Of all the things you might imagine ever took up the mental space of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, Cincinnati, Ohio, is likely not one of them.
But in 1931, Cincinnati was on his mind. It was the 10th anniversary of Il Duce’s ascent to power, and he was scheming up commemorative tokens to send out in Italy and around the world. Mussolini was particularly fond of Rome’s 5th-century BC Lupa Capitolina (Capitoline Wolf) statue, which depicts the legendary twin founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus, feeding on the milk of their adoptive mother-wolf, the Lupa Romana (Wolf of Rome).
So he decided to celebrate his anniversary by sending replicas of the statue to cities around the world that bore some connection to Rome and Italy, however tenuous. And Cincinnati fit that bill. The Midwestern city was named after the 5th-century BC Roman statesman and military leader Cincinnatus, who became a sort of avatar of classical Roman masculinity after accepting the dictatorship voted upon him by the Roman Senate during a military crisis.
Mussolini, who had already consolidated power and established the Fascist Party by the time the statue was gifted, would have doubtlessly desired the comparison to the benevolent dictator. And so along with statues sent to the cities of Rome, Georgia, and Rome, New York, a statue was sent to Cincinnati.
The Cincinnati chapter of the Order Sons of Italy was given the bronze replica of the statue, which was officially dedicated in 1932. The statue is engraved with “Anno X” (year 10), lest anyone forget the statue’s purpose in celebrating Mussolini’s 10 years in power. It sits on a white marble pedestal on the banks of the Twin Lakes in Eden Park, just west of the Ohio River in downtown Cincinnati.
Remarkably, given Mussolini’s incredibly brutal, violent, and repressive dictatorship, and his military alliance with Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany during the Second World War, the statue has attracted relatively little controversy. The statues that Mussolini gifted in Georgia and New York were taken down and moved in response to public outcry over their origins, but not so in Cincinnati.
“As far as I know, we’ve never received a complaint,” superintendent of planning and design and program services for the Cincinnati Board of Park Commissioners Steve Schuckman told Cincinnati.com.
Instead, generations of Cincinnati families take their children past the statue on evening walks, where the children might stop to climb atop the Lupa Romana’s back, unknowingly astride a gift from one of the worst dictators of the 20th century.