The Oregon State Capitol Grounds
Bill Long 7/22/07
Cultivating Memory/Enjoying Nature
The weekend of July 20-22, 2007 is the "biggest" weekend of the year in Salem, OR. Bush's Pasture Park, a delightful 90-acre public park, hosts the Salem Art Fair, and Court St. in front of the State Capitol is given over to a 3X3 basketball competition. Thousands of people attend the former, and hundreds of participants, families, friends and their dogs attend the latter. For just a moment one might get the impression that Salem is a sort of cosmopolitan city with aspirations of making itself a sort of jewel among state capitals. So, before things return to "normal," I thought I would capture the moment by exploring the parks and trees around the State Capitol, between the basektball and the art festival, to see what pleasures of nature and history it might give up to me.
Visiting the Oregon State Capitol Grounds
The State Capitol grounds are managed by the State Department of Administrative Services (at least for now), but improvements to the grounds and buildings are overseen by the Oregon State Capitol Foundation, a bi-partisan group of about 20 people who are appointed for four-year terms to make the most out of this "sacred space" for Oregonians. One of the Foundation's signal contributions in the last few years, for example, was the 2005 "Walk of the Flags," where the 50 state flags, in order of admittance of the state to the union, are displayed in an oval, with dedicatory plaques beneath each flag. Most of the dedications are from people who had experience or "roots" in the state in question. For example, the 9th State admitted to the Union was NH, and the NH flag was sponsored (I think they had to pay $1300 for the privilege) by the Eymann family. Richard O. Eymann was the former speaker of the Oregon House (1973) and a 1942 graduate of Dartmouth College. His wife is a native of Hanover, NH. Shortly after the dedication of this flag Mr. Eymann died. Here is a link to a 2005 memorial resolution of the Oregon House in his honor.
I noted with delight that the AZ flag was sponsored by George and Nan Dewey, longtime legislative lobbyists and members of the congregation I attend in Wilsonville, OR. The Dewey's are the nicest people you could hope to meet, with a spirit of state and community service that is in everything they say and do.
After slowly taking a walk around the "Walk of the Flags," noting among other things the GA flag sponsored by the Cow Creek Band of the Umpqua Tribe of Indians to honor Indian Warriors in All Wars as well as the "Modern Day Indian Warrior" US Sen. Daniel Inouye of HI, I realized that just learning the flags of all the states and the sponsors could open up vistas of understanding and trigger memories that are closed to us because of our historical ignorance and shortsightedness. The Roman orator Cicero said,
"To be ignorant of what happened before you were born is to be ever a child. For what is man's lifetime unless the memory of past events is woven with those of earlier times?"
The Oregon State Capitol grounds is one means by which Oregonians can tell their "take" on history, their memories of the past, to each other. That is what I learned today, as I looked at the trees and read many dedicatory plaques on the grounds of the Capitol. The rest of this essay will introduce you to some of the people commemorated on the State Capitol Grounds, while the next essay will continue this and introduce you to some of the trees that fill that gracious space.
The Most Recent Plaque
The grounds of the Oregon State Capitol are a living museum, not only of trees and plants native to Oregon, but of the people who have served the state. A very freshly inserted plaque stood in front of a Camperdown Elm just to the North of the "Walk of the Flags." It commemorated the life of Macon "Mac" Sumner, the former mayor of Molalla and two-term Republican Representative from that town. A House Resolution says that he passed away on May 7, 2007, fewer than three months ago. His name will forever now be celebrated in Oregon's Capitol grounds.
Others memorialized on the grounds are those that few knew and even the Internet has no record of. For example, a Western White Pine, on the Northeast side of the State Capitol, is dedicated in memory of Julie Ann (Livermore) Eli, who died in 1994 at age 24. At the base of a Deodar Cedar to the Northwest of the Capitol is a plaque commemorating the life of young Josh English, an intern in the office of the former Governor of Oregon, John Kitzhaber. English died at age 20.
A Few Notable Names
But even if we aren't aware of the stories of all the people whose lives are commemorated on the grounds, we are brought to our senses when we pause on a few of the memorial plaques. For example, at the SE end of the grounds, on the corner of State and Waverly Streets are two Pink Dogwood trees, each of which has a plaque at its base. The trees straddle a path to the grounds, and they are dedicated to the memory of two Oregon representatives: Mike McCracken (who died in 2001) and John H. Roberts. Roberts was McCracken's great-grandfather, and their service was almost precisely 100 years apart. The former served three terms--1983 ,1985, 1987 while the latter also served three terms--1885, 1887, 1889.
Then, as I was wandering near the East end of the Captitol building, which houses the Office of Legislative Counsel (where I externed in Fall 1998), I saw not only the Giant Sequoia with a plaque, dedicated in 1991, commemorating the 100th year of the Oregon State Attorney General's office, but I saw two nearby plaques that brought tears to my eyes. One was in front of a Saucer Magnolia, and was dedicated to the memory of Kirsten Frohnmayer, the daughter of former attorney general (and now U of O President) Davd Frohnmayer, who died of Fanconi anemia in 1997. I recall the grief felt by many in 1997 when Kirsten, a brilliant 24 year-old woman, who was a 1995 honors graduate in human biology from Stanford University, succumbed to this disease. So, shaking my head and wondering how parents can endure the loss of a child, I sat down on a nearby bench, and then looked at the plaque in under the bench. It was dedicated to the memory of Katie Fronhmayer, Kirsten's younger sister, who also died of this disease, but in 1991.
So I saw, in the mute testimony of some names on plaques at the State Capitol grounds, that there were stories that both inspire and bring sadness. I looked over to the young basketball players, either playing on Court St. or relaxing on the benches and lawns, and I looked back at the plaques, and I realized anew that life's pleasures and achievements are fleeting, but the memory of those pleasures and the people who have brought them to us is to be cherished above all.
But the tour of the Capitol grounds brought me yet more. The next essay tells about that.