The Memorial Oak
The Memorial Oak was planted on June 4, 1921 to honor those who fought in WWI. Soils from every state, and all Allied Nations were collected for the planting.
There is a plaque at the base of the Oak with the following inscription:
This oak, planted June 4, 1921, commemorates the efforts, sacrifices and achievements of all Americans who gave their lives in the world war.
Its roots rest in soil from all the allied nations, from every state and dependency of our country, from the bloody angle of Gettysburg and from the arc de triomphe of France .
"On fames eternal camping-ground their silent tents are spread, and glory guards with solemn round the bivouac of the dead."
According to the 1933-34 Freshman Manual, "A tablet, the gift of the Class of '27 rests on a native stone secured and placed there by Mr. C. A. Peters with the aid of several students" (p.23).
A letter dated 4/12/56 by Halsey B. Knapp, Director (just 2 months before he retired):
To Faculty and Staff:
The following relates to our Memorial Oak in the small circle near the Administration Building.
I begin with material taken from our files.*
"In the first week of June, 1921 the World War Memorial Tree of the Allies was planted on the Institute grounds with impressive ceremonies--an event that should not pass without special comment. It was Mrs. Peters who suggested to Director Johnson that it would be interesting to send to each of the Allied Nations and to each of the States of the Union for soil, which should be put about a tree to be planted ot commemorate the bond which kept the Allies fighting together through the war.
The tree is the historic white oak. It was planted Saturday, June 4, 1921. Many friends of the Institute and visitors were present. As far as possible men who were fitting representatives of each participating Country were selected from the Federal Board students to deposit the soils. For instance Ponferrada, who is a Filipino, deposited the soil from the Philippine Islands; Crisafulli, who is Italian, the soil of Italy, and so on.
Addresses for the occasion were delivered by Director Johnson, the Honorable W. W. Cocks, Mr. Jesse Merritt, Secretary of the Nassay County Historical Society, Mr. Henry W. Hicks, donor of the tree, and Mrs. Arthur Elles Hamm, of the American Committee for Devastated France. A letter from President Harding expressing warm interest in the occasion and its significance was read, and also communications form Ge. O'Ry an, the late Col. Galbraith and other notables.
Seldom has such an all embracing union of soils been placed on the roots of a tree. The soil came from Serbia, Russia, France, Belgium, Great Britain, Montenegro, Japan, Portugal, Italy, San Marino, Rumania, Greece, Panama, Cuba, Siam, Liberia, China, Brazil, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Haiti, Honduras, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India, Jamaica, and every state in the United States, including the territory of Alaska. The soil from Fra nce came from under the Triumphal Arch and Pennsylvania's soil came from the Bloody Angle on the Battlefield of Gettysburg. The New York Herald said "This memorial will excite unusual interest and its vigor will be the subject of much speculation."
Lest an insect enemy or a disease spore should be introduced through this foreign soil, each package was treated in the chemical laboratory before it was used.
The tree continues to live and is on the national honor roll of memor ial trees. Every year on Memorial Day appropriate exercises are held around this tree."
I can add a few items from my own experience.
When I came to the Institute the oak stood in the north end of the panel between the two roads at the main entrance. The following year, it was surrounded by a corn crop. (All areas now in lawn about and between the Agronomy Building and the Dining Hall, with the single exception of the flagstaff circle, were used for crops--oats, corn, alfalfa , etc.)
The Memorial Oak was not doing well, Foliage was small and sickly. There was no terminal growth. It was located on a sand and gravel bar. Plowing and cultivation were bad for it.
I was told that a white oak of the size and so debilitated could not be moved. I felt that from the standpoint of sentiment and as a symbol we should attempt to preserve it. The transplanting was successful. Some branches on one side were twisted off by a small cyclone a few years ag o, but the symmetry is still good.
We added the native boulder and the tablet at a later date, largely through the efforts of Mr. and Mr. Peters, two much loved teachers (see the Peters Memorial Garden provided by Alumni).
As the story says 'Every year on Memorial Day, appropriate exercises are held around this tree".
Halsey B. Knapp
*By files, Knapp was referring to the August 1921 student paper, The Furrow.