Claremore – High on the hill where Will Rogers hoped to retire, his spirit lives again.
In some strange way, the beloved character seemed to share in the memorial dedication which paid tribute to his memory on his fifty-ninth birthday anniversary here today.
Not since the air tragedy snatched Rogers from the world has his spirit seemed so close. Increasing tenseness was felt this morning from the time the family and close friends stepped inside the native stone shrine until the unveiling of the statue the dramatic highlight of the program.
So natural and realistic was the life-size bronze of Rogers that an audible gasp swept the saddened group as the curtain fluttered to the base. Sunshine for which fervent prayers had been offered peeped through the skylight and cast a soft glow about the statue.
As the microphones were arranged and the photographers surrounded the foyer, the immediate family gathered on the right side of the shrouded figure.
With Mrs. Rogers, the widow, were Mrs. Sally McSpadden, Chelsea, Rogers’ only sister; Will Jr., Mr. and Mrs. Jimmie Rogers, and Mrs. Oscar Lawler, close friend and neighbor of the Rogers family, who came here with the widow from Beverly Hills.
On the other side of the statue stood Mary, the Rogers’ only daughter. She wore a simple navy outfit with a dash of color on her hat. Near by Gov. E.W. Marland stepped up to the microphone and briefly described the events which led up to obtaining a statue of Will Rogers by Jo Davidson, noted sculptor.
“I hope you will approve of this statue as I do,” he said. ”Miss Mary Rogers, the people of Oklahoma are delighted to have you with us, and we want you to pull the cord which will unveil forever the statue of Oklahoma’s favorite son, our friend and your father – Will Rogers.”
Miss Rogers stepped up, grasped the cord, and in a flash the covering fluttered to the base.
Every face was turned that way. Mary looked up into the statue’s face, gasped, and nervously jumped back. Mrs. Rogers looked but she too turned away choking back the tears. All the family was visibly impressed.
Governor Marland called on Jo Davidson. The sculptor chose his words as simply and beautifully as he had created the life-like statue. “I have never had such a beautiful setting for one of my statues,” was the sincere tribute to come from the world-renowned sculptor!
Then Davidson added: “It was a labor of love to do this and I am happy to have come across the ocean to be present at this unveiling. I was a personal friend of Rogers and he often watched me work but he never posed for me. That is one of the regrets of my life.”
Spirit Of Rogers Over Claremore
Saddened Family at Ceremony; Sculptor in Tribute
John Duncan Forsyth, the architect, stepped up before the microphone to speak briefly – but he, too choked, his voice almost broke and he finished hurriedly and moved back in the audience.
The widow and mother of Wiley Post, Oklahoma and world flier who was killed with Rogers, were introduced. The mother spoke briefly and commended Joe Crosson, who returned the bodies of Rogers and Post from Alaska to the United States.
No stage or screen play which Rogers made famous was ever packed with such drama and pathos. His friends and family shuffled nervously and dabbed at stubborn tears.
When the Bacone College Indian glee club drifted into the Rogers’ favorite tune, it was too much for Mrs. Rogers. She wrapped her black coat around her and moved quietly toward the rear of the memorial. Following close beside her was Mrs. Lawler, her friend and neighbor from California.
After the cowboy songs by another group of musicians garbed in the western regalia, Mrs. Rogers returned to chat briefly with Davidson, Governor Marland and other friends and before going in the front stand where the national radio program was broadcast.
They posed in front of the statue for photographers who had kept the flick of flashlights on throughout the ceremony.
Mrs. Rogers and the family group with Mrs. Marland, were ushered to a special section. They were flanked on every side by crowds, celebrities and honor guests. Just plain folks from many states, all Will Rogers friends.
Immediately behind the Central Broadcasting platform sat the uniformed band of the Oklahoma Military Academy. Reporters and photographers edged in around the sides and to the right was another section of chairs on the memorial platform reserved for close friends and other relatives.
Outside the porch banister the spectators by the thousands spread across the hillside. Upturned faces in a sea of humanity were visible for hundreds of feet. Like a beacon tower, the tower for movie cameramen rose from the watching throng. Operators of still cameras crowded on a table at the right front of the platform.
A large American flag stood almost stiff in the chill wind which swept across the hillside. The flagpole, the axis of the building, centered the broadcast platform, which was surrounded by microphones.
And it was a curious crowd which brushed shoulders, and literally rubbed elbows in this gala but sad occasion. Ruddy cowmen of the early west, smooth, suave celebrities of the modern world, and just plain folks of here and there all were gathered in the great program to pay tribute to their common favorite.
One couple who got a big thrill out of the family reunion was Mr. and Mrs. V.W. Griffin, Quapaw Indians of Miami. It was the first time they had seen the Rogers children although they knew their father quite well.
And the Rogers children got just as much fun out of seeing the Indian couple. Mrs. Griffin looked like the typical squaw. Her straight, black hair was knotted at the neck and a gay-colored blanket was draped about her shoulders. She said little – quiet mannered like the Indians – but the light in her eye told the folks it was a big event in her life.
Will Jr., saw worlds of “color” in the couple and, editor that he is, urged a news photographer to take a shot for him to run in his Beverly Hills Citizen. Yes, Will Jr., was on his toes to see that the Beverly Hills newspaper gets ample coverage of this affair.
While Will Jr., moved about chatting with his father’s old friends, Jimmy donned cowboy pants and spurs and rode horseback in the parade.
Jimmy’s pretty bride was standing at the memorial entrance to watch her husband riding by. His little relatives were jumping up and down waving at all the friends and kinsmen. One of them turned and said, “Did you see Uncle So-and-So.”
The pretty little blonde smiled sweetly and answered truthfully, “No, I guess I was too busy looking at Jimmy.”
The parade of pioneers, cowboys, and a handful of youngsters, moved behind the memorial and gathered to feast at the chuck wagon dinner. Col. Zach Miller, last of famous brothers of the 101 Ranch was a prominent figure in this group along with Pawnee Bill.
All this time, Mary Rogers, in her sleek mink coat, was dashing in and out taking in all events. Although it was quite cold, she frequently was hatless and the breeze whipped her long, brown hair.
Although the Majority of the crowd did not arrive until noon, several hundred were on hand for the cornerstone laying in charge of the Masonic grand lodge of Oklahoma, assisted by Akdar Shrine of Tulsa.
The bales of hay scattered about the soggy ground saved the spectators from muddy, dampened shoes. In fact, the officials in charge had looked after ever single detail. Arrangements were carefully handled in every way. National gurarsmen and state patrol were at every turn to facilitate the handling of crowds on the grounds, downtown and on the highways.
Claremore was “dressed up” for the occasion. Streets were decked in banners – state flags and American flags – reflecting the frequent description of Will Rogers, “native son and world citizen.”
Even the daily papers had put out special editions. Here you could read all about the memorial to Will Rogers. Parking lots and eating places had beers thrown up along the way. In addition to the regular down-town cafes.
It was a historic event for Claremore. But not only the city which Rogers made famous with his wit and philosophy. It was the No. 1 event for the nation. President Roosevelt, speaking as the head of the American government, symbolized the top place with Rogers held in the hearts of his countrymen.