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The saga of how one of the most famous paintings of a forest fire was created and what happened to it resembles at times an international spy thriller. An article in Forest History Today (“Untamed Art,” Fall 2008) by historian Stephen J. Pyne tracked that mystery but had no ending because no one could say where the original painting then was. Nearly a decade later, he picked up the trail.

It’s the archetype globally for most prints, and probably most paintings, of a forest fire. But the reproductions come themselves from earlier reproductions. The original, Lesnoi pozhar, is a mammoth painting created by the Russian artist, A. K. Denisov-Uralsky, around 1900.

The story, briefly, is this. Alexei Kuz’mich Denisov-Uralsky was born in 1864 in Yekaterinburg, grew up in the family trade crafting displays of semi-precious stones, then moved into painting, particularly scenes from the Urals; for years he was the very epitome of a starving artist. He obsessed about painting fires on the landscape, from grass fires to crown fires. His breakthrough came in 1900 with an exhibit, “The Urals in Art,” in which he displayed his climactic effort, Lesnoi pozhar, or “The Forest Fire.” More triumphs followed. He agreed to contribute the massive painting  (198 by 270 cm; 78 by 106 in.) to the Russian exhibit headed to the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair.

The Russian pavilion, however, was dismantled shortly before the fair opened out of pique over American support for Japan in the Russo-Japanese War. Instead, the 600-piece exhibit was displayed on consignment to a Russian entrepreneur named Edward Grunwaldt.  Denisov-Uralsky’s masterpiece won a silver medal and was reproduced in color by several newspapers under the title The Untamed Element. The reproductions were themselves reproduced, copy after copy, for advertising, fire prevention posters, calendars, and simply as prints. Reproductions appeared in silk tapestry and on porcelain teacups. (Today you can find reproductions on eBay or printed on items for sale on Etsy.)

Through various frauds and incompetence, virtually every piece of Russian art entrusted to Grunwaldt disappeared. The artists got nothing and heard nothing. Somehow Lesnoi pozhar ended up in the hands of Adolphus Busch, the beer magnate, who in 1926 hung it in the foyer of a hotel, The Adolphus, he was refurbishing in Dallas. In 1950 it was relocated to the hospitality room of the Anheuser-Busch Brewery in St. Louis. Then, in 1979, for reasons that are still murky, August Busch decided to donate the painting to the U.S. government, which, through the vehicle of the National Endowment for the Humanities, repatriated it to the Soviet Union. Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin alluded to plans to send it to a museum in the Urals. In fact, it had again vanished.

The original during the repatriation ceremony in 1979. From left to right: James Symington, a former congressman from Missouri, who assisted in arranging the hand-over; Joseph Duffy, director of the National Endowment for the Humanities, who acted as an intermediary agent between the Busch family and the government of the USSR; and Anatoly Dobrynin, Soviet ambassador. (Courtesy Robert Williams)

In 2014 the Yekaterinburg Museum of Fine Arts hosted a major exhibition on Alexei Kuz’mich Denisov-Uralsky, on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of his birth. It tracked down many of his fire paintings, but was unable to locate Lesnoi pozhar. The Russian embassy in Washington, D.C., refused to comment. No art or political authority in Russia knew where it had gone. Months after the exhibit had ended, however, word came that the fugitive painting may have been located in the basement of a museum in Tomsk. A photograph and measured dimensions suggest that it is in fact the elusive original. As yet no one has positively identified it nor restored it, but the curator of the Yekaterinburg exhibit, Ludmila Budrina, is confident this is the original.[1] It seems Lesnoi pozhar has passed yet another way station on its long odyssey homeward.

Stephen J. Pyne is the author of numerous books on the history of wildfire around the world. His most recent publications are Between Two Fires: A Fire History of Contemporary America and its accompanying series “To The Last Smoke.” An excerpt from Between Two Fires is available in FHS’s magazine Spring 2017 edition of Forest History Today.

NOTES

[1] Ludmila Budrina wrote an update on Denisov-Uralsky’s fire paintings: “Wildfire in A. K. Denisov-Uralsky’s Canvases: Destinies of the Paintings,” Quaestio Rossica No. 2 (2015): 41-51.

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On this date in 1949, four Forest Service smokejumpers made the first jump east of the Mississippi River and the first parachute jump ever made onto the Washington Ellipse, the oval park between the Washington Monument and the White House. The jump was even televised, which is how President Harry Truman reportedly watched it, even though he would’ve had a clear view of the historical event if he’d stepped out on the Executive Mansion’s balcony.

The smokejumpers had taken three days to fly out from their base in Missoula, Montana, on a Ford Tri-Motor. Why so long? The airplane’s top speed was 90 mph. Homer W. “Skip” Stratton later recalled 50 years later in an interview with The Missoulian, “If we got a head wind, we could see cars and trains passing us down below.” Of the jump, he remembered they came in so low they were about eye level with tourists looking out from the observation windows of the Washington Monument, which are 500 feet up: “We were waving at each other.”

DC Commissioner John Russell Young welcomes the smokejumpers to the nation’s capital. From left to right, Bill Hellman, Skip Stratton, Bill Dratz, and Ed Eggen. The White House is visible in the upper left corner. (American Forestry Association Photo Collection)

The first two men to hit the silk were Stratton, 27 years old, and William D. Dratz, 26. On a second pass, Edward J. Eggen, 26, and William D. “Bill” Hellman, 23, jumped and landed in the middle of the Ellipse. Hellman had become a new father while on the trip. His son was born the day before the DC jump.

With no forest fire to attack, smoke pots were lit to provide some sense of excitement for the smokejumpers and the hundreds of spectators who turned out to watch. The Washington Post reported the next day, “It wasn’t an invasion, citizens, it was the United States Forest Service demonstrating how its smoke-jumpers fight forest fires in remote sections of the West.” Interestingly, the day before this leap into history the newspaper characterized their job as putting out fires “inaccessible to automobiles,” a indication of how new the concept of smokejumping was.

The jump was arranged by the American Forestry Association (now American Forests), which was hosting a luncheon at the National Press Club “honoring American business for its advertising support in the fight against forest fires through a public service campaign sponsored by the Advertising Council,” according to an August 1949 article in American Forests magazine. The Forest Service hoped the event would generate continued support for its fire prevention campaign and the smokejumper program. After landing, dozens of reporters swarmed to take photos of them and ask questions. Stratton recalled, “The questions were just crazy. What does it feel like? Do you jump right into the middle of the flames? Crazy stuff.”

Then the four men got into two convertibles and rode down Pennsylvania Avenue to the luncheon, where the smokejumpers gave plaques to business leaders on behalf of the Agriculture Department. The men were a big hit in Washington, especially Eggen, the only bachelor of the group. “Ed was the favorite of the women at the Agriculture Department,” Stratton remembered. “He was this big handsome guy with blond hair and a great smile. They pretty much had him surrounded the whole time we were in Washington.” Afterward, they quickly returned to Missoula and to work. Fire season was well underway.

Bill Hellman presents a plaque to Charles E. Wilson, president of General Electric, at the Salute to American Business Program. Looking on is Forest Service chief Lyle Watts. (American Forestry Association Photo Collection)

Some readers might recognize the name of Bill Hellman. Just six weeks later, Hellman would be one of 12 jumpers killed in the Mann Gulch fire, another, though unwelcome, first for the Forest Service smokejumpers.

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Ninety years ago this spring, a major repair project began on the White House in Washington, DC, that ultimately yielded wooden treasures. Work began in March of 1927 to remove large sections of the building’s roof in order to replace wood timbers with steel trusses and undertake a full remodeling of the third floor. This project was necessary due to some structural defects, along with the overloading of the building’s upper-most story. Originally designed as attic space, by 1927 the space had been providing significant storage space as well as servants’ quarters for too long. The roof structure being removed and replaced had been erected between 1815 and 1817 following the burning of the White House by British troops during the War of 1812.

1927 White House roof renovation

White House during roof removal process, March 1927 (click for more info).

Remodeling was completed by August 1927. During the construction, the majority of the wooden roof timbers removed were found to still be in good condition. Due to significant public interest in having souvenirs made from the White House wood, a public auction was held for the roof trusses as well as other miscellaneous pieces of removed lumber. In March 1928 more than 1,500 linear feet of Virginia longleaf pine lumber from the White House was auctioned off. The highest bid (at $500—a relative steal) came from the National Lumber Manufacturers’ Association (NLMA), and they ended up with the largest lot of timber. The NLMA and other organizations that bought the lumber planned to turn it into souvenirs to give away.

By December 1928 the NLMA had decided on crafting commemorative gavels from the wood. The Southern Lumberman reported: “Six hundred gavels are being made up from the timbers taken out during remodeling of the Executive Mansion last year after 112 years of service. They are being finished with clear varnish to show the natural grain of the wood and each is marked with a plate telling the source of the wood and accompanied by a printed leaflet giving the story of the gavel.” The NLMA planned to give gavels to “men prominent in the lumber industry, to prominent writers and public men, to the Vice-President of the United States and the Speaker of the House of Representatives and to the presiding officers of state legislatures, and to patriotic societies.” How many gavels were produced is not certain, but one of them is housed here in the FHS Archives (see photo below). The plaque on the gavel reads:

“Certified By Centuries”

Longleaf pine after 112 years’ service in the White House roof – 1815 to 1927

National Lumber Manufacturers Association

NLMA gavel from White House wood

NLMA gavel made from White House wood (housed in FHS Archives).

The NLMA also created other items from the wood. Candlesticks were made, including a set presented to President Herbert Hoover in May 1929. Blocks of wood cut from the roof timbers were affixed with plaques and given away. The NLMA also created one-of-a-kind items. One of the most interesting pieces was a humidor stand built as a replica of one originally used by President James Madison. The NLMA presented the piece to the Southern Pine Association at the latter’s June 1929 meeting in New Orleans. The wooden humidor was officially presented by Wilson Compton to H. C. Berckes, following Compton’s keynote address to the meeting. The Southern Lumberman described the moment:

As a climax to his able address, Dr. Compton lifted from the floor and placed it on the speaker’s table a curious little antique settee or as it really was, a humidor of obvious pine manufacture. It proved to be a replica of a bit of furniture that was in the White House at Washington under the Madison administration during the War of 1812, and that may have been burned when that building was destroyed by the British soldiers. The settee was reconstructed by President Madison’s orders from material taken from the roof timbers after the fire, and more recently the present replica was constructed from pine again from the White House roof—lumber that had come through more than a century of service as sound as when it went in.

According to Compton the gift was “an appropriate presentation to the Southern Pine Association, the invincible advocate of longleaf southern pine.”

H.C. Berckes

H. C. Berckes, secretary-manager of the Southern Pine Association, receives the humidor from the NLMA.

The NLMA wasn’t alone in turning White House wood into wares. First Lady Lou Henry Hoover fashioned gifts from wood salvaged from the president’s home, though there is some debate over whether the wood she used came from the 1927 roof reconstruction or following repairs due to a 1929 fire in the Oval Office. Regardless, Mrs. Hoover had Christmas gifts made for family, friends, and White House staff in 1930. The First Lady sent some wood to Biltmore Industries in Asheville, North Carolina, where it was turned into ash trays, stamp boxes, paper knives, book ends, pen holders, and other small items. You can read more about the gifts made by Mrs. Hoover on Hoover Heads, the blog of the Herbert Hoover Library and Museum.

The enduring quality of the original wood, the uniqueness of their source, and their direct connection to American history, make these items increasingly valuable. You’ll see the various pieces pop up at auction periodically—and typically be sold for far more than the $500 the NLMA originally paid for its entire lot of wood.

For more information on the history of the NLMA, see the National Forest Products Association Records in the FHS Archives (in 1965 the NLMA changed its name to the National Forest Products Association).

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As the Master’s Tournament gets underway at Augusta National Golf Club this week, one of the icons of the course again will not be there. The famed Eisenhower Tree suffered extensive damage from an ice storm in the winter of 2014 and was removed shortly thereafter. Approximately 65 feet high and 90 years old when cut down, the native loblolly pine tree, named for President Dwight Eisenhower, stood about 210 yards down on the left side of hole no. 17.

Ike was a passionate golfer and became a member of Augusta National in 1948. The tree was named for Eisenhower because of his inability to avoid hitting it when playing the hole. As a result Ike quickly became obsessed with the tree.

The Eisenhower Tree in 2011. (Photo credit: Shannon McGee- http://www.flickr.com/photos/shan213/5601811306/, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31205117)

As Supreme Allied Commander in World War II, Ike had led millions of soldiers in what he called “the Great Crusade” to defeat Nazi Germany. In 1956, he waged what might be called his “golf crusade.” He loved everything about Augusta—except that tree. But for the life of him, he couldn’t defeat this lone wooden soldier. At the December 1956 Club meeting, he petitioned to have the tree cut down, something that was never going to happen. Club chairman Cliff Roberts claimed later that he quickly adjourned the meeting to avoid the issue or embarrassing the president of the United States. In 1965, Ike half-jokingly confided to a golfing buddy that he wanted to use “about one half stick of TNT” to “take the damn thing down.” In the end, the tree bested the greatest military commander of the 20th century.

After the ice storm in 2014, Augusta National determined that the Eisenhower Tree needed to be removed. The man was so closely associated with the tree that the club had a cross-section of it sent to the Eisenhower Library in Abilene, where it is on display just off the lobby.

The display includes a panel telling the story of the tree and a timeline of Ike’s life and of the Master’s tournament. The plastic triangle on the left uses the tree rings as a timeline also. (Photo by the author)

Historian Catherine Lewis, in “Don’t Ask What I Shot”: How Eisenhower’s Love of Golf Helped Shape 1950s America (2007), gives us a cultural history that documents Ike’s love of the game. Eisenhower sought refuge in the sport from the stresses of the presidency, though he never totally left the job behind. How could he? He played more than 800 rounds during his 8 years in office. He tried to practice his short game every day. Since he couldn’t go to a course to do so, the United States Golf Association paid to install a putting green at the White House.

Unlike some occupants of the White House, according to Lewis, Ike never had a problem with being photographed playing the game (though he did with having his scores reported). Those photos were often featured on the front page of newspapers, even if they had nothing to do with the accompanying story. Critics seized on the frequency with which he played as evidence that he cared more about his golf score than he did the job. Political cartoonists frequently portrayed Ike on the golf course as well, which only added to that impression. It was only after historians could access his administration’s records that it was revealed how engaged he was as president; it was not uncommon to have meetings and make major decisions while playing.

This cartoon appeared in the July 1953 issue of American Forests magazine to accompany an article about the annual fire prevention campaign. Published just six months after he took office, it demonstrates how quickly Ike had become associated with golf.

Lewis also examines the issue of Ike playing a sport associated with white elites in the Deep South at a segregated club. This placed him in an odd situation as the civil rights movement became a major issue during his second term. She devotes half a chapter exclusively to Ike and civil rights. His friends and playing partners were no different from him in attitude and beliefs about race. His favorite caddy may have been African American, but “Ike believed that fair access and economic opportunity did not necessarily mean social equality, indicating that his views on race, like the majority of white Americans, were still rooted in the nineteenth century.” Eisenhower reluctantly dealt with civil rights. When the school desegregation crisis in Little Rock came to a head in 1957, “Ike was accused of running the presidency from a golf course,” writes Lewis. “A brief look at his September calendar that year shows that this was in fact the case.” He complained about leaving a golfing vacation to return to the White House to address the nation about the Little Rock crisis. While she notes that in 1953 “Ike began a crusade to break 90 at Augusta National,” I would argue that he was all for leading crusades, even one against a tree, but was unwilling to lead one against desegregation of the South.

The larger purpose of “Don’t Ask What I Shot” is to look at how the golf-obsessed president transformed a sport associated with the wealthy and elite into one for the middle class. Ike came from a hardscrabble background, growing up in Abilene, Kansas, at the dawn of the 20th century. He took up the game while a young officer in the U.S. Army in the 1920s, and during World War II was even photographed in full uniform swinging a club. His election to the White House in 1952 and his membership at Augusta elevated interest in sport. He was an immensely popular president, and that popularity translated into tens of thousands of men and women taking up the game he was so often photographed playing.

His membership at Augusta shown a spotlight on the Masters Tournament, too. In 1953, for the first Masters following Ike’s election, tournament officials braced for “a tremendous crowd, far above the 15,000 that attended” the year before. Ike didn’t want to interfere with the tournament by attending it but instead would visit the week after the tournament ended. The success of a young, charismatic Arnold Palmer at the Masters in 1958 and again in 1960, along with Ike’s association with the club and the attention his vacations there garnered, cemented the tournament’s place as one of the major events in golf after 1960.

Ike and golf have been thoroughly covered by authors. There’s Lewis’s book, which is solid; there’s David Sowell’s Eisenhower and Golf: A President at Play (2007), which has the wrong year for when Ike spoke up at the club meeting; and there’s also The Games Presidents Play: Sports and the Presidency (2009), by John Sayle Watterson, which has a chapter on Ike. Virtually every biography of the man touches on the subject, too. And there are any number of books on the history of Augusta National and the Masters Tournament that mention Eisenhower the golfer. But there will always be only one Eisenhower Tree.

As a fan of Ike’s, I was stunned to learn that he wanted to cut down a tree simply because it affected his golf score.

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Here in the Alvin J. Huss Archives you’ll find numerous stories of foresters and loggers from years past. Even among these legends, though, some figures still stand just a bit taller. As we continue to dig through the vinyl collection at FHS we find a set of records by one such figure: the one and only Buzz Martin. At ease both in the woods with a chainsaw and on the stage with a guitar, Buzz Martin was a unique and legendary figure among loggers during the 1960s and 1970s. During a time of lumber industry decline Buzz Martin was able to find success as a country music singer. Known as “The Singing Logger,” he wrote emotional, personal, and humorous tunes about the working logger. Martin ultimately released six albums, and while his singing career was relatively short his music presents a unique audio snapshot of logging work of this era.

Buzz Martin

Buzz Martin at work in the woods.

Buzz Martin was born in Coon Hollow, Oregon, in 1928. As a kid he began to lose his eyesight and at thirteen was sent to the Oregon School for the Blind. It was during this time that Martin began to play the guitar. He received a corneal transplant and regained his sight while at the school, but tragedy immediately struck again—both his parents died prematurely. Martin was then sent to live with his sister and her husband, a musician and amateur instrument-maker named Bill Woosley. They lived in Five Rivers, a tiny community at the midway point between the Willamette Valley and the Oregon Coast. Martin was encouraged by his sister to sing.

Martin entered the logging world as a whistle punk at eighteen, operating a loud, steam-powered whistle used by loggers to communicate with each other. He quickly ascended up the logging jobs ladder, from cutting timber to high climbing. He began singing to his fellow loggers as camp entertainment in his twenties. After landing a meeting with Buddy Simmons, music director at radio station KRDR in Gresham, Oregon, Martin was able to cut his first record, Where There Walks a Logger, There Walks a Man. His 1968 debut on Ripcord Records was followed by subsequent logger classics like A Logger Finds an Opening and The Old Time Logger, A Vanishing Breed of Man.

Buzz Martin cover

Martin’s biggest hit was probably the song “Butterin’ Up Biscuit” which he actually played in person for his hero Johnny Cash backstage after one of Cash’s concerts in Oregon in 1969. This led to Martin eventually appearing on The Johnny Cash Show on ABC in 1971. This may have been the peak of Martin’s career though. Unable to find mainstream success, he refocused on logging work, moving to Alaska in 1979. Unfortunately tragedy struck again. In 1983 he died in a freak accident in the Alaska woods while scouting out a hunting trip.

Buzz Martin records

A selection of Buzz Martin records available at FHS.

Martin’s final resting place is at Lone Oak Cemetery in Stayton, Oregon. His headstone is inscribed with a pine tree and title: “The Singing Logger.” Martin’s music lives on and is well worth a listen. His catalog is available online via Amazon and iTunes. Enjoy a short clip from one of his songs below.

Buzz Martin

Audio clip from “Hoot Owlin Again” – by Buzz Martin off his album Where There Walks a Logger There Walks a Man:

**This blog post draws from “Out of the Woods” by Casey Jarman, which appeared in The Believer (July/August 2013).

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Here at Peeling Back the Bark World Headquarters we occasionally like to get our fingers a little dusty by digging through the vinyl record collection in the FHS archives. Our collection may be modest, but it’s full of vintage forest-related audio treasures. One of our favorite items from the collection is undoubtedly the self-titled album from Lausmann’s Lousy Loggers Band. Everyone who sees the album gets a kick out the band’s name as well as the photos inside the record sleeve. But who were these guys?

Lousy Loggers Band album cover

The Lousy Loggers were a band made up of members all with connections to forest industries. Here’s how the group was described by the Western Conservation Journal: “The story of the barkclad bards who keep the loggers dancing is an inspiring example of men dedicated to a rewarding purpose. Each Lousy Logger earns his bread in a job related to bringing in the trees. Each donates his time and pays his entire expenses — instruments, travel, convention board and room; everything. As a group, they give and ask nothing back except that their friends, the loggers, swing their partners.”

The band was led by the legendary Anton “Tony” Lausmann (1889-1978), founder of KOGAP Lumber Industries in Medford, Oregon. Lausmann was certainly a character. He could easily be spotted by either the ever-present cigar in his mouth, or the concertina in his hands — and oftentimes with both at the same time.  In addition to founding KOGAP, Lausmann’s long forest industry career included serving as director of the Oregon Forestry Center, the Industrial Forestry Association, and the National Lumber Manufacturers Association. But what brought him the most joy (and fame) was his concertina — or “squeeze-box” — which he was said to have carried with him just about everywhere since he was a kid.

Tony Lausmann

It was Lausmann’s commitment to carrying his concertina that led to the Lousy Loggers name. In 1958 he was on a voyage by ship to Hawaii with a group of Shriners. Asked to entertain the passengers with his concertina, Lausmann was eventually joined by other “musicians” on board playing the harmonica, tin cans, and other improvised instruments. A fellow passenger asked what the name of the group was, and another one of the Shriners yelled out “Lausmann’s Lousy Loggers.” The name stuck.

Lousy Loggers Band

That same year Lausmann was invited to play at the Pacific Logging Congress Annual Convention. He recruited some forest industry musician friends and the official Lousy Loggers Band was born. Following a successful debut at the 1958 Pacific Logging Congress, the group performed for much of the next two decades at various conferences and conventions, mainly in the Pacific Northwest. The band recorded their one and only album in 1972. At the time of this recording, the band included Lowell Jones on the keys; Gene Pickett on trumpet and trombone; three men on sax and clarinet — Clifton Crothers, Bill Preuss, and Vince Bousquet; Jack Bennett on drums; Dave Totton on bass; and Rex Stevens on vibes. Other past members of the group included Howard Smith, Jim Bigelow, Stu Norton, Clyde Lees, Ed Pease, Phil English, Gene Duysen, and Tony’s son Jerry Lausmann.

Lausmann's Lousy Loggers

The group officially disbanded in 1976 and Tony Lausmann passed away two years later. In his obituary he was remembered as “best known and revered for his leadership in organizing the west coast’s well known and popular Lausmann’s Lousy Loggers Band.” For a sampling of the group’s work, enjoy the audio slideshow below created by librarian extraordinaire Jason Howard. And for more on the unique character that was Tony Lausmann, we recommend the book Swivel-Chair Logger: The Life and Work of Anton A. “Tony” Lausmann, which can be found in the FHS Library.

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This weekend a winner will be crowned at the 89th Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City. While we wish all the ladies luck, here at Peeling Back the Bark World Headquarters our favorite Miss America will undoubtedly remain one woman born all the way back in 1928.Miss America Green Cross

Miss American Green Cross, as she is known, was unveiled in Glendale, California, 87 years ago. Posing against the backdrop of a cross, her striking figure appeared with her arms outstretched in a call to save America’s trees. But who was this woman and where did she come from? To fully understand her story we need to go back a few more years to the origins of the American Reforestation Association.

American Reforestation Association logoThe early 1920s was a time of growing concerns over dwindling forest resources in the United States. In response to this perceived crisis, the American Reforestation Association was incorporated in Los Angeles in 1923. The stated aim for the group was “the saving of America’s greatest asset – trees. Not simply for sentiment but for the very life of the nation.” The official organizational motto was “The sapling of today is the man-timber of tomorrow,” and the group promoted tree planting, while also disseminating educational materials on the value of trees, hoping to influence the public on the need for laws to protect America’s forests.

ARA membership emblemThe organization also worked closely with various Hollywood figures, hoping to use the growing film industry as a means of promoting the group’s cause of planting trees. From its base in Southern California, the Association recruited membership from across the country. The official membership emblem greeting potential new members was a woman in a crown of laurels (labeled “America”) with arms outstretched against a cross backdrop under the words “help save our trees.”

This symbol appeared on American Reforestation Association publications and promotional materials, before eventually becoming the group’s centerpiece as the organization re-branded. On December 3, 1926, the American Green Cross Society was formally created as a successor to the American Reforestation Association.

Green Cross announcement

The group was publicly launched with a series of events in Southern California in April of 1927, in conjunction with national Forestry Week observances. This included a tree planting event on April 30, 1927, at Royal Palms (San Pedro, CA) near the Pacific Ocean end of Western Ave. The event was attended by U.S. Forest Service Chief William Greeley and featured the planting of 20 different trees from historic spots (including trees from Mount Vernon, Monticello, Fort McHenry, and other locations).

The local influence of the group was significant enough that in February 1928 the city of Glendale offered an office building and auditorium with a block of property valued at $150,000 to the American Green Cross to be used as their national headquarters. Around this time plans for a large monument also began.

The artist Frederick Willard Potter sculpted the monument – an imposing work featuring a bronze version of the familiar Green Cross woman atop a pile of logs all standing on a six-foot high stone base. The base featured a plaque as well as the words “help save our trees” and “the forest is the mother of the rivers.” The statue was placed in Glendale at the intersection of Broadway and Verdugo Roads at the corner of the Broadway High School campus (now Glendale High School).

Potter statue

Frederick Potter (left) with his American Green Cross statue.

The unveiling ceremony was attended by Potter as well as his model Verlyn Sumner. A Los Angeles Times report of the event began, “Amidst the cheers of several thousands of school children and citizens, the American Green Cross at Glendale yesterday unveiled a monument dedicated to forest conservation and propagation.” Lieutenant Governor Buron Fitts in his speech at the ceremony stated that “Just what the Red Cross means to humanity now, the Green Cross will mean to humanity of the future.”

While the Green Cross organization would ultimately prove to be short-lived, the strange journey of Miss Green Cross herself was only beginning. A few years after the dedication a car crashed into the statue’s base, causing significant damage. Shortly thereafter the statue was moved away from school grounds and relocated to a remote canyon area behind Brand’s Castle (now Brand Library & Art Center). As if following the statue’s path, the Green Cross organization also began to fade from public view during the 1930s. The statue was abandoned, vandalized, and mostly forgotten over the next few decades until a group of hikers “re-discovered” it during the 1950s. By this time the statue was crumbling and Miss Green Cross was missing an entire arm. In the late 1970s Glendale’s Historic Preservation Element designated the statue as a landmark piece and it was selected to be relocated to a prominent place in Brand Park. The statue was moved to storage in 1981 to await restoration work.

After significant work by Glendale artist Ron Pekar – and significant cost – the restoration project was completed. The Miss American Green Cross statue was unveiled at its current home in Brand Park with a re-dedication ceremony in 1992.

The story doesn’t exactly end there, though. In January 2007, a group of community service workers clearing brush behind Brand Library uncovered a buried arm. After an initial shock, they soon realized what they had found was a 3-foot-long bronze arm – which they later discovered was a missing piece of the original Green Cross statue. The Glendale Parks Department evidently now holds permanent possession of this original appendage (which had already been replaced in the restoration efforts).

While the statue itself remains in a prominent place near Brand Library Park, the origins of the Green Cross lady – as well as the stories of the American Reforestation Association and the American Green Cross – are unfortunately mostly forgotten.

Reforesters of America

1925 book by the American Reforestation Association.

Moulding Public Opinion

1927 book by the American Reforestation Association and the American Green Cross.

Help Save Our TreesMiss Green CrossMiss American Green Cross plaque

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