Address Dedicating Wicker Memorial Park to World War Veterans

Title: Address Dedicating Wicker Memorial Park to World War Veterans

Date: June 14, 1927

Location: Hammond, IN

Context: Coolidge lauds the accomplishments of the American Midwest as well as its World War I veterans

Fellow Citizens:

This section represents a phase of life which is typically American. A few short years ago it was an uninhabited area of sand and plain. To-day it is a great industrial metropolis. The people of this region have been creating one of the most fascinating epics. The fame of it, reaching to almost every quarter of the globe, has drawn hither the energetic pioneer spirits of many different races all eager to contribute their share and to receive in return the abundant rewards which advancing enterprise can give. When your eminent Representative in Congress, Will R. Wood, who has long served this district with so much ability and fidelity, supported by your two distinguished Senators, called upon me with a company of nearly 90 of your prominent citizens to invite me to be present at the dedication of Wicker Memorial Park, the appeal which this occasion made became irresistible. Here are communities inspired with a strong civic spirit moving majestically forward, serving themselves and their fellow men. Here is life and light and liberty. Here is a common purpose–working, organizing, thinking, building for eternity.

While the North Township of Lake County, Ind., may not pay tribute to antiquity, it has a freshness and a vigor that makes it all the more inspiring. When the Puritan and Cavalier were settling on the Atlantic seaboard, laying the foundations of our Republic, this region was almost unknown. A few venturesome explorers passing over it had left it to remain the haunt of the wild life and the savage tribes of the midcontinent. For a long period it was claimed as a part of the French dominions. It was not until the treaty of Paris in 1763 brought to a close the Seven Years’ War that is passed under English rule. For a century and a quarter it remained almost virgin wilderness until Congress organized the Northwest Territory by the act of 1787. The Pottawatomie Indians occupied this locality until they were removed beyond the Mississippi in 1836. While white settlers began to arrive early in the nineteenth century, and as early as 1833 a stage route ran along the banks of Lake Michigan from Detroit to Chicago, this immediate locality remained sufficiently unoccupied, so that between 1855 and 1860 several thousand acres of land were bought for $1.25 an acre, and sufficiently wild, so that it is related that as late as 1884 one trapper caught as many as 1,500 muskrat and mink along the banks of the Calumet River. When a large plant was built in Whiting for the refining and storage of petroleum in 1889, not more than half a dozen small houses were located there. When George H. Hammond started a packing plant in the town which bears his name, about 1873, the place had few inhabitants. There were only 1,200 people in East Chicago when it was incorporated in 1893.

From these meager beginnings these three cities which, with the villages of Munster and Highland, make up the North Township, now have a population of over 150,000. They have become a great manufacturing center of steel products, railroad equipment, motor trucks, machinery, refined oil, and chemicals. Their assessed valuation is nearing $200,000,000. The value of improvements completed within the last year, now under way, and projected amounts to over $325,000,000. To the east is the city of Gary, with its immense steel plants and a population thought to exceed 100,000 people and an annual pay roll of scores of millions of dollars. Such a rapid development, now rivaling many of our oldest cities, is difficult to comprehend. It is inconceivable that it could take place in any land but America.

Along with the growth of the material side of life has gone the growth of the intellectual side of community life. While factories have been building, schools and libraries have followed. It is reported that a scientific survey made of one of these cities to determine what improvements could be suggested found the standards and administration of the public-school system so admirable that there appeared to be nothing to criticize.

Location has been of considerable importance in this development. This area lies at the southern extremity of Lake Michigan, so that ore and other raw materials come in by water, while it is also close to the great coal fields of Indiana, Illinois, and Ohio. Through this region run the lines of many great railroads, taking its products easily to a great part of our national domain. It is near to the center of population, which is now located in Indiana, and is peculiarly connected with the growth of the great Southwest. But when all these advantages have been considered, we come to the inescapable conclusion that the real foundations on which these communities rest, the main reliance on which they depend, is the character of their people. To the underlying strain of native stock have been added the industry, the skill, the perseverance, and the courage of many other lands. Many languages are spoken here. But considering them all, who shall say which are making the most valuable contribution, which most truly represent the spirit of the age, which are the best Americans?

Patriotism is indigenous to this soil. Not the visionary variety which talks of love of country but makes no sacrifices for it, but the higher, sterner kind, which does and dares, defending assaults upon its firesides and intrusion upon its liberty with a musket in its hands. Yet they are orderly, peaceable people, neither arrogant nor quarrelsome, seeking only those advantages which come from the well-earned rewards of enterprise and industry.

Such a people always respond when there is need for military service. At the time of the Mexican War, Lake County had but a scattering settlement, yet 25 or 30 of its men joined a company of volunteers which was organized by Joseph P. Smith. In the war between the North and the South the county had but little over 9,000 population, but it supplied more than a thousand men for the Union forces. Of that number 78 died as a result of their service. Almost every able-bodied man in the county must have gone to the defense of the flag. The city of Hammond furnished the entire roster of Company A of the One hundred and sixty-first Volunteer Infantry, and other parts of the Northwest Township responded equally well in the war with Spain. It was not until the World War, however, that this township made its large contribution for the defense of our country. Its record there is a most distinguished one. In the Second, Eighty-fourth, Eighty-ninth, and the Rainbow Divisions there were 6,971 of your people. Their capacity, courage, and military ability are shown by the number of citations for distinguished service which they received. Hammond, East Chicago, and Whiting all gained special recognition in each of the Liberty loan drives for having raised their full quotas in every call within 24 hours. A notable achievement in Hammond was the construction of the building for war work, called Liberty Hall. Six hundred workmen contributing their services, this structure, which seated 3,200 people, was erected, painted, and dedicated within eight hours. It was not only as individuals, but as whole industrial organizations turning out vast supplies, furnishing engineering and technical skill, that this township put its whole resources at the service of humanity.

It was to be expected that after the victory was won, the men and women who accomplished it had turned to their peace-time vocations, the strains and dislocations of the war had been somewhat adjusted, and prosperity had again returned, that the public spirit of this community would require that some fitting memorial be provided as a tribute to all who served, and particularly to those who gave their lives in the great conflict. Having a practical turn of mind, they wished for something not only beautiful but useful. Happily it was determined to combine the desire for a memorial with the desire for an extensive recreation park. To promote this project, 16 men from your three cities met in 1925 and made an initial subscription of $5,000 each for the purchase, to which was later added $50,000 for the development, of a 226-acre tract which we are dedicating to-day as the Wicker Memorial Park. Although by act of the legislature this property was taken over, the original projectors reimbursed, and it is now administered by a board of trustees, a great deal of credit is due to the foresight and public enterprise of the 16 men who made this public benefaction possible and brought it to a final success. Athletic fields, baseball diamonds, tennis courts, and a golf course of 18 holes are among the attractions which this recreation field opens to the public.

It is peculiarly appropriate for a public recreation field to be dedicated as a memorial to those who served in the World War. Perhaps the chief issue in that great conflict was the determination of whether an autocratic form or a republican form of government was to be predominant among the great nations of the earth. It was fought to a considerable extent to decide whether the people were to rule, or whether they were to be ruled; whether self-government or autocracy should prevail. Victory finally rested on the side of the people. A great step forward was taken in more firmly establishing their rightful sovereignty. This park is a real memorial to World War service because it distinctly recognizes the sovereignty and materially enlarges the dominion of the people. It is a true emblem of our Republic.

The making of parks is not a new idea in the world. We can trace it back to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon and the practice of the early Egyptians, from whence it leads down through all the Old World history. But this idea had little to do with the public. Parks were private affairs for the benefit of royalty and the nobility. Areas devoted to the pleasure and recreation of the people at large, formally laid out and beautified by private benefaction or public expense, are of recent origin. It is true that Boston Common reaches back to 1634, but it was a common in those days only in the legal sense that it was a place for public pasturage. Some political exiles from Germany created a temporary interest in outdoor gymnasiums prior to 1830. The old First Church in Boston established an outdoor playground for children in 1868, and soon after the neighboring town of Brookline purchased land for the same purpose. While there were public parks and gardens adorned with shrubs and flowers, and laid out with walks, one of the first efforts to provide such places with recreational facilities was made in the famous Charlesbank Outdoor Gymnasium at Boston about 1890. Louisville, Ky., quickly followed, and around 1900 the city of New York, partly under the influence of Jacob Riis, began to open a number of small playground parks.

Now, there is scarcely a municipality in our country that has not made some provision for these important functions. Almost as much attention is given to providing places for the people to play as is given to furnishing them with places to live and places to work. The present century has seen a tremendously vital development in the opening up of small parks in congested centers, the laying out of playgrounds for children, the building of community centers to minister to the normal social life of the young folks, and the establishment of athletic and recreation fields for the general public. The wholesome, strengthening, refining influence which all of these have had upon American life is beyond estimation. It is all an important part of the dominant purpose of this Republic to raise up a people who are fit to rule.

The immediate aim of these efforts is to improve the public health. It is realized that sound bodies mean an increased industrial efficiency. But the purpose goes beyond this to the cleansing and clarifying of the mind, raising the whole standard of life. It is becoming better and better understood that a sound body, an informed mind, normal social contacts, and that contentment which comes from opportunity for a broader self-expression, are all vital factors in the preservation of our national existence. The significance of this development is triumphantly America. In this country the sciences, the arts, the humanities, are not reserved for a supposed aristocracy, but for the whole of the people. Here we do not extend privilege to a few, we extend privilege to everybody. That which was only provided for kings and nobles in former days, we bestow freely on the people at large. The destiny of America is to give the people still more royal powers, to strengthen their hand for a more effective grasp upon the scepter.

At the risk of being tedious I have attempted to explain what I conceive has been taking place in this region, because it is so representative of the growth of our whole country. Taken as a whole, it is the most wonderful picture of human advancement that the world has ever seen. We can visualize it in its early beginnings, a few people daring the perils of an unknown wilderness along the Atlantic seaboard, seeking only the privilege of living their own life in their own way, inspired by a fervent zeal to be free. We know how they flourished and became numerous and strong. They set up their local town meetings and established a representative system for the government of their colonies. They built free public schools and centered their community life around their places of worship. As they nearly all drew their substance from the soil and were individually self-sustaining, they held strongly to the theory and the practice of social equality. When they saw their freedom, their self-government, and their social system menaced they struck out boldly for independence. Having achieved it, they enshrined the principle which they had established with their blood in the matchless provisions of the American Constitution. Another great conflict was necessary to preserve the Union, sustain the Constitution, and extend the area of freedom to include all our inhabitants. That these ideals might continue to dominate the course of humanity we entered the World War and helped to perpetuate them through its victorious conclusion. When America has drawn the sword it has always been the people who have won.

Carrying this chart of political principles, our hardy pioneers crossed the mountain and the plain, extending our dominions from ocean to ocean. We have opened up an enormous expanse of agriculture, reared great cities, organized mighty industries, and created an immense commerce. Materially we have prospered, intellectually we have advanced, morally and spiritually we have improved. It is scarcely too much to say that all of this increase has gone to the benefit of the people at large.

In spite of all this progress, we are still a great distance from what we would like to be. Too many of our people are unprovided with the advantages of education. The number who are lacking in religious devotion is altogether too large. While we have reached the highest point in material prosperity ever achieved, there is a considerable class of unskilled workers who have not come into full participation in the wealth of the Nation. Although our Government is sound and our courts are excellent, too many of us disregard the obligations of citizenship by neglecting to vote, and violence and crime are altogether too prevalent. Our delinquencies are sufficient to require us to put forth all our efforts to work toward their elimination. But we should not be discouraged because we are surrounded by human limitations and handicapped by human weakness. We are also possessors of human strength. Intelligence, courage, fidelity, character–these, also, are our heritage and our mark of the Divine Image.

Of course, it is perfectly apparent that there is sufficient work still to be done and sufficient progress yet to be made to give ample opportunity to the most ambitious. But while a very large emphasis is entitled to be placed on our imperfection, after all it is the progress we have made which is of chief significance. The conclusion that our institutions are sound, that our social system is correct, has been demonstrated beyond question by our experience. It is necessary that this should be known and properly appreciated. Unless it continues to be the public conviction, we are likely to fall a more easy prey to the advocates of false economic, political, and social doctrines. It is always very easy to promise everything. It is sometimes difficult to deliver anything. In our political and economic life there will always be those who are lavish with unwanted criticism and well supplied with false hopes. It is always well to remember that American institutions have stood the test of experience. They do not profess to promise everything, but to communities and to individuals who have been content to live by them they have never failed in their satisfactions and rewards. Here industry can find employment, thrift can amass a competency, and square dealing is assured of justice.

Amid all her prosperity, America has not forgotten her ideals. Whenever disaster strikes any part of our own Nation or some other country, our people are unfailing in their generous charitable response to the need for relief. It is true that we are little given to following visionaries and are altogether impatient with pretense and sham. The ideals which we seek must be practical. We are lavish in our admiration of realities. When one of your western young men is the first to fly from America to Europe our country hails him with a popular acclaim so spontaneous, so genuine, as to disclose the true values of our national character.

The estimation which we, as a Nation, set upon the patriotic efforts of those who have served us in time of war is revealed not only in the untold treasure which we have lavished upon them and their dependents, but also in the highest possible honors which have constantly been conferred upon them by their fellow citizens. As a people, we stand in respectful reverence before the things that are unseen. It is but a passing glance that we bestow upon wealth and place, compared with that which we pour out upon courage, patriotism, holiness, and character. We dedicate no monuments to merely financial and economic success, while our country is filled with memorials to those who have done some service for their fellow men. This park stands as a fitting example of these principles. It is a memorial to those who defended their country in its time of peril. Through the benefits that it will bestow upon this community, it is an example of practical idealism.

No one who is acquainted with history, who observes what is all about us, can fail to cherish the hope that we are entering on a wonderful future. It has been said that the war was fought to make a world fit for the abode of heroes. I want to see our own country the first to make that expectation a reality. But if it is to come true, it can only be through the industry, the devotion, and the character of the people themselves. The Government can help to provide opportunity, but the people must take advantage of it. As the inhabitants of the North Township repair to this park in the years to come, as they are reinvigorated in body and mind by its use, as they are moved by the memory of the heroic deeds of those to whom it is dedicated, may they become the partakers and promoters of a more noble, more exalted, more inspired American life.

Citation: Everett Sanders Papers, LoC

The Coolidge Foundation gratefully acknowledges the volunteer efforts of David McCann, who prepared this document for digital publication.

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