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Something to howl about: Capitoline Wolf statue returns to Eden Park

forklift lowers bronze statue onto base
Tana Weingartner
A crew from Cincinnati Parks installs the new Capitoline Wolf statue on Nov. 2, 2023.

The mythological Roman twins Romulus and Remus are back in their place in Eden Park, complete with a new statue of the Capitoline Wolf. The replacement statue will be dedicated Friday, Nov. 3 at 10 a.m.

The original depicting the she-wolf nursing the twins — a representation of the founding of Ancient Rome — was stolen in June 2022. The wolf portion of the bronze statue was discovered missing on the morning of June 17, 2022, severed at the paws.

The new statue was carefully lowered into place Thursday morning by a Cincinnati Parks crew as Joe Geraci, historian for the local chapter of the Sons and Daughters of Italy, looked on. He says one of the four paws was sent to Italy to ensure the new statue was the correct size.

"Then the park board sent the base over with the twins and the remaining three paws," he tells WVXU. "They took all four paws and then melted that down with new bronze to make the new statue."

The thieves haven't been caught, nor the missing statue found. New signage has been installed near the statue explaining its provenance. The landscaping around the statue was cut back to make the location more visible, hopefully deterring any would-be future thieves.

"Site lines into the space have been opened up by clearing out some brush to create more visibility," says parks spokesman Rocky Merz. "Other measures have been taken to secure the statue, however, we are not talking about them publicly for obvious reasons."

RELATED: Bronze wolf statue gifted to Cincinnati from Rome during Mussolini's reign has been stolen

"We are so excited to have been working with the Sons and Daughters of Italy over the last year on this project," says Cincinnati Parks Foundation Executive Director Jennifer Hafner Spieser. "We expect a lot of Italians to join us in Walnut Hills at Eden Park and celebrate with us. It's through their being able to track down where the original casts were for the statue that helped us do this project, in addition to the many donors who made it possible."

Shortly after the theft, members of the Sons and Daughters of Italy Cincinnatus Lodge #1191 and the United Italian Society reached out to the Parks Foundation to arrange a fundraising campaign to replace the statue.

They tracked down a similar statue in Florence, Italy, which turned out to have the exact measurements as the one in Cincinnati, explains Joe Mastruserio, president of the Cincinnatus Lodge. He says they worked with a foundry and artists in Florence to have a new statue cast and shipped to the United States.

"The statue is a depiction of the founding of Rome, and it's been a part of the Italian community here in Cincinnati for a long time," says Mastruserio, in explaining why replacing the statue was important to members of local Italian heritage groups.

"Besides just being a a beautiful piece of public art, it did have some historical significance to the Italian community here, especially after there were calls to have it removed as all those statues were back during World War II. And luckily, people understood the difference ... it's not a fascist symbol," he says.

Did the original statue come from Mussolini?

The story of the original project has been muddled over the years, leading to controversy, which some theorized could have been the motivation behind the theft.

The statue is an exact replica of Lupa Capitolina, also referred to as the Lupa Romana, at the Musei Capitolini in Rome. It was a gift to the city of Cincinnati from the city of Rome in 1931. Since the gift was sent during the time when dictator Benito Mussolini was in power, over time it was thought and said by some to have been a gift from Mussolini himself.

RELATED: The history of Eden Park's rules and regulations

The Parks Foundation and the Sons and Daughters of Italy say that's not true.

"The Sons of Italy are the ones that requested the statue back in 1929," Mastruserio points out, noting the organization still has archival paperwork showing they made the request. "At the time, Mussolini was not the monster he turned into."

two men lower the statue on a lift
Sons and Daughters of Italy Cincinnatus Lodge #1191
Artists at work in Italy.

Additionally, Mastruserio says, the statue was a gift from the governor of Rome, Francesco Boncompagni Ludovisi, not Mussolini.

"That's a very actually interesting story because he didn't see eye to eye with Mussolini. Mussolini got rid of him after a while because they disagreed on a lot of things. ... And he actually helped with the [World War II] invasion plans with the Allies. They used his home... He donated [his home] to the Red Cross to use as a hospital for the Allied soldiers when they came in."

Updated: November 2, 2023 at 3:45 PM EDT
This article was first published Oct. 10, 2023 and has been updated.
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.