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‘Still in shock’: Burning of elephant statue caught on video at Leyden Township home

Tim Saenger said he was “still in shock” Monday, days after a surveillance video showed the burning and destruction of the large elephant statue that had stood for decades outside his home in unincorporated Leyden Township.

The Cook County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the fire, which appeared to have occurred on July 27 in front of the house in the 10600 block of Altgeld Street. Surveillance video, belonging to Saenger, showed what appeared to be a person walking up to the fiberglass statue, known as the “Northlake elephant,” and setting the statue on fire before running off.

Saenger said he had been out of town at the time.

“I know it’s a statue,” Saenger said. “It meant a lot to our family and even the city.”

Northlake Mayor Jeffrey Sherwin, responding to an email, acknowledged that the elephant was in unincorporated Leyden Township, but he added that it was “sad to see a local landmark go.”

Saenger said he had received more than 3,000 Facebook messages, phone calls and text messages in the days since the statue was destroyed.

“I don’t know many of these people,” he said.

The outpouring of support is a testament to people’s love for the statute, Saenger said. He said people often could be seen taking photos in front of it. During the holidays, the elephant would be trimmed with lights to mark the spirit of the season.

All that remains now are four stumps for elephant feet. The statue stood at 30 feet by 15 feet.

“It’s affecting the town probably more than us,” Saenger said.

Saenger said his father brought the statue from Wisconsin to Northlake in 1986.

It remains unclear why anyone would target the elephant, Saenger said.

“We don’t have enemies or beef with people,” he said. “Most like me and my family.”

Saenger said that people at times would associate the elephant with the Republican Party, and he hoped it wasn’t a politically motivated attack. Saenger said the statue has nothing to do with his family’s political ideology and said the statue was more of a “quirky” purchase made by his father.

When asked what the next step is, Saenger expressed uncertainty.

“We’re trying to locate the person or find out the motive,” he said. “I want to know why. It’s been here decades. It was not bothering anyone, and it wasn’t a nuisance. Most people grew up with it. A lot of people are saying they want to replace it. I don’t have the means to replace it. I think it would be the best solution.”

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