Memorial Oak Tree at Farmingdale State College: A Living Tribute

Authored by Jaimie A. Albanese

An image of a pile of parcels on the ground, each with an attached paper tag stating the parcel's place of origin. The pile is surrounded by small flags from different countries stuck into the ground.

Taken during the Memorial Tree Planting Ceremony on June 4, 1921, this photograph shows the soil used in the planting of the Memorial Oak. The soil was gathered from each state in the United States, including the territory of Alaska, and countries who were members of the Allied Powers during WWI.

During the post-WWI era, the planting of memorial trees served as a popular tribute (Robbins 2003). Unfortunately, many have fallen or the plaques that once showed their dedication have been destroyed or lost (Gangloff 2003, 5). At the Farmingdale State College campus, one such “memorial that lives” (Gangloff 2003, 5) still stands strong almost a century later.

On Saturday, June 4, 1921, Farmingdale State College, then known as The New York State School of Agriculture on Long Island (Cavaioli 2012, 2), held a ceremony to honor lives lost during The Great War (WWI). With much pomp and circumstance, a white oak tree was planted on the agricultural school’s campus and soils from various nations were mixed into the roots of the tree.

In preparation for the ceremony, an effort headed by teacher Mary Peters, soil had been gathered from each of the 48 United States plus the territory of Alaska, as well as 28 Allied nations that fought side-by-side in the war (Cavaioli 2012, 60). Some of the soil received was retrieved from historic grounds: the soil from Pennsylvania was taken from the battleground at Gettysburg and the soil from France was taken from beneath the Arc d’Triumph in Paris (Cavaioli 2012, 60). During the ceremony, individuals were chosen to hold each parcel of soil and, where possible, those from foreign ground were chosen to carry the soil from their mother country. One of the chosen was Filippino-American student, Ponferrada, who carried and deposited the soil from the Philippines (Cavaioli 2012, 60).

The historic ceremony saw the attendance of faculty, students, staff, visitors, wounded student-veterans, the Fort Totten military band, and prominent politicians and citizens (Heroes’ Oak… 1921, 19). Among this esteemed audience was Charles Lathrop Pack, chairman of the board of American Forestry magazine (now American Forests) (Cavaioli 2012, 60). In his ceremonial speech, later published in American Forestry, Pack stated, “…this tree, nurtured by the soil of these many lands, typifies, to my mind, the bonding together of those who died and those who live. As from this soil its roots send forth life so from the sacrifice of those men you honor today there continues to live in the world an idea worth fighting for” (Pack 1921).

Pack’s words embody the spirit of the tribute, which is reflective of the Vincentian tradition to “foster a world view and to further efforts toward global harmony and development…and embody the spirit of compassionate concern for others….” (St. John’s University n.d.). The act of bringing together people and soils which represent a global community, mixing the soils together to represent the union of nations and losses suffered by all, and using this amalgam as the foundation upon which a harmonious future will grow illustrates a deep respect for friendship, solidarity, justice, and peace.

References

Cavaioli, Frank J. 2012. Farmingdale State College: A History. Albany: SUNY Press.

Gangloff, Deborah. 2003. “Memorials That Live On.” American Forests 109 (1): 5, March 18, 2018. http://jerome.stjohns.edu:81/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=10369654&site=ehost-live

“Heroes’ Oak Planted in Battlefield Soil”. 1921. “Heroes’ Oak Planted in Battlefield Soil.” New York Times, March 18, 2018. https://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1921/06/05/107016096.pdf.

Pack, Charles Lathrop. 1921. “The Memorial Tree.” American Forestry, July 1921. file:///C:/Users/jalba/Desktop/Greenley%20Archives%20(AS-L)/Pack%20(1921).%20The%20memorial%20tree.%20American%20Forestry..pdf

Robbins, Michelle. 2003. “Rooted in Memory.” American Forests 109 (1): 38-46, March 18, 2018. http://jerome.stjohns.edu:81/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=10370185&site=ehost-live

St. John’s University. n.d. “Our Mission.” Accessed March 18, 2018. https://www.stjohns.edu/about/our-mission.

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