The idea of the Spartan Statue originated in 1932 from then MSC Athletic Director Ralph Young when he was visiting the campus of University of Southern California and saw their Trojan statue. Students attempted to create a Spartan statue, but all attempts failed. Nothing more would be done until 1941 when President John Hannah took office and asked the statue’s maker to undertake the project.
The creator of Sparty was Leonard Jungwirth. Born in 1903, Jungwirth was a Michigan native that trained locally in Michigan and abroad in Germany. Jungwirth received a B.A. in Architectural Engineering from the University of Detroit in 1927, studied in Munich at the Academy of Applied Art and the Academy of Fine Arts from 1929-1933, taught wood and stone carving at Wayne State from 1936-1940, received his M.S. from Wayne State, and later become an assistant professor of sculpture at Michigan State College in 1940. Jungwirth taught at MSU for 23 years and died in 1963.
The creation of the original Sparty began in August of 1943 as a small clay sketch and would later become a model that stood three feet tall. From there, a full sized scale model was made which would require three months to have the gray clay built over a wooden core. Working in his spare time, without pay, it took two years for Sparty to be finished. Sparty was originally supposed to be a bronze statue, but it was later decided he would be made of ceramic, most likely due to the lack of metal during war time. That decision resulted with Sparty being the world’s largest free-standing ceramic sculpture. Made from terra cotta, Sparty was salt glazed and fired locally at the Grand Ledge Sewer Tile Company. The base of Sparty was made of bricks that had outlined pictures representing the major varsity sports on campus, such as a football player, runner, diver, basketball player, swimmer, wrestler, golfer, tennis player, and rider.
Sparty himself stands at nine feet seven inches with a weight of 6,600 pounds. Including the base, the structure was thirteen feet ten inches. (Please note that these stats were taken from the 2005 New Spartan Statue Dedication Program. Many reports and documents give different stats for the height and weight of the original Sparty.)
Sparty was officially dedicated on June 9, 1945, located in the intersection of Kalamazoo Street, Chestnut Road, and Red Cedar Road. John Hannah gave a speech entitled, “The Spartan” with remarks made from Leonard Jungwirth and the band playing the fight song.
Tough Years for Sparty
The years that followed after dedication were a bit rough for Sparty. A problem that still occurs today is the vandalism of the statue by University of Michigan fans. Even back then, U. of M. fans would vandalize the statue with blue and yellow paint. Sandblasting of the statue was necessary to remove the graffiti. Even though the statue was salt glazed to help protect it from the elements, the statue could not withstand the harsh winters and thaws of Michigan. With the necessary sandblasting to remove the vandalism and mixture of snow and rain, cracks were able to form in the ceramic which allowed water to seep in, causing the statue to expand and crack.
Sparty’s first major renovation took place in 1988 and lasted over a year. A “Save Our Sparty” committee was formed that raised around $75,000 for the statue’s renovation. Sparty was injected with a plastic cement mixed with dried and crushed cement to solidify the base and was rededicated in front of a crowd of 100 people on September 30, 1989. At the event was George Alderton, who called the former “Aggies” the “Spartans” instead of the selected nickname, the “Staters” and Irene Jungwirth, the widow of the creator, Leonard Jungwirth.
The Bronze Sparty
Even with the restorations, Sparty was still crumbling away. In the early 2000’s, the Sparty Project was installed to cast a new, replica statue in bronze and to remove and preserve the original statue, build a new plaza, and create an endowment for the long term care of the statues. The project overall would cost about $500,000 to complete. The Sparty Project met that goal and exceeded that amount by $75,000.
The first step of the Sparty Project was to cast a mold of Sparty for it to be used in the making of the new bronze statue. The mold itself was fine, but the workers accidently ripped off the protective coating of the statue. Workers then had to put on a new protective coating before removing the scaffolding. The mold was sent to the Artworks Foundry in California to be cast. Unlike the original statue that weighs 6,600 pounds, the new statue weighs only 1,500 pounds.
Along with a new statue, Sparty also got a new location. Before, Sparty’s home was located on an island in the intersections of Kalamazoo Street, Chestnut Road, and Red Cedar Road. With the four angled crossings, three walkways, and three stop signs, traffic was messy and congested. To correct this, a new plaza was built at the north end of Demonstration Field, opening up the intersection but still allowing people a chance to take a photo of Sparty and for the marching band to surround the statue. The original Sparty was relocated inside the Spartan Stadium where it would be safe from the outside elements and was refinished.
The new Spartan statue was unveiled to a crowd of hundreds during Welcome Week on August 25, 2005. The statue was not supposed to be unveiled until the dedication ceremony in October 2005, but the artists warned that the condensation from leaving Sparty covered could cause discoloration of the statue’s exterior. For that reason alone, Sparty was unveiled early. The official dedication ceremony still took place October 8, 2005.
During the original dedication of Sparty, Hannah spoke, “In the years ahead, this Spartan Warrior in this beautiful and proper setting will become one of the distinguishing marks of this campus that all students and visitors will associate with this college and this campus in much the same way that Beaumont Tower is now generally recognized as the proper symbol of Michigan State College.” President Hannah couldn’t have spoken truer words.