CHICAGO — The Art Institute put enormous masks on its famous lions — only for one of the masks to be stolen the same day.
It’s become an ugly tradition of sorts to steal from the lions. In 1985, when the bronze giants wore Bears helmets crafted out of barbecue grill lids to the delight of a Bears-crazed city, overzealous fans repeatedly stole them.
On Thursday, the art museum at 111 S. Michigan Ave. put face masks designed to look like the Chicago flag on the two lions in a show of solidarity with everyone wearing face coverings to slow the spread of coronavirus.
But later that day, at 10:55 p.m., an Art Institute security guard saw two men get out of a car, climb up one of the statues and cut off a lion’s mask, police said. The men got into a black, four-door Chevy and drove off.
The masks have since been replaced with more heavy duty cables to secure them to the lions, the Sun-Times reports.
The lions have guarded the front entrance of the museum since 1893 and have become occasional models. It started when the Bears were on their way to Super Bowl during their historic 1985 season. Since then, the lions have been fitted with White Sox and Cubs hats and a Blackhawks helmet to honor championship runs.
But, like the masks, people sometimes want to take a souvenir.
The 1985 Bears helmets were 50 pounds apiece. Despite their size and weight, Bears fans repeatedly tried to steal them.
One time, someone got a helmet off but dropped it, leaving a large dent. Another time, thieves made off with one entirely. A security guard saw two men in their 20s running across Michigan Avenue with it. It was presumed they made their getaway in a purple Lincoln Continental that had been circling the block, according to the Tribune.
One of the apparent thieves later called the Tribune to confess.
“I have a Lincoln, and we kind of put it in the trunk and drove home on the Eisenhower with the trunk lid half open,” he said.
The Art Institute was not amused.
”I think it’s just mean-spirited,” said Eileen Harakal, director of public relations at the time.
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