Chapter Eight: New Uses for an Old Story

"We ought to make this Society a real power for Americanization and I am doing all that I can to bring it to the attention of the people," Dr. Burk wrote his wealthy neighbor E. B. Cassatt in 1920. [1] To another contact, Burk spoke of the importance of Valley Forge "with its history, traditions and ideals in the development of the American citizen" and his expectation that his museum could foster "the development of a truer spirit of patriotism and devotion to the ideals of America." [2] In yet another letter, he referred to his museum as a school, calling it "a school of history and patriotism for the American people." [3] Dr. Burk was among the first to suggest that there might be new uses for the old Valley Forge story. Motivated by the nationalistic spirit of the 1920s and 1930s, a time when loyalty to the state was considered vital to America's interests, Burk echoed the voices of many other administrators of museums and historic sites in proposing that these institutions could be used to Americanize immigrants and their descendants, then sometimes derogatorily referred to as "hyphenated Americans."

It was one more thing that put Burk at odds with the park commission and other influential groups involved at Valley Forge. These people had developed a proprietary attitude about the place, and their actions reveal a kind of fear that such outsiders would somehow harm Valley Forge. In 1926, Israel R. Pennypacker wrote:

Just as many Negroes, migrating to the North and finding that their conduct has a wider latitude than in the South, pattern their behavior after the lower class whites, so the recently arrived Hebrews, Greeks and Italians outdo the older stock of Americans in their lack of decent respect for the associations of Valley Forge. The young orator of the 1878 celebration said, "Americans, take your shoes from your feet, for the spot where you stand is holy ground!" But that it is not holy ground to large groups of newly-made Americans may be inferred from their disregard of warnings not to leave behind their paper boxes, newspapers, stuffs for the garbage pail, and other such evidences of their picnics. [4]

In 1928, the POS of A complained to the park commission that a group of Italians was holding an annual picnic at the park. Burk was on the commission at the time, and the minutes record his statement that the Italians were there at his invitation. The minutes also indicate that the suspicions of the other commissioners were not allayed. They directed the superintendent to arrest any "disorderly persons" at the next Italian picnic. [5] That same year, the Italian Federation of the Sons and Daughters of Columbus was grudgingly allowed to use the park, provided they abide by the law. [6] In 1933, the request of another Italian group was "granted after discussion, subject to inquiry by the Superintendent as to the nature of this Society, and the observance of the visitors of the rules of the park." [7] In 1934, the fact that a member of a Polish women's alliance had placed a wreath at Washington's Headquarters was remarkable enough to be recorded in the park commission minutes. [8]

Besides immigrants, Burk extended his Americanization program to younger Americans. In 1926, a teacher wrote to him when she discovered a form letter composed by Burk inviting youngsters to join the "Valley Forge Legion" and form "camps" at their schools, Burk described this organization as a junior branch of the Valley Forge Historical Society and called it "America's Americanization Association." The teacher objected to the group's badge of membership and its requirement that members pledge their allegiance to it. Such emphasis on uniforms and badges, she contended, had "an insidious and unconscious effect upon our children in the direction of making war a glorious thing." [9]

This teacher's pacifist attitude was shared by many others as World War II loomed ahead in the late 1930s and Burk's successor, Dr. John Hart, attempted to use the Washington Memorial to further his own interpretive program, which was initially one of promoting peace. He established a peace committee and hoped to associate with other international peace organizations, such as that at Westminster Abbey. [10] Hart's attitude changed dramatically after Hitler's blitzkrieg and the occupation of France by Germany. In 1941, he mounted a paper on the church bulletin board enumerating the faults of Hitler, and when a parishioner objected he publicly addressed his congregation—denouncing the Hitlerization of Germany, which had "destroyed the home, breaking every sanctity and tradition. Why do we wait?" he asked. "Why are we uncertain? Why does America not enter the war?" [11]

Once America was at war, Hart used his position to drum up support. Volunteer workers gathered at the chapel to knit and sew garments for distribution by the American Red Cross. British comedienne Gracie Fields was invited to the chapel, where she sang "The Lord's Prayer," "Ave Maria," "God Bless America," and "There'll Always Be an England." In 1943, Hart dedicated an honor roll of parish men and women who had joined the armed forces. [12]

Unlike the first two rectors at the chapel, the park commission did not consciously use Valley Forge as a soapbox before America's entry into World War II and were anxious that no other outside groups be permitted to do so. In 1939, a league of German war veterans in the United States planned to convene in Philadelphia and asked for permission to hold a memorial service at the Von Steuben statue at Valley Forge. [13] The chairman of the park commission wrote the governor suggesting that he talk to the state department, saying, "We are loathe to permit a display of swastika flags, under existing circumstances, the nazi salute, heils, etc." [14] The organization was informed that the park commission would not even permit a furled German flag, and in the end the German war vets simply drove around the park and conducted no ceremonies of any kind. [15]

After America entered World War II, the park did join the Washington Memorial in making material contributions to the war effort. Reproduction cannon that had been cast in 1918 were donated to the nation's scrap metal drive. The commissioners put some of the park's acreage under cultivation but found that the state would not finance a project to raise beef cattle. [16] The park became a training ground for the 102nd Artillery Brigade, the 59th Hospital Unit, and a group of cadets from Valley Forge Military Academy. [17] The 601st Anti-Aircraft Corps of the Coast Guard Auxiliary used the park's observation tower as a lookout. [18] The park struggled along with a reduced staff as employees resigned to enter the armed forces or essential war industries. Those who remained dutifully purchased war bonds and stamps. [19]

There was no question that the park's administration supported the war effort, but at no time did those associated with the park use Valley Forge to actively promulgate a point of view. Instead, they cooperated in allowing the Valley Forge experience to be drawn on as a source of inspiration for Americans in crisis. A Valley Forge flagpole was formed from a red cedar that had stood near where the Virginia troops had camped. It was presented to President Franklin Roosevelt, together with a flag hand-sewn by the Betsy Ross Seamstresses of Philadelphia. [20] The park commission honored the request of an army private that some ivy from Washington's Headquarters be sent to a cemetery in the Philippines so American soldiers from the Philadelphia area who had died there could be honored with a living link to Valley Forge. [21]

On Evacuation Day in 1944, a radio program originating at Washington's Headquarters included an interview with Sergeant Al Schmid, a Marine who had distinguished himself at Guadalcanal, A script listed the questions Schmid would be asked and suggested how he might want to frame his answers. The replies were to be generally upbeat regarding military progress, but he was also to remind Americans that the struggle was not over and encourage them to make their own sacrifices by purchasing more war bonds. Dr. Hart connected the interview with the Valley Forge experience when he spoke of how Washington "gave unstintingly to the task of wresting independence from tyrants, often suffering hardship and calumny." [22]

The huge number of visitors who trooped through Washington's Headquarters around V.J. Day was evidence that Americans found inspiration in the Valley Forge experience during World War II. The park superintendent reported that on August 15 and 16, 1945, some 3,500 people visited this historic house. Around Labor Day the same year, he recorded 8,700 visitors on a weekend when the site usually accommodated around 1,100, [23] Valley Forge continued its inspirational role after the war's end when the name "Valley Forge" was given to a 27,000-ton aircraft carrier that went into service in 1946. Park officials attended its commissioning at a ceremony where Dr. Hart gave the invocation. Park commissioners also presented the Navy with a Revolutionary cannonball and a piece of iron that had been excavated from the forge site on Valley Creek so that this vessel could have a constant symbolic link with Valley Forge. [24]

Dr. Hart was no doubt thinking that the Valley Forge experience could inspire the whole world when he suggested in 1945 that Valley Forge become the site of the new United Nations. In a letter to London, he mentioned the architectural element at his own chapel called the "Porch of the Allies," which he said had foreshadowed the current trend toward peace and unity. Hart contended: "An invincible inspiration awaits the United Nations on this ground. . . . Valley Forge is the place for the Parliament of Man." [25] Hart's suggestion was rejected when the Philadelphia area in general was eliminated as being too close to Washington, D.C.

The end of World War II severed the tenuous alliance the United States had enjoyed with the Soviet Union, and America entered a period now known as the Cold War. The establishment of satellite states in Eastern Europe by Joseph Stalin, Soviet Premier and General Secretary of the Communist Party, pitted the Soviet Union against America and her Western allies in imposing a system of values on postwar Europe. Americans began to view Stalin as an aggressor bent on world domination. Fears were heightened when the Soviet Union developed the atom bomb in 1949, and many Americans came to believe that a vast, unseen conspiracy threatened their freedom and way of life. Americans grew even more fearful when the Soviets launched their satellite Sputnik in 1957 and there were widespread feelings of panic during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, followed by a wave of national pride when the Soviets backed away from a confrontation with the United States.

Because communism was regarded as a radical break with the past, Americans increasingly glorified their own history during the Cold War period. In his Mystic Chords of Memory, Michael Kammen speaks of Americans in the Cold War era drawing on history to teach democratic beliefs and thus enhance national security. [26] Aggressive programs to bring visitors to places like Williamsburg, where they could appreciate the origins of modern concepts such as self-government, individual liberty, and opportunity, were established. [27] The Cold War raised the question of whether Valley Forge park should also play a more active teaching role, and whether those in charge of the park should utilize the Valley Forge experience to foster patriotism and combat the threat of communism. A 1951 park commission report read:

We are at another Valley Forge. . . . Today there remains no doubt that the sinister forces of Communism are intent on world domination either by psychological aggression or armed aggression or both. Nor is there any doubt that the purpose of their psychological aggression is to destroy Freedom by creating among free peoples confusion, disunity and frustration so as to break their will to resist.

The report mentioned the "educational value" of Valley Forge, describing it as "one of the best—if not the best—means at our disposal for neutralizing the insidious methods of Communism in the psychological war it is waging on us." [28]

When the park hosted National Boy Scout Jamborees in 1950, 1957, and 1964, park commissioners probably believed they were advancing such laudable goals. Groups of Boy Scouts had been camping in the park on Washington's Birthday since 1913, and in 1950 officials of the Boy Scouts of America requested the use of Valley Forge for the first national jamboree to be held since 1937, when the approaching war had limited such activities. Although this would constitute the largest gathering ever held in Valley Forge up to that time, the park commissioners welcomed the Boy Scouts, acknowledging in the commission minutes their expectation that a stint at Valley Forge would be good for the general development of American youth. [29]

Between June 30 and July 6, 1950, more than 47,000 Boy Scouts camped in the park, some directly on the sites of the eighteenth-century brigade encampments from their home states. They built "gateways" to serve as entrances to their sections, each one symbolizing something about the boys' geographic regions, such as the gateway replica of the Empire State Building built by Scouts from New York, and the gateway replica of the Golden Gate Bridge, identifying a California group. The boys attended classes on scouting skills and mounted massive pageants. They cooked their meals over charcoal burners, set up their own telephone system, post office, and bank, and dug holes for underground sewers and water pipes. Their presence at Valley Forge attracted an overwhelming number of sightseers and created bumper-to-bumper traffic when visitors stopped to photograph Valley Forge's second great encampment. [30]

John M. McCullough reported daily on the gathering for the Philadelphia Inquirer, and his articles clearly reiterated that the jamboree really served the national cause of freedom, It was the largest youth gathering in the Western world to date, and a "ringing challenge and rebuttal to the appeal of Communism to world youth." [31] It was not to be compared with a recent "sordid" Communist youth rally in Berlin, McCullough claimed, The American boys had come together voluntarily, and no one was making them goose-step. [32] McCullough wrote: "American youth took up the challenge flung down in Berlin by the rejuvenated panoply of East German youth at the behest of their authoritarian masters—and hurled it back with a spectacle that had even veteran newspapermen and State Police clearing suddenly husky throats." [33] He was particularly inspired by hearing thousands of Scouts pledge allegiance in unison, and by the spectacle they made one evening when they each lit candles honoring their freedom of worship and symbolizing enlightenment in a dark and frightening world. [34]

The world became a little more frightening that very week when North Korean forces crossed the 38th parallel, an issue that the jamboree's principal speakers, President Truman and General Eisenhower, both addressed. McCullough wondered whether Truman would use the occasion to make a policy speech, but his message was a cautious one advocating fellowship and human brotherhood and building a world of good neighbors. [35] Eisenhower damned the invasion, to a roar of applause. Hinting at U.S. military intervention, he asked, "How can we doubt eventual success if we meet these issues firmly?" Yes, there would be a cost in the lives of young American men just like those gathered before him, but the alternative was an "enslaved world." [36]

Once the jamboree was over, each boy took home some souvenirs: the candle he had lighted, a Valley Forge guidebook, and a package of dogwood seeds. About half the boys also took home a case of poison ivy. After the boys were gone, Pennsylvania's civil defense organizers studied photographs of the jamboree taken from the air to determine how well Valley Forge would serve as an evacuation area in case of atomic attack by the Soviet Union.

When the Boy Scouts held another national jamboree in Valley Forge in 1957, the intent was again to allow each boy to draw inspiration from the setting and learn to appreciate his freedom. A map issued to Scout leaders said: "It is the earnest desire of all jamboree leaders that each boy should go home inspired and filled with a deep appreciation of what this historic setting means to every American. Make it live in the hearts of your boys." [37]

President Eisenhower, then in his second term, was unable to attend, and Vice President Richard Nixon arrived to address the boys. The Scouts cheered when the president of the Boy Scouts of America accidently introduced Nixon as President of the United States rather than Vice President. Nixon's theme was civil rights, not the Cold War. He stressed equal dignity among Scouts regardless of color or creed, and the importance of valuing an individual's achievements rather than his background. [38]

The 1964 jamboree brought the Scouts back to Valley Forge for a third and final time. The purpose was once again to show the world a grassroots youth gathering in a free society. This time one of the points of interest was a pageant with a history lesson where a fictional Scout patrol took a trip through time, witnessing the Boston Tea Party, Paul Revere's Ride, the battles of Bunker Hill and Trenton, and finally the arrival in America of an ethnically diverse group in the shadow of a 20-foot Statue of Liberty. [39]

By the mid-1960s, liberal intellectuals together with certain members of Congress and the media were questioning the old Cold War agenda, and the question at Valley Forge became whether the inspiration to be gained there was worth the trouble of letting nearly 50,000 young men live in the park for a week. A reader wrote to the question-and-answer column in the Valley Forge Historical Society's journal, asking, "Is not a Jamboree a desecration of Valley Forge? Is not the ground too sacred, historically, to be tramped upon by thousands of careless youths?" [40] The park commission also recognized that the jamborees essentially closed the park to other visitors and created a "disturbance of turf" requiring major rehabilitation projects to bring the park scene back to normal. [41] Indeed, a study done in 1979 reported that, more than any other postencampment park activity, the Boy Scout jamborees had had the greatest impact on subsurface remains. The Scouts had created their own remains which would have to be differentiated from earlier artifacts in all subsequent research. In 1979, one test pit was dug because a sensing device had been attracted by the presence of Boy Scout tent pegs. Further research revealed that these particular young men had pitched their tent directly on the fill of a genuine hut hole, which might have been truly inspiring to them had they only known it. [42] The Boy Scouts were invited in 1969 but chose to convene elsewhere. [43] And in 1971, a directive from the park commission's parent organization made it clear that Valley Forge was no longer considered appropriate for Boy Scout jamborees. [44]

Last updated: February 26, 2015

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