Mother – A Mother Is The Holiest Thing Alive

History of Ashland Boys Association Erecting The Mother’s Memorial Statue

The traditional Ashland Boys Association (ABA) weekend festivities were winding down and it was time to look ahead to 1937. An ABA Parade meeting was held that day and a committee of six men was appointed to suggest ways to honor and memorialize Ashland mothers. The committee was headed by Honorable Charles W. Staudemeier, Arthur Wallauer, George M. Pepper, Harold Burmeister, and Dr. John L. Hoffman, president of the ABA. The following Labor Day, September 6, 1937, the committee recommended that a monument or memorial honoring all the mothers of Ashland boys and girls be erected. They also recommended that this memorial be in form of the figure in the painting by the famous artist, James McNeil Whistler, “An Arrangement in Gray and Black, No.1: The Mother,” more popularly known as “Whistler’s Mother.”

THE ASHLAND DAILY NEWS of Tuesday, September 7, 1937, provided additional details of the historic meeting for the borough. Senator Staudenmeier gave members every opportunity to voice their opinion upon the memorial, saying it was for the people of Ashland to say what the memorial should be. In anticipation of hearing someone say that the cost is too high he said, ‘Folks, the funds for this kind of memorial are the easiest that can be raised. It is one of the most outstanding pieces of art.’ The motion to erect the monument was passed after a number of short enthusiastic speeches by several members, followed by rounds of applause. Various methods were advanced for raising funds, popular subscription receiving the most consideration. The first contribution to come before the meeting was a pledge of $100.00 from the Mummers Club presented by Earl Ervine, secretary of the club. James Collier, Williamsport, also said that when they were ready the committee could send for his check for $50.00. Dr. Hoffman said that he did not think there would be much trouble raising money as already a number of citizens have offered sums ranging into three and four figures. “He said that he didn’t think any boy can honor his mother too much, whether she is still living or passed to her reward.”

THE COMMITTEE FELT that the Mother’s Memorial would be symbolic of the very foundation of the Ashland Boys Association because the meaning of the ABA is to “come on home” and the word home makes all persons think of their mother. The September 4, 1937, special edition of the Ashland Daily News noted that “Various Memorials to Ashland Mothers Were Considered.” The article read: Members of the ABA Memorial committee today pointed out that they have under consideration several other forms of a memorial to mothers of Ashland. The committee considered a library for Ashland and a community building where youths might gather. Both the projects, however were eliminated when the continuing overhead expense of operation for over a period of years was considered. The report the committee will make to the ABA at the park Monday afternoon will point out that these projects were considered and eliminated in favor of a bronze replica of Whistler’s mother to be placed on North 3rd Street between Chestnut and Markets Streets. “The statue will cost approximately $7,000 and a drive will have to be organized to raise this money.” Also, at the September 6, 1937 meeting, it was proposed to change the name of South Third Street to Hoffman Boulevard in honor of Dr. Hoffman. This suggestion was carried out soon after. “Dr. Hoffman was much affected by the action of the ABA and wanted the Association to defer the tribute until his demise, “ stated the Ashland Daily News. “But everybody was enthusiastic in their desire to honor the association’s faithful president now, while he is still alive and at work in Ashland.”

BOROUGH MANAGER HAROLD BURMEISTER, secretary of the ABA at the time, drew blueprints of his suggested theme of Whistler’s Mother. A drawing made by John Maley of Ashland and the composite was accepted by the Ashland Boys Association. The plans had to be inspected by the Commonwealth before a go-signal could be given from the county office in Pottsville to make it a project of the Depression-era Works Progress Administration (WPA). The cost of the memorial was eventually placed at $8,000, a great deal of money in those hard times. It was noted that part of the reason for the high cost was the fact that the statue would be cast in bronze, costing more than if it was cast in iron. Bronze was used because of its permanency and better appearance.

THERE WERE PESSIMISTS who labeled the idea a “monstrosity.” At the time during which the memorial was proposed and described, several art students criticized the venture as being virtually impossible. One went so far as to suggest the statue be transposed to a likeness of some Ashland mother. It is worth noting that in 1934 a commemorative postage stamp was issued for Mother’s Day “In memory and In honor of the mothers of America.” The postage stamp carried a picture of Whistler’s “Mother.” Whether the stamp is the origin of the idea of the statue of Whistler’s “Mother” is open to debate. The ABA and Mummers Club remained undaunted by any controversy and retained two able artists to scale Whistler’s historic painting so it could ultimately be designed and constructed in its intended form. At about the time that work on the memorial was to begin, a great debate started in Ashland which was covered in the local newspaper. The question? Should the statue be erected or would a library be a better memorial? This debate lasted for about six weeks before it was finally decided to proceed with building the statue.

THE INSCRIPTION on the statue was also a subject of debate. The following article by Rev. Charles E. Ruby appeared in the Ashland Daily News on April 28, 1938: “A member of the committee on the Mothers’ Memorial Monument should me the artists model last evening and he asked me to write an article in The Ashland Daily News. What I said then had no weight. “To my mind, the inscription to be cut in the huge base stone should be selected with great care and much consideration. As it is now reads it is:


It is a quotation from Coleridge’s poem, entitled ‘Three Graves.” There are deleted after ‘is,’ these words ‘a mother still.’ Inasmush as it proposes to be a memorial to all Ashland mothers, pat, present and future, they are not all ‘alive.’ It is to be a definite article ‘a’ is retained. Geographically the monument will grace the head of Hoffman Boulevard, However, the inscription applies to the motherhood that runs through the world. Besides the general inscription is a general statement of a universal fact, while the memorial is intended to be dedicated to a specific group in a local borough. Its thought is distributive just when it should be particular. I appreciate poetic license, yet literacy critics do not like the phrase ‘holiest thing.’ There are no holy things, except by metonymy, derived from God or a person or a sacred use. A mother is not a THING. Wordsworth, who was far superior to Coleridge, wrote a beautiful poem, ‘She was a Phantom of Delight,’ but one word he used was a fly in the ointment, viz. When he called a woman a ‘machine.’ Let me quote a portion:

‘When first she gleamed upon my sight;
A dancing shape, an image gay,
To haunt, to startle and waylay.
And now I see with eye serene
The very pulse of the machine;
A perfect woman, nobly planned
To warn, to comfort, and command
And yet a Spirit still and bright
With something of angelic light.’ 

“An inscription carved in marble cannot be erased and I believe the mothers of Ashland do not want to be called a Thing, though once in history woman was a chattel, a piece of property. Why not have an inscription on the base of the monument, which, when the present generation passes away, will not need a commentary and they will see a definite, specific memorialization of the enduring value of Ashland motherhood.” There are no indications that Rev. Ruby’s argument was given serious consideration and committee members stood by the original inscription idea.

THROUGH 1937 and 1938 the committee moved on plans to finance the project. It was decided to ask all Ashland residents and former Ashland residents now living out of the area for a contribution. One of the first contributions to come in came from a former Ashland boy, who said that when he went home from the 1937 ABA reunion, he wrote the check and dated it right away and made arrangements that if anything happened to him, at least his contribution in his mother’s name would be sent to the committee. A list of graduates from Ashland schools since 1874 was compiled. Five hundred letters were sent out by ABA home staff, followed by five hundred more. The newly-organized Women’s Club of Ashland pledged its support in March 1938. The Ashland Mummers’ Club, long popular for their parade preparations for the Saturday night preceding each labor Day, was invited to join in this venture and that organization gave its whole hearted support. The town canvassed for contributions. Bronze memorial coins were struck and presented to each contributor of one dollar or more. The coins, which are treasured by Ashland residents today, bore on the face, a likeness of the proposed statue. The April 19, 1938, edition of the Ashland Daily News noted that the response to the fund drive was “almost unbelievable.” The paper regularly updated area residents on the progress of the fund drive. All through the spring and summer of 1938, contributions came in from Ashland boys and girls and former residents now living all over the United States, and even from as far as the territory of Hawaii, as the Ashland Daily News recorded in a May 28, 1938, headlined “Contribution for Mothers’ Memorial sent from Hawaii”:

Jimmy Lynch, an Ashland boy who is stationed with Service Battery 8th Field Artillery at Schoffield Barracks, Troop H, of the U.S. Army in Honolulu has sent a contribution of $1 to the ABA Mothers’ Memorial fund here, Walter Goyne, treasurer of the committee, reported today. Mr. Lynch was not solicited for a contribution because his name did not happen to be on the ABA roll. He sent the following letter which is self explanatory – Dear Sir: I received some Ashland papers today from my sister and read that you are seeking contributions for the Mothers’ Memorial. So I am enclosing one dollar. Wishing you and the committee the best of luck. – An Ashland Boy Jimmy Lynch ….Donations ranged from $100 to ten cents. The nation was in the Great Depression. Few people had jobs. Still, everyone tried to donate.

WINTER’S COLD did not delay work on the memorial. A January 26, 1938 newspaper report indicated that preparation of the memorial site would get underway as early at February 3: “Borough Manager Harold Burmeister was notified today that WPA has formally approved a project covering WPA work on the proposed ABA Mother’s Memorial at the northern end of Hoffman Boulevard. Work on the project is scheduled to begin February 3, the borough manager said. About 15 workmen will be assigned to the project and it is expected that this number will be transferred from other projects now underway in the borough. Transfers are necessary because the Hoffman Boulevard island curbing project has been completed and funds for the curb and sidewalk project have been exhausted. Today a new reservoir improvement project was started by the borough and men made idle when the island and sidewalk projects closed were transferring to this job. WPA workmen employed on this Mother’s Memorial job will prepare the site for the memorial. They will be engaged in stone masonry work, building walls and steps to parapet that has been designed to receive the memorial which will be a bronze reproduction of Whistler’s Mother. With the work to begin on the project, the ABA committee in charge of raising the necessary $7,000 or $8,000 will have to get together in the next two or three weeks and lay definate plans for the drive for funds. The committee previously announced that the drive would get under way as soon as WPA work on the project has begun. The Mothers’ Memorial is being placed by the Ashland Boys Association but the improvement work necessary about the site is being sponsored by the borough as a WPA project.”

ON APRIL, 18, 1938, a contract for sculpting statue was awarded to Julius Loester of New York City. Loester studied for five years at Student’s League with James Frazier, noted sculptor. He afterwards designed and erected war memorials in New York and New Jersey. One of his more famous works in “The Doughboys.” he also worked on a Spanish War Memorial in Lancater. Among his other talents is the designing of plaques and door decoration. The designer was Mr. Emil Siebert, also of New York. On June 16, 1938, the Ashland Daily News reported that members of the ABA Mothers’ Memorial committee went to New York City to see how work on the statue was progressing. The article carried the headline: “Mothers’ Memorial attracts attention in New York City: While the drive for funds is progressing satisfactory, members of the ABA memorial committee are more than pleased with the full size clay model of the memorial which they viewed in New York City earlier this week. While the committee was in the studio at 67 W. 3rd Street, New York, Joseph M. Goldrick, controller of the city of New York phoned and made an appointment with Mr. Julius Loester, the scultor, to view the full size model in clay. Professor Robinson, of New York College. also made an appointment to view the model. The president of the New York Camera Club, composed only 17 members, all millionaires, was in the studio and made a number of candid camera shots from every angle. Several of these shots with a story of the ABA and the Memorial project will be forwarded by Loester to the New York Times. The clay model is heroic yet beautiful in its well proportioned lines. The expression is serene and arms relaxed the figure is everything if not more than the committee expected.”

THE STATUE WAS to be cast in bronze, being seven feet high and setting on a granite base four feet high. Carved in the granite base on the south side were in words, “MOTHER – A MOTHER IS THE HOLIEST THING ALIVE.” On the east side the names of the committee, on the north side the inscription, “ERECTED BY THE ASHLAND BOYS ASSOCIATION AS A MEMORIAL TO THE MOTHERS OF ASHLAND BOYS AND GIRLS.” On the west side the date, “SEPTEMBER 5, 1938.”  The weight of the statue is 1,260 pounds or slightly over a half ton. The weight of the granite base was between 8 and 8 1/2. The memorial is cast in plaster of Paris, with a covering of bronze only 1/4-inch thick and was worth at the time being installed, approximately $150.00. The statue is fastened to the granite base with iron dowel or bars buried in the concrete. The Sausser Monument Works of Ashland declined to bid on the granite base or pedestal.

WHISTLER PAINTED his picture in profile, so the statue was to be set with the mother facing west, or into the setting sun just as her life is setting to rest. The lines on her face represent the years of her life and her hands are folded in her lap as though in repose, or deep in thought. When viewed from Hoffman Boulevard, she is seen in profile, just as she is seen in the painting. In fact, the likeness to the painting is amazingly adhered to by the sculptor. The lines on the mother’s face are noticeable, bringing out the quiet charm and gentleness. The statue also captures the delineation of the headdress, streamers from the cap almost in rhythm with the flowing folds of the dress and the serene, meditative position of arms on her lap. This is the first instance in history where a famous painting has been depicted in bronze. In this exquisite artistry of the figure there is harmony of color, quite a far cry from the artist’s somber tones of the picture.

IN THE MIDDLE of July 1938, it was decided by the committee to make the dedication of the statue an affair to be remembered in Ashland. Plans were started for this affair by getting a former Ashland boy to be the main speaker. He was an attorney M.M. Burke, chancellor of the Schuylkill County Bar Association. It was also decided by the committee to try and get the oldest mothers living in Ashland to unveil the statue. Nominations were submitted to the Ashland Daily News. The two women finally selected for the honor were Mrs. Mary Wilson, age 91, the mother of four children, and Mrs. Edith Schmidt, age 89, the mother of eight children.

THE GRANITE BASE arrived by rail in Ashland from New York City on August 30 and was installed by a power winch and workmen from Rhoads Contracting Company and men from the company in New York City. The 8-8 1/2 ton granite block was left overnight in its protective wooden cover until the statue would be installed on it. The bronze statue arrived in Ashland the next day and was left all night around it. The next morning, September 1, 1938, arrangements were made to install the statue on the pedestal. There was a delay, however, when it was discover – after the wooden crate around the granite pedestal was removed – that the pedestal had been installed backward. The inscription designed to face toward Centre Street – “MOTHER – A MOTHERS IS THE HOLIEST THING ALIVE” – was actually facing toward Market Street. It was found that whoever marked the crate for shipment had placed the letter “F” for front on the back instead. So several hours were needed to turn the heavy pedestal around. The base was finally set right by placing steel bars under it and turning it to the correct position. The statue was then placed upon it and a covering was placed over the memorial until it was to be unveiled at the dedication on Sunday, September 4, 1938. The summer of 1938 was a dry one and it browned the sod which had been specially cut and laid to prepare the grounds. It was decided by the then Ashland borough manager and committee member, Harold Burnmeister, to correct the condition by placing a green vegetable dye on it. Burnmeister had read where the dye was used for the first time on the football field at the 1937 Army-Navy game. He was able to get some of the dye and had it installed for the dedication.

APPROXIMATELY 2,500 to 3,000 people attended the actual dedication services on Sunday, September 4, 1938. The parade was formed at the high school building on North Ninth Street and marched down Third Street for the Services. Another one of the dignitaries who spoke at the dedication was William Bush, county administrator of the WPA. He capped his remarks of the day saying that he was proud to announce the WPA of Pennsylvania had selected the Mothers’ Memorial project of Ashland as the outstanding WPA project executed or done in Pennsylvania during the year 1938 and that the people of Ashland had every right to be proud of it. At the ABA reunion meeting held the next day at the Washington Park, after a report had been given that the Memorial fund was slightly more than $2,500 short of its goal of $6,000, a motion was made to adopt the slogan “Lets Go Down In The Old Sock Again” and the debt was paid off completely before the next ABA reunion rolled around in 1939.

Credit: Mark Noon, “Ashland Mother’s Memorial 50th Anniversary Edition”, Evening Herald, Shenandoah, August 27, 1988.


Mothers memorialMay 2012

ASHLAND – The proposed Ashland Boys’ Association historical marker has received provisional approval from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, which could lead to formal approval in September.

Ashland Mummers Club’s Historical Marker Committee Chairman Adam J. Bernodin III, who has been spearheading the marker initiative with James Klock, received a letter dated April 25 from Historical Marker Program Coordinator Karen L. Galle of the PHMC’s Bureau for Historic Preservation informing him of the news.

“I was ecstatic when I received the letter,” Bernodin said Wednesday while standing on top of the Mother’s Memorial near the statue, which is the most visible symbol of the ABA influence at local, state and national levels.

Bernodin submitted an application in 2010 for an historical marker to recognize the accomplishments and influence of the organization from the early 1900s, but the following April he was informed that it was rejected. However, Galle and Chester Kulesa, site administrator at the Anthracite Heritage Museum in Scranton, provided assistance in making revisions to the application so it could be resubmitted. A nomination for an historical marker may be made three consecutive years, after which an application cannot be resubmitted for another three years.

“There was a total of 15 new historical markers selected out of 59 applications this year,” Bernodin said. “The ABA was one of the three to five historical markers each year selected as ‘provisional approval’ depending on the recommendations in PHMC panel comments. So, additional historical markers are approved later under these circumstances.”

Galle’s letter to Bernodin said, “The commission’s action follows the recommendations of an independent review panel consisting of historians, educators and historical experts from around the commonwealth.”

Bernodin said that the proper text that would be on the historical marker is a main part of getting the formal approval. The review panel made the following comment: “The proposed text must be adjusted to focus on how this organization is a statewide example of this Pennsylvania story, and how it developed a unique manner to address this. The PHMC staff will provide direct assistance to verify documentation, ensure the subject meets marker criteria, and provide input on appropriate text that meets PHMC marker style guidelines.”

Original article here

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