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Ezzard Charles statue, more than 4 years in the making, is ready to make its debut

A freshly placed gray granite pedestal in the foreground reads: Ezzard Charles "The Cincinnati Cobra"
Tana Weingartner
The 5-foot-tall granite pedestal was installed Thursday afternoon, ahead of Saturday's statue unveiling.

After more than four years of planning and sculpting, a statue of the Cincinnati Cobra is finally ready to be unveiled Saturday during Ezz Fest in the newly renamed Ezzard Charles Park in the West End.

The 8-foot-tall bronze likeness of Ezzard Charles was created by artist John Hebenstreit. It will stand atop a 5-foot tall gray granite pedestal. The base will feature information about Charles' life. A companion mobile app and walking tours are also included.

"Everyone is excited. The neighborhood is just kind of buzzing about what's to come," says Alexis Kidd Zaffer, executive director of Seven Hills Neighborhood Houses.

"I think a lot of things happen in the West End and to the West End. I think this is one of the things that happens with the West End and for the West End," Kidd Zaffer adds. "Charles is truly our neighborhood hero — one of many — and so we're just grateful that there's actually this permanent fixture that will show the appreciation and the honoring of who he truly is — the magnitude (of who) he was in this neighborhood and just beyond boxing, all that he represents."

Man drills a hole into a granite platform.
Tana Weingartner
A small crew used a crane to position and install the granite pedestal Thursday, Sept. 29.

The 5th annual Ezz Fest begins Saturday, Oct. 1, with the first Cincinnati Cobra Crosstown Challenge, a roughly 5k race that follows Charles’ training route from the West End to Eden Park and back. That begins at 7:30 a.m., and will be followed by a community parade, free food, music, and activities from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The unveiling ceremony begins at 10:15 a.m., with the reveal set for 10:55 a.m. The ceremony will also serve as the unveiling of the renamed park, formerly known as Laurel Park.

Members of Charles' family are expected to attend.

The statue isthe brainchild of Andrew VanSickle who lives nearby and used to walk his dog in what was then called Laurel Park. For him this memorial has been some eight years in the making.

In 2018 he told WVXU about how he stopped to talk with some young children standing under the Ezzard Charles street sign by the park.

"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 recalled. "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. The Cincinnati Parks Foundation agreed, and fundraising soon began.

After pandemic-related and other delays, the idea is finally a reality.

Back side of the pedestal.
Tana Weingartner
The back side of the pedestal includes a dedication to the West End community.

Charles, nicknamed the Cincinnati Cobra, 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.