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Many Upset That Joe DiMaggio Statue Is Gone From Plaza In Little Italy; Sports Hall Of Fame Says It's Theirs And Has Moved With Them

CHICAGO (CBS) -- "Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you. Woo, woo, woo. What's that you say, Mrs. Robinson? Joltin' Joe has left and gone away. Hey, hey, hey."

Simon & Garfunkel sang those words more than half a century ago, and DiMaggio died in 1999. But the words have taken on a literal meaning again – as a statue of Joltin' Joe in Chicago has indeed left and gone away, or rather been hauled away.

The statue of the Yankee Clipper vanished two years ago from Chicago's Little Italy, and community members want to know where it went.

As CBS 2's Jim Williams reported Monday, people say taxpayers spent a lot of money building the plaza where the statue once stood. But the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame said it owns the statue of Joltin' Joe, and they have the right to move it to a new home.

They call it Piazza DiMaggio - a cherished plot of land on Taylor Street at Bishop Street in Little Italy.

"It was just like what the song says - 'Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?'" said community activist Frank Coconate.

But today, its beloved statue is gone. People like Coconate are upset.

"Because they feel like somebody took something from them," he said.

For 20 years, the statue of DiMaggio stood in the plaza, across the street from the Italian American Sports Hall of Fame. It was a celebration of the Yankee Clipper's baseball prowess - and his elegance on and off the field.

"It was put here as a sign of pride for the Italian-American community," Coconate said.

DiMaggio himself was in Arlington Heights when his statue was unveiled in 1991. It had been commissioned by the Italian American Sports of Hall of Fame.

But when the Hall of Fame lost its lease two years ago, it packed up its collection - including the statue. It is now at Rebechini Studios in Elk Grove Village. Glenn Rebechini's father created the DiMaggio statue at the same studios all those years ago, and it is now being refurbished there.

"It's got a little corrosion in a few spots," Rebechini said, "so we're going to have to do a little bit of grinding and welding where it's showing a little bit of wear and tear. It'll look like new when it's done.

The president of Hall of Fame, Ron Onesti, said he understands people in Little Italy want the statue to return.

"I was born on Taylor Street as well, and having the Piazza DiMaggio was very, very special to me personally to my family as well," Onesti said.

Still, Onesti is committed to placing the statue in the Hall's new home on the Northwest Side. But he promises to invest in the plaza.

"That's why I'm more driven to make sure that that piazza represents our Italia-American heritage, and what that neighborhood actually meant to the Italian-Americans here in Chicago," he said.

That's little consolation to Coconate and others in Little Italy.

"These people are mad," Coconate said. "They want this statue back because they believe it's their statue."

The Italian American Sports Hall of Fame plans to open its new home this fall at 3417 N. Harlem Ave., with the DiMaggio statue on display there.

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