Thursday, August 25, 2016

Hail, Columbus (Taking the Pledge)

Classes resumed this week at Columbus School, in my neighborhood, and elsewhere across Chariton. So it seems like a good time to pull out a little trivia. Like, who can tell me when Columbus School received its current name --- and why?

As  you may or may not know, Chariton's first major school building --- a humongous and rather strange looking structure --- was built on the current Columbus School site (formerly a cemetery) during 1867. It burned, however, during October of 1877 and was replaced during 1878 by the grand old Italianate structure that served until 1964, when the present rambling and low-slung Columbus replaced it.

From 1867 until 1892, however, the building on this site was known simply as "South School." Chariton students also were attending, during 1892, East School, North School and West School.

That all changed during 1892, however, in large part because of nationwide excitement centered on the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus's arrival in the Americas.

The centerpiece of this celebration was the World's Columbian Exposition, or Chicago Worlds Fair, that actually was held during 1893. But the grounds were dedicated on Oct. 21, 1892, making it legit.

In the meantime, James B. Upham, marketing director for the most popular periodical then published for youngsters --- The Youth's Companion --- sensed opportunity and hatched the idea of a celebration in schools across the nation on the same day the Chicago fair grounds were dedicated.

Upham was a remarkably effective marketer --- reliant entirely upon print media, keep in mind --- and the idea spread like wildfire. A common program for all of these celebrations was developed and published by The Companion. U.S. flags were to be a focus of the celebration --- at least one in every school in the country --- and as you might expect, these were marketed by The Companion, too.

The Chariton schools bought in to the idea of the celebration big time --- and went one step farther. Why not, school officials asked, rename South School "Columbus School" in honor of the occasion?

And that's exactly what happened. The editor of The Chariton Herald --- taking credit for the idea in the first place --- reported in his edition of Sept. 1, 1892, that the School Board by resolution at its most recent meeting had renamed South School "The Columbus School," East School, "Garfield," West School, "Franklin," and North School, "Bancroft."

The scources of Columbus, Garfield and Franklin are obvious; Bancroft reportedly was the surname of an historian --- most likely George Bancroft, author of the series History of the United States, from the Discovery of the American Continent --- favored by one of the school administrators. Garfield School now is owned privately, the Franklin School site is a park and Bancroft was replaced by a building rechristened Alma Clay to honor a beloved teacher, now the site of Johnson Auditorium and the Chariton Community Center.

The Pledge of Allegiance, authored by Francis Bellamy --- a Baptist preacher and (gasp) a socialist --- also premiered during 1892 in the pages of The Youth's Companion, to be recited during October 21 school celebrations promoted and written by The Companion facing flags marketed by The Companion.

Bellamy initially thought about slipping "equality" and "fraternity" into the pledge, too, but encountered resistance from those who pointed out that this would include equality for women and black people, too --- and we couldn't have that.

The original pledge was simply to "my flag," but some years later the fear developed that immigrants might slip in surreptitious pledges to the flags of their native lands so the specific line, "to the flag of the United States of America," was substituted.

A salute was developed to accompany the pledge. One was expected, while pledging, to extend one's right arm fully toward the flag, palms down. Sound familiar? Hand over heart replaced that Hitleresque salute officially during 1942.

Then in 1954, when godless communists were the threat du jour, "under God" was slipped into the pledge --- and that's the way it's been ever since.

So far as the Oct. 21 celebration in Lucas County --- including a program at the Opera House in Chariton --- was concerned, The Herald reported in its Oct. 27 edition: "Reports from all parts of the country show that Columbus Day was universally observed and that the lesson love of country and pride in its institutions was inculcated. The schools of this city deserve special credit for their effort. The G.A.R. Post responded to the invitation of the school and furnished escorts and martial music. Mr. Teas helped in the singing. The parade was all that could be desired. Mr. Lee Davis and Miss Cora Combs acquitted themselves with honor. Walter Dennison presented the Columbus picture to the schools in a few well chosen words and Mrs. Carlisle responded for the schools. Rev. Collins, of the M.E. church, pronounced the invocation. Such occasions serve to cement the country and public schools into a more solid union, as the patriotic impressions made upon the minds of children will never be effaced."

In addition, "The Lucas Schools assembled on Friday morning at the Centre School, and forming a line, marched under the escort of the veterans to the common where they saluted the flag. The veterans and martial band then led them to the hall where Prof. Wells called the assembly to order and carried out the program of the day. Rev. Huntsinger pronounced the invocation, all joining in the singing. Miss Minnie Robinson recited the Ode, Mr. .G. Reeside gave the address. Several recitations and songs were rendered suitable for the occasion. Fifteen pupils from the grammar grades recited a Columbian dialogue exceedingly well. The schools and teachers are to be congratulated for the excellent manner in which the exercises were conducted."

And at Miss Julia Beaman's school, No. 1, Union Township, "the room was tastefully decorated with flags and the school saluted a large flag suspended in front of the building. The national program was followed in full with many additions from the pupils."

Only one discordant event was noted by The Herald: "We are sorry to record the fact that some boy, a member of the public schools, thoughtlessly, we hope, pulled down a flag suspended in front of one of the stores last Friday, and tearing it into pieces, scattered it upon the street. If not thoughtlessly done, it was an act of vandalism that deserves sharp reproof."

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