John Brown Memorial Park Marks 100th Anniversary

A train chugged to a stop in front of the Missouri Pacific railroad depot in Osawatomie on the morning of Aug. 31, 1910.

When Col. Theodore Roosevelt stepped onto the platform of his private car, the crowd whistled and cheered. Roosevelt smiled broadly through his trademark bushy mustache and took a bow. Mounted soldiers from Fort Riley lined one side of the street near the depot (which stood in the vacant lot west of the General Dollar store) to keep watch over an exuberant crowd that had swelled into the thousands.

The former U.S. president and leader of the Rough Riders had stopped in Osawatomie on his famous trip through the West to reunite the fractured Republican Party. Later that afternoon, after having lunch at the state hospital with a group of dignitaries, Roosevelt made his way in a 1909 motorcar to a rolling, grassy knoll on the western outskirts of the community.

Dressed in a dark suit and tie, Teddy Roosevelt stepped up onto a kitchen table and delivered one of the most famous speeches in American history called the New Nationalism Address.

Some members of the media, who had gathered in Osawatomie from major newspapers across the country, hailed the speech as “the greatest oration ever given on American soil.” Political foes and media critics labeled the speech “socialistic,” “communistic” and “anarchistic.”

Perhaps it was a fitting oratorical firestorm for the occasion: the dedication of John Brown Memorial Park.

On Tuesday, Osawatomie will mark the 100th anniversary of the park, named after the fiery abolitionist who made Osawatomie his home camp. Brown, like Roosevelt’s speech, was the subject of much controversy the world over. Some labeled him a patriot who did more to free slaves than the Emancipation Proclamation, while others saw him as a violent madman.

Grady Atwater, director of the John Brown Museum State Historic Site, said Roosevelt’s speech put Osawatomie on a national stage, just as John Brown had done when Osawatomie was known as the Cradle of the Civil War.

To celebrate the 100th anniversary of John Brown Memorial Park, Atwater has planned for a special guest to attend the community’s annual Freedom Festival Sept. 18-19 – Teddy Roosevelt, portrayed by world-renowned first person narrator Joe Wiegand. Wiegand has performed at the White House and at numerous other major venues.

“I’ve heard recordings of Roosevelt’s voice, and Mr. Wiegand sounds exactly like him on the telephone,” Atwater said. “I told him it was the 100th anniversary of Roosevelt’s dedication speech at John Brown Park, and he said, ‘I’m there.’”

Wiegand, who looks, talks and walks like Teddy Roosevelt, will give two performances that weekend, one at 3 p.m. Saturday (Sept. 18) and another at 2 p.m. Sunday (Sept. 19). It should prove to be a historical treat that residents will not want to miss.

Rainy skies gave way to sunshine on that fateful day 100 years ago as 30,000 people crowded around to hear Roosevelt’s speech. The former president (1901-1909) talked for nearly two hours in the sweltering heat. The enthralled crowd cheered long after Roosevelt had left the park.

The speech capped off a two-day dedication celebration. Roosevelt’s visit took on the atmosphere of a county fair, with bands playing and vendors hawking sandwiches and drinks. People traveled on foot, by horse, buggies, wagons and the privileged few in motors to see the former president speak.

“I met a woman in her 90s who was visiting the museum. She had been in attendance that day,” Atwater said. “She said her father brought the family over in his wagon from Missouri to see Roosevelt. She was nine years old at the time. She told me she remembered it was a very hot day, and she was wearing a white dress with a blush sash.”

The local historian said he could understand why Roosevelt’s speech was met with such controversy.

“You have to remember it was the Gilded Age, and Roosevelt was in favor of breaking up the trusts and powerful monopolies of that time. That did not set well (with influential people),” Atwater said. “Roosevelt was all about giving small businesses and every American equal opportunities, what he called giving Americans a ‘square deal.’”

Roosevelt also was a passionate conservationist who advocating turning some private land over to the government to establish national public parks.

Roosevelt was trying to reunite a divided Republican Party led by then President William Howard Taft. Roosevelt had wanted the 17 reforms outlined in his New Nationalism Address to become the platform for the Republican Party in the 1912 election. But the Osawatomie speech became the basis for his National Progressive Party platform in his failed bid to reclaim the presidency in 1912. It marked the first time a Third Party candidate had come in second in a presidential election.

Major John B. Remington, who donated the ground for John Brown Memorial Park, and members of the Women’s Relief Corps and the Osawatomie Commercial Club had persuaded Kansas Gov. Walter Roscoe Stubbs to invite Roosevelt to speak at the park’s dedication in March of that year. The community had wanted Remington to introduce Roosevelt, but that honor went to the governor.

Atwater said Roosevelt’s visit led to utilities being run to the west side of town during that summer.

“The town didn’t want to appear backward. The grounds for the park were undeveloped at that time, so the city ran utilities to the site. It provided the opportunity for the town’s expansion to the west,” Atwater said. “Dedicating the grounds as a state park also ensured the site of the Battle of Osawatomie would always be preserved.”

Roosevelt’s speech only mentioned John Brown’s name twice. Editors from several newspapers remarked on the slight.

“I think Roosevelt was more interested in the politics of the day than focusing on John Brown,” Atwater said about the scarce mention of Brown’s name in the two-hour speech.

Roosevelt entrusted political ally Gifford Pinchot, the first chief of the U.S. Forest Service, and close friend William Allen White to draft the speech, which Roosevelt approved about two weeks before he delivered the address. Some historians allege Oswald Garrison Villard, a leading American journalist of the day and outspoken critic of Brown, persuaded his journalistic colleague White, “The Sage of Emporia,” to limit remarks about Brown in the speech.

A couple of years later, famous writer Ed Howe remarked about the speech as the time “Roosevelt dedicated a monument to John Brown without mentioning … Brown’s name.”

Atwater said Roosevelt was incredibly popular in Kansas and Osawatomie, which is the birthplace of the state’s Republican Party. National media noted that Kansas, particularly Osawatomie, gave Roosevelt his warmest reception on his western tour through several states.

During his lunch at the Osawatomie State Hospital that day, Roosevelt remarked: “I believe in the political tenets of Kansas … that a political promise must be redeemed exactly as an honest man will redeem his outstanding obligations. I came here to find Kansas slightly disturbed, but I have never visited Kansas when this was not true. Perhaps I might put it another way by saying that Kansas seems to be enjoying her usual good health.”

Osawatomie residents will find John Brown Memorial Park in its usually state of good health on Tuesday, when one may hear echoes from that famous speech 100 years ago.

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Posted by Doug on Aug 25 2010. Filed under News and Updates. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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