Chapter Eight: New Uses for an Old Story (part 2)

The jamborees were one way in which park administrators fostered Americanism, but the more successful purveyor of the Valley Forge story during the Cold War era was located just west of the park on Route 23: a new organization called the Freedoms Foundation. Among its founders in 1949 were Don Belding, of the Los Angeles advertising firm of Foote, Cone & Belding; Edward F. Hutton, of E. F. Hutton & Company in New York; and Kenneth D. Wells, another advertising executive then serving as director of operations for the Joint Committee on Economic Education of the American Association of Advertising Agencies and Association of National Advertisers. Their cause attracted a high-profile and enthusiastic supporter in Dwight D. Eisenhower. At a Freedoms Foundation ceremony in 1952, Eisenhower said: "This is one engagement I requested. I wanted to come and do my best to tell these people who are friends, who are supporters of the idea that is represented in the Foundation, how deeply I believe they are serving America." [45]

There are several conflicting stories on exactly how and why the Freedoms Foundation got its start. In a 1965 edition of the organization's newsletter, one version tells how Belding found himself in Europe with the Citizens' Food Committee, which had been established to prevent riots and Communist takeovers. In response to the questions of Europeans, Belding realized that the world needed a good definition of the "American Way of Life." [46] This version is repeated in a 1983 article for the Philadelphia Inquirer Magazine by Chuck Bauerlein, together with an alternative version the author found in an out-of-print Freedoms Foundation pamphlet. In this second version, Belding visits Wells and is asked by one of Wells's young sons to define the "American Way of Life," prompting a discussion that lasted well into the night. After the boy had retired, Belding reportedly concluded: "I think we've got something." [47] A third and much earlier version appeared in 1949 in a small Chester County newspaper that printed a story telling how Wells's son had sought help with a school paper. To Wells's surprise, the teacher had supplied both subject and outline, "which read like something out of Karl Marx's 'Das Capital.'" Upon questioning his son, Wells discovered that totalitarianism had entered his own home when he realized that the boy and his whole class had been indoctrinated with the teacher's views. [48]

The motivating reason for the formation of the Freedoms Foundation was probably the genuine fear that its founders shared with many others that the freedom of America's citizens was gravely at risk, not only from the threat of communism but also because Americans took their freedom for granted. At an early foundation event in 1949, Hutton remarked, "Present events in the world and on the domestic scene make it quite clear that our American heritage of freedom and the good life which such freedom makes possible are now in perhaps their greatest jeopardy since 1777, when Washington's army occupied the very site on which we stand." [49] In one of the organization's first published reports, Wells spoke of the nation's "apathy" and the need to rededicate Americans to the American Way. [50] In a 1949 letter to Wells, Hutton defined the Freedoms Foundation as "the quickest and most dynamic means by which we can bring the great value of the freedoms philosophy before the man on the street." [51]

Property purchased by Edward F. Hutton and donated to the Freedoms Foundation gave that organization a Valley Forge address, although it is still unknown whether this particular piece of land played a role in the winter encampment of 1777—1778. Hutton's comment above about the "very site on which we stand" would indicate that he, at least, thought so. To date, no primary source material confirms this, although it would have made military sense to secure the high ground on which most of the foundation's buildings are now situated. Current officials at the Freedoms Foundation speculate that the ground may have been occupied by the Continental Army's artificers (those responsible for the upkeep of military equipment) or by men dispersed to cleaner and healthier sites once spring arrived at Valley Forge. Tradition holds that two structures still in use at the Freedoms Foundation predate the Revolution, and one of these, popularly known as the "Powder House," is supposed to be where General Lord Stirling had explosive powder blended and stored. [52] It would now be difficult to determine whether this property had been part of the Valley Forge encampment. Though the founders of the Freedoms Foundation revered history, they were not professional historians or preservationists, so significant changes were made over the years without any formal documentary, cartographic, archaeological, or topographical studies being done beforehand. The changes began when a number of buildings were remodeled for use in 1949, including a barn that became the foundation's operations building.

Once they had a headquarters, the Freedoms Foundation's founders began to pursue their agenda. They intended to foster the American Way of Life through an awards program that would recognize Americans who promoted the cause of freedom by word or deed. Citizens could nominate themselves or any other citizen. An entry might consist of a sermon, a commencement address, a film, an editorial, a company publication, an article, or a radio program, among other means of expression. Entries were initially screened by patients at a nearby veterans' hospital, then formally judged by an independent award jury, whose members are selected anew each year. E. F. Hutton described the awards program as a "good sized group of big prizes for the defense of our liberties and freedoms," which he hoped would excite Americans as much as the popular television quiz shows of his day. [53] Don Belding described the awards program as "an effective device of continuously selling the American system to its people." [54]

Awards decisions were based on how well these entries embodied the "Credo," a summary of basic freedoms intended to distill the essence of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. The Credo had been drawn up by Belding, Wells, Hutton, and Eisenhower and then reviewed and endorsed by a number of state supreme court justices. [55] Each article of the Credo was brief and easy to understand; some were obviously drawn from the Bill of Rights (like "Right to free speech and press" and "Right to assemble"), while others had an economic bent (like "Right to bargain with our employers"). The Credo was originally graphically represented as though the articles had been carved on twin tombstones vaguely resembling the tablets of Moses. On other stones, forming a kind of foundation for these uprights, were the words "Fundamental Belief in God" and "Constitutional Government designed to Serve the People." [56] The Credo grabbed media attention and was reproduced on the covers of Reader's Digest and Atlantic Magazine, which described it as "as concise a statement of what the United States of America is as has been our lot to see." [57] The Freedoms Foundation made it known that the Credo was not copyrighted and could be reproduced by anyone.

The foundation planned to hold the first awards ceremony on the grand parade at Valley Forge [58] but decided instead on an auditorium newly completed in their barn. Eisenhower attended the ceremony, where a number of Americans from all walks of life were honored with cash awards and medals. The event was attended by members of the press from all over America and broadcast throughout the nation on radio and television, [59]

Through the years of the Cold War, Freedoms Foundation awards ceremonies brought many famous people to Valley Forge either to give awards or to receive them. Herbert Hoover returned in 1958 and delivered much the same speech he had made in 1931. [60] Vice President Richard Nixon made a trip to the flag-draped barn to present awards in 1953. [61] Among those honored that year was Cecil B. DeMille, who in his acceptance speech delivered a message to John Waterman, the one man whose grave had been marked at Valley Forge. The Soviet Union, he warned, planned to conquer the world with its ideas and doctrines. "Is this true, John Waterman?" he rhetorically asked. Or would others be willing to die as Waterman had to keep America strong and free? [62]

Although big names ensured generous press coverage, a person did not have to be famous to win a foundation award. Prizes were allotted to both the great and the humble. In 1949, Mrs. Ruth Mills of Merion, Pennsylvania, won $1,500 for her "Credo Freedom Cookie Cutter" and her "Recipe for America." [63] The foundation also made awards to public, private, and parochial schools for programs that taught good citizenship, although this program did not capture as much media attention. Winning schools received a medal and a collection of materials for the use of students and teachers.

The principal of each winning school also selected a teacher and a student for an expense-paid "pilgrimage" to Valley Forge, where they were taken on various inspirational outings to historic sites in the Philadelphia area. [64]

Apparently the foundation encountered little opposition to its programs. A survey of articles indexed in the Readers' Guide to Periodic Literature, as well as those published by Philadelphia-area magazines and newspapers, reveals none critical of the organization before a Philadelphia Magazine article published in 1968, a time when this magazine was publishing a great deal of material with an iconoclastic slant. Greg Walter, who wrote the article, questioned the institution's then status as a tax-free organization, which meant that it was really subsidized by all taxpayers while representing the ideal of only an ultra-conservative segment of society. Its Credo, he noted, "does not concern itself with civil rights or any other such mundane matters." [65] This dearth of early criticism probably reflects the political correctness of that day. As Walter also writes: "Senator Joseph McCarthy, by this time, was at the height of his power. The American superpatriot was having his field day. Who in high office would have the guts to stand up and refuse to allow his name to be associated with any organization designed to 'fight Communism'?" [66]

There is some evidence that the organization did not enjoy full support from organized labor. One award winner in the local area returned a $600 prize and medal after consulting with the president of his labor union, the United Paper Workers. This prompted a series of letters to the editor of an area newspaper, in one of which the union leader declared, "Freedoms Foundation is very much out of order in appointing itself judge and jury over standards of 'Americanism.' It has announced itself as a forum of Americanism. Actually behind its star-spangled front lies a network of greed, hatred and self-interest shocking to any fair minded American." The award, he charged, was just a subtle way of obtaining a union endorsement for an organization where one of the founders (Hutton) was a known strike breaker. It is interesting that this writer used the language of patriotism to criticize Hutton and Belding, stating, "They are the leadership of what can become totalitarianism in America—and I'm not kidding—it can come from Wall Street as sure as the Kremlin." [67]

This isolated protest was easily lost among the voices of those who supported the Freedoms Foundation. Americans like Kate Smith went on the air describing the foundation as something that put America's competitive spirit to work for the American system. Sure, some people would question whether the Freedoms Foundation put a price on American loyalty, but this she claimed was not so. Americans were simply recognizing the good done by other Americans and saying thank you. [68] Other stars with recognizable voices recorded spot commercials for the foundation, Jimmy Durante, Frankie Lane, Bob Hope, and John Wayne could all be heard urging Americans to join the foundation and send for their Freedoms Handbook, [69] a brochure that illustrated the articles of the Credo with photographs of Americans enjoying their freedoms and suggested programs that communities and corporations could organize to promote the cause of freedom. [70]

The radio spots certainly suggest that the foundation came to Valley Forge mainly for its name. In the days before nine-digit zip codes, the address "Freedoms Foundation, Valley Forge, Pennsylvania" was very easy for people to remember when they heard it on the radio. In his 1984 article, Chuck Bauerlein cited a Freedoms Foundation official who said a 1949 public opinion survey had been conducted to find "the most patriotic spot in America," resulting in the selection of Valley Forge. [71] When the Valley Forge property was dedicated, Hutton remarked that the ceremonies should serve to "remind our fellow citizens that Valley Forge is still there and that the freedoms which were defended here are still ours to enjoy and defend." [72]

"We do not presume to put ourselves or our programs on a plane with Washington and his Valley Forge soldiers," Hutton continued, [73] and indeed his speech said little about the winter encampment. The founders did not sponsor research at Valley Forge that would have contributed to any new interpretation of what had happened in 1777—1778. Instead, they and their staff would simply invoke the Valley Forge story, linking it with the abstract concept of freedom. This link was made in simple language on a foundation souvenir, a small envelope filled with dirt and printed with the rhyming message "A bit of soil, some dogwood seed / From Valley Forge, where men were freed." [74] Ken Wells used more florid terms in 1949 when he said:

[Americans] revere the historical background of Valley Forge because it was here that the decision was made as to whether this nation would be a free nation or a slave nation. Now that America is at the crossroads it is only proper that our nation make up its mind in Valley Forge again as to whether we continue as a free nation or become a totalitarian state. [75]

In a 1957 issue of the Freedoms Foundation newsletter, Wells questioned whether Americans could keep the faith of George Washington and his men at Valley Forge, where, Wells contended, although one-third of the soldiers had gone home and one-third had died, the rest had "turned the feeble spark of freedom into the torch of liberty." [76] These statements always sounded good, although a historian might have questioned Wells's statistics and whether anyone had been literally "freed" at Valley Forge, especially in light of the fact that a great many African Americans had been no more free after the Revolution than they had been before it.

In his remarks of 1949, Hutton promised that there would be "no impressing granite buildings" at the foundation, but rather "ideals which will have endured far longer than granite." [77] In the early years, the foundation was run from its adapted farm buildings, but a building program in the 1960s provided the foundation with more appropriate housing and the look of a small college campus. The foundation's new structures were brick, not granite, and built in the Colonial Revival style. They provided the foundation with room for seminars and meetings and a place to store the awards entries that had been gathered over the years. The contributions of individuals and organizations made possible structures that had such names as the Martha Washington Building, the Ben Franklin Building, and the Faith of Our Fathers Chapel. In 1965, the foundation opened a unique library in one of the buildings containing, among other holdings, a collection of materials on totalitarianism, on the communist movement, and on American radical movements, as well as works on U.S. history. This material was intended to support graduate seminars, history workshops, and youth leadership programs. [78]

We do not know today whether the building program unearthed any significant artifacts of the Revolutionary era, but the foundation did acquire some artifacts when the widow of Charles F. Jenkins donated her late husband's unique collection. Jenkins had collected bricks, cobblestones, stepping-stones, and flagstones, each associated in some way with a signer of the Declaration of Independence. With the help of donations, these were arranged at the Freedoms Foundation to form the "Independence Garden," consisting of thirteen sections representing the original colonies. [79]

The Freedoms Foundation's Medal of Honor Grove was dedicated in 1964 on fifty acres donated by a resident of Phoenixville. This added a memorial park atmosphere to the campus and honored those who had been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. The grove was also divided into sections, and citizens of each state were encouraged to raise money for an obelisk of native stone to replace a temporary fiberglass obelisk provided by the foundation. [80]

Over the years, other monuments have been erected at the Freedoms Foundation, by far the most impressive being the monumental statue of Washington kneeling in prayer, dedicated in 1967. Back in 1918, the park commissioners rejected a proposal for a statue of Washington at prayer when a POS of A camp had requested permission to erect one. The commission secretary quoted a letter he had received from the chief of the manuscript division of the Library of Congress:

If the prayer story can ever be authenticated, there could be no possible objection to a marker on the spot, but . . . it cheapens Valley Forge, and tends to destroy the atmosphere of the place when mere tradition is monumented with all the solemnity of established fact. [81]

However, it is said that the monument at the Freedoms Foundation was not intended to illustrate the Weems story about Washington being observed at prayer at Valley Forge, but rather to symbolize the role of religion in the foundation of America. [82] The foundation accepted this statue as a gift from the Free and Accepted Order of Masons of Pennsylvania. Wilbur M. Bruker a former Secretary of the Army, was the principal speaker at dedication ceremonies and invoked the Valley Forge experience as inspiration for America's crisis in Vietnam when he said, "[Washington] didn't cringe during eight long years of warfare. Instead of listening to impatient counsel of defeat, America should tighten its belt and resolutely turn again to the grim task of destroying Communist aggression." [83]

The few references to the Freedoms Foundation among the minutes of the Valley Forge Historical Society indicate that relations between these two organizations were fairly good. The historical society initiated a "good neighbor policy" and several times allowed the foundation to commemorate Pearl Harbor Day at the chapel. Dr. Hart was among those presenting foundation awards in 1952, [84] and in 1958 the Washington Memorial Chapel, as an institution, received a Freedoms Foundation award. [85]

Similarly, there are few references to the Freedoms Foundation in the park commission minutes, but there are some hints of early friction. Ken Wells set up an office in the waiting room at the old Valley Forge train station, property the park commission wanted for its own use. [86] At one point, the foundation acted without the park commission's knowledge in generating a press release containing information about the graves of 120 soldiers on park land; the park commissioners had no idea what they were talking about. [87] In 1964, one park commissioner mentioned that in chatting with friends he had become "greatly distressed with the fact that many persons do not realize the difference between Valley Forge State Park and the Freedoms Foundation in Valley." [88]

In a way, Burk's attempt to use the Valley Forge story to package and sell a program of Americanism was carried out during the Cold War, and most successfully by the Freedoms Foundation. It is interesting that this new use for the old story resulted in Valley Forge's acquiring a lot of new artifacts, The Boy Scout remains—now just a nuisance to archaeologists—may one day be of interest to the interpreters of material culture in the mid-twentieth century. And the Freedoms Foundation itself is an interesting artifact. Its buildings, monuments, records, and publications may one day be employed to interpret the thinking of one segment of American society in the doomsday atmosphere of the Cold War.

Last updated: February 26, 2015

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