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 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.
The 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.
The 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.
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).
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.