the first. We hope to do a true reveal to the community, so our team is working out the logistics of how do you hide it from public view."

About The Statue

Sculptor John Hebenstreit created the statue. His work is featured several places around Cincinnati, includingthe 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. He was also a veteran who worked with kids, a tailor, and spoke three languages. 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.