100 Years Ago: Dedication of the WWI Memorial in Scranton, PA
By Janice M. Gavern
via the The Lackawanna Historical Society's History Bytes Publication
It was a year and six months from the end of the Great War. One Memorial Day had already passed, but in the interim a planning committee had gotten the idea for a World War I Memorial to be displayed in Nay Aug Park.
The committee decided to use a large natural boulder of conglomerate rock weighing several tons as the holder for the bronze plate. It was placed in a newly planted oak grove halfway between Lake Lincoln and the Gravity Railroad car.
A list of the men and women from Scranton who had died during WWI was published in the paper. Readers were asked to check the names and add information that would help the committee identify everyone who should be included. They also requested contact information for next of kin so they could be invited to the ceremony.
Rupert W. Thomas, Chairman of the Tablet, went to New York to pick up the bronze tablet during the week of May 22. That would give them time to fasten the tablet to the large boulder.
The bronze tablet or plate was designed with an American eagle in relief at the top. On either side, wreaths enclosed two dates, 1917 on one side, 1919 on the other. The dedication read: “In honor of the men and women of the city of Scranton who gave their lives in the world war for their country and for all mankind. These trees are dedicated as a living memorial.” Below the dedication is the alphabetical list of the 242 men and six women from Scranton who gave their lives.
A platform was built adjacent to the boulder to seat the speakers. The boulder was covered and would be unveiled at the ceremony.
The dedication ceremony was planned for May 30, with the actual Memorial Day ceremonies scheduled for the following day. One newspaper confused the dates, apparently not realizing that there were both a dedication ceremony and a variety of Memorial Day activities scheduled for the same weekend.
On the afternoon of the ceremony, community singing was organized before the event. Seventy five uniformed American Legion members and several hundred in civilian clothes assembled at the intersection of Arthur Avenue and Linden Street and marched to the dedication site. Spanish American War veterans assembled at Linden Street and Penn Avenue and also marched to the site.
At the site, families of the deceased were given a white silk badge with a gold star and the date and purpose, and directed to special seating. Red Cross workers distributed programs and Boy Scouts acted as ushers. The dedication ceremony started promptly at 4:00 PM.
The Scranton Republican newspaper estimated that 10,000 people attended. The paper also reported that in addition to veterans of WWI, veterans of the Civil War and the Spanish American War were also present.
The picture in the paper shows a group of Red Cross nurses in traditional white uniforms with headdresses that displayed a red cross. Miss Helen Miskell, who had lost two brothers to the war, was garbed as Columbia. Little Miss Mildred Perry, whose father had died in the War, was dressed in a miniature Red Cross nurse costume. She would be the one who unveiled the memorial.
Also in the picture were the distinguished speakers, including Mayor Alex T. Connell, Chaplains W. J. Gibson of the 25th Engineers in France, Frederick Houghton, Rear Admiral A. M. Knight, Col David J. Davies and Hon. John G. Harmon.
America and Onward Christian Soldiers started the program, followed by Chaplin Gibson's opening prayer. Col David J. Davis made introductory remarks.
Admiral Austin M. Knight paid a glowing tribute to the part women had played, saying they brought home tenderness and home comfort into the hospitals and on the field, with no compulsion beyond the urging of their own hearts. He reported five women’s names were inscribed on the tablet. He was partially correct. Five women nurses were listed: Misses Mae E Carter, Theresa Collins, Anna P. Gibney, Lillian M. Langdon and Romaine Lewis.
There was a sixth woman listed: Miss Eugenia Hosie. Her family was involved in Red Cross work. Miss Hosie wanted to help, but was not trained. She and a friend were employed as canteen workers by the YMCA, and she died of Spanish Influenza shortly after getting to France. She was buried in England.
The main speaker was Hon. John G. Harmon. Judge Harmon warned that we must not forget our war patriotism in peace. Bolshevism has reared its head. Some of his words speak to our current situation, and he was speaking 100 years ago.
He said, “Race riots have broken out. Strikes have throttled industry. Open lawlessness is worst of all, and all these things confront us. Does that sound familiar? What are we to do?” He recommended we "stick to our ancient moorings". He concluded that this was a time for the exercise of good, hard, common sense. A more extensive description of his speech is in the article included in the May 31, 1920 edition of the Scranton Republican.
After singing Nearer My God to Thee with the crowd, Chaplin Houghton concluded the ceremony with a closing prayer. The simple, elegant World War I Memorial is still displayed in the memorial grove. Take a walk in the park and stop to reflect on our fallen WWI brothers and sisters.
This Memorial Day, my comrade, 11th District American Legion Commander Jerry Heid and I conducted a small remembrance ceremony in honor of the 100th anniversary of the dedication of the memorial. Some of our pictures are on the PA Homepage.
Although it isn’t the same as 10,000 live bodies, our ceremony will be posted online to show that we still remember.
Janice Gavern is originally from South Scranton and is a graduate of South Scranton Central Catholic High School. Ms. Gavern earned a BS in Psychology with emphasis on Engineering from Wright State University, Dayton, OH, and an MS in Military Logistics Management, Air Force Institute of Technology, Wright Patterson AFB, OH.
Commissioned service positions included 2d Lt. Aircraft Maintaining Officer, Explosives Safety Officer for an F-4 unit, as well as Captain and Logistics Officer. Civil service positions include Engineering Psychologist with the Air Force Civil Service, and Personnel and Training Analyst and Logistics Analyst with Manpower.
Ms. Gavern currently serves as Deputy Commander, Woman Veterans Issues, for the 15th District American Legion, Department of Pennsylvania. She is working on the formation of a 15th District Woman Veterans Program. The program focuses on, among other things, identification and education of women veterans, recognition of women for their service, and remembering and honoring women veterans who passed away.