One Life to Lose

Nathan Hale is best remembered for the famous line, “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.” These were purportedly his last words, uttered just before he was hanged by the British during the American Revolution. A Connecticut native, Hale graduated from Yale College in 1773 and served as a school teacher before enlisting in the Continental Army. In September 1776, he volunteered to go behind enemy lines and report on the British troops in Manhattan. The British forces captured Hale and executed him as a spy later that month.

Although Hale is widely celebrated as an American hero, he may seem like a surprising subject for a public sculpture in Chicago. The statue that stands in front of the Tribune Tower on Michigan Avenue was commissioned in 1940 by a patriotic Chicagoan: Colonel Robert R. McCormick, the Tribune’s publisher. McCormick was an enthusiastic supporter of the Reserve Officers Training Corps and regarded Hale as a positive role model. The Chicago statue is a cast of a sculpture created by Bela Pratt for the Yale campus in 1914.

At the Newberry, history-minded readers can learn more about Hale and McCormick. The library holds 16 history books focused on Hale, as well as a fictional tale and a play based on his exploits, both published in the nineteenth century. Additional information can be found in the Newberry’s vast collections in early American history. The Newberry holds seven titles about Robert R. McCormick, and numerous other sources about the storied McCormick family and their role in Chicago’s history.

This essay was posted in conjunction with the Statue Stories Chicago project.