Johnny Appleseed’s monument

By any standards John Chapman was an odd character.  Even those folks on the frontier who adored him during his lifetime could hardly imagine the tremendous national respect and veneration such an unlikely character as barefoot “Johnny Appleseed” would attract in the centuries after his time on Earth.

There wasn’t anyone who met him in Richland County however, who could ever forget him.  He was a wholly memorable person: the kind of man who inspires legends; the kind of man who deserves to be remembered.

The last time anyone around here saw him was in the 1830s.  By 1900 there were few folks alive who had actually stood in the presence of John Chapman.

In 1900 there were still apple orchards bearing fruit that had been planted by Chapman’s hand, which stood as strong memorials to the genius of heart that he represented.  But an apple tree, like a human memory, has a limit to its term on Earth.

The way we have to remember people in America in the generations after their life has ended is by the most durable method we know: stone.  Granite, preferably, which can stand up to decades of weather; but sandstone will do if that’s what is at hand.

Fifty years after John Chapman was in his grave folks in Mansfield imagined there might come a day when some new future generation of Richlanders might grow up not hearing the stories of Johnny Appleseed unless they committed his memory to stone that could weather the failing memories of old folks.

Money was raised, funds were allocated, stone was harvested and engraved, and a special scenic knoll was chosen in the city’s new park system where the memory of John Chapman could be permanently enshrined into the public imagination.

The park

In 1900, they were still planting trees in Middle Park.  When the city acquired the land a dozen years earlier, as a connecting green space between North Lake and South Park, the property was mostly bare of all greenery except grass. 

There were two natural knolls behind the creek, and the larger of these was where the ‘resting pavilion’ gazebo was built.

The second, smaller knoll was designated as the site of Mansfield’s memorial to Johnny Appleseed.

Middle Park’s pavilion was completed in the summer of 1900.  This same gazebo today stands above Park Avenue West and Brinkerhoff Avenue at the northern end of South Park.
The Johnny Appleseed Monument was inaugurated and placed by the Mansfield Park Commission, and dedicated by the Richland County Historical Society.  Aside from speeches and invocations, the dedication ceremonies included pomp and marches by the Mansfield Military Band; and everyone sang “America.”
The Johnny Appleseed Monument is pictured between the spruces around 1909. A careful examination of this image places it in reference to the pavilion, barely visible behind the most forward pine.
When automobiles brought more tourists to Mansfield the Johnny Appleseed Monument was promoted as a municipal attraction in the Lincoln Highway guidebooks.  The two Mansfield routes of the Lincoln Highway passed on either end of Middle Park: West Fourth Street and Park Avenue West.
This 1906 photograph shows both knolls in Middle Park: the gazebo and the Johnny Appleseed monument.
The knoll where the original Johnny Appleseed Monument stood in Middle park has evolved from a sunny glade to a shadowy woodlands in the last 100 years.
The spruces of Middle Park, that partially obscured the Monument from site in the early 1900s, are 80 to 100 feet tall today, seen in the background behind the present day pavilion.

The sands of time

A half century after the Johnny Appleseed monument had been dedicated in Middle Park, the old memorial was showing its age.  The obelisk shaft on top had weathered enough to tempt teenagers into defacing it with all manner of indignities; and the words of remembrance were chipped and eroded.

It was, after all, carved of sandstone which is, after all, nothing but sand.

In the 1940s, during and after WWII, the US was reviving the memory of American folk heroes in a blush of patriotism, and Johnny Appleseed was enjoying a reemergence of community pride.

His old stone in Middle Park was lacking the nobility it served to express when it was new, so, in a fresh renewal of community memory the Johnny Appleseed monument was recreated in shiny granite.

It seemed appropriate to place the new stone next to the one authentic relic surviving from Johnny Appleseed’s epic early days in Mansfield, so in 1953 the reborn memorial left the Middle Park location and was repositioned near the blockhouse in South Park.

The new monument was dedicated September 26, 1953 on Johnny Appleseed Day, by the Richland County Historical Society.  The woman in this photo was sprinkling earth on the site taken from John Chapman’s birthplace in Leominster MA.
Shortly after the new monument was in place it sparked the interest of Boy’s Life Magazine: August 1954.
The Scouts of Troop 106, who met in the Blockhouse, oversaw the placement of a new sign at the entrance of South Park.
Through the latter half of the 20th century the site of Johnny Appleseed’s Monument collected a gathering of other commemorative landmarks as well.  It is ironic that there are two wartime weapons within yards of the space dedicated to John Chapman, who was an avowed non-violent lover of peace; who wouldn’t hurt snakes or even mosquitos.
The original Johnny Appleseed Monument that stood in Middle Park was removed to the Bushnell House on Sturges Avenue when it was home to the Ohio Genealogical Society.  The stone stayed in the lawn there until the early 2000s, when it was taken to the Johnny Appleseed Heritage Center near Mifflin.  Its current placement is the Mansfield Memorial Museum.

Another half century

Since 1953 there have been considerable alterations to the grounds where Johnny Appleseed’s monument was placed.  The Blockhouse itself has experienced a rebirth and moved a few dozen yards to higher ground.

Today the Appleseed memorial site is largely the domain of squirrels.  Chapman would, no doubt, have had it no other way.

There are new generations in Mansfield, and it is time once again to reimagine how we want to remember John Chapman to future generations.

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