The Smack and Tang of Elemental Things

The coolest thing I’ve ever purchased online was a book of poetry about trees published in 1923 or 1924. Not your ordinary, run-of-the-paper-mill tree poetry book. It was published by Florence Barton Loring as a remembrance from her husband, Charles M. Loring, “The Father of Minneapolis Parks.” (Do not accept imitation “creators” of the Minneapolis park system. More to come on that subject.) Only forty-eight pages with a hard cover. The little book was explained this way in a brief foreword by Mrs. Loring:

In explanation of this booklet’s publication, it may be stated that my beloved husband requested me, when circumstances favored, to compile a collection of  verses from which we had derived much pleasure, on the subject of trees, for distribution as a parting souvenir of himself, among those who knew him well, and share his tastes and enthusiasm…It does not require this parting remembrance from Charles M. Loring to keep his memory alive in the hearts of his friends, but that may render it none the less acceptable to the recipients; while, to the compiler, it has been not only a means of redeeming a promise, but, also, has provided a labor of love.

Poets included range from Byron, Longfellow and William Cullen Bryant (Bryant Avenue) to Minnesota poets Henrietta Jewett Keith and May Stanley.

The poem excerpt that caught my attention though was a few lines from “Lincoln: The Man of the People,” by Edwin Markham. Loring cites only six lines of the poem including the closing four lines:

And when he fell in whirlwind, he went down
As when a lordly cedar, green with boughs,
Goes down with a great shout upon the hills
A
nd leaves a lonesome place against the sky

That was perhaps Mrs. Loring’s tribute to Lincoln as well as her husband, who had been a stalwart of Lincoln’s party. But she left out Markham’s great description of Lincoln including the fabulous line used as a title here:

The color of the ground was in him, the red earth;
The smack and tang of elemental things;

A reading of Markham’s poem was part of the dedication of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. in May, 1922. Markham, who had published the poem in 1901, read it himself. The dedication took place a little more than a month after Charles Loring died at the age of 88.

Florence Barton Loring and Charles Loring, about 1915, likely in Riverside, California (Minnesota Historical Society, por 16225 r3)

I first saw the book at the Minnesota Historical Society Library in St. Paul (there is also a copy in Special Collections at the Hennepin Country Central Library downtown Minneapolis). Because relatively few copies were printed for gifts to Loring’s friends I was surprised to find one for sale online from a Los Angeles rare book dealer. It is one of only a few souvenirs I have collected from my research of Minneapolis parks.

More on Florence Barton Loring soon.

David C. Smith

© David C. Smith

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8 comments so far

  1. William Scott on

    I have a copy in very good condition of “Tree Poetry”. Florence Barton Loring was my great-great aunt. My grandmother (her niece) and my father, Harold Scott, traveled yearly to Riverside, CA, to visit with Charles Loring and Florence. My father’s deceased brother was named Loring Barton Scott, a nod to the close relationship William and Emma Scott had to both families. Interestingly, I have in my possession several artifacts from the Barton family, including A.B. Barton’s baby spoon (1793) and his school student slate from 1835. How and why Grandmother came into possession of them is a mystery. I didn’t know the book was so rare.

    • David C. Smith on

      Thanks for the information, William. I assume from your grandparents’ relationships with Lorings and Bartons that they were also residents of Minneapolis. Has your family left other recollections of life in the city or with those well-known Minneapolitans? We’d love to hear more.

      • lightonadistanthill on

        Thank you for the reply David. Grandmother appears to have been a Minneapolis native but not Grandfather. They met in Kansas where Grandmother was teaching school after graduating from ladies’ seminary in Minneapolis in the mid 1880s. My. Grandparents left no written observations but did leave a trove of turn of the century photos including a bunch of the now mysterious Dr. J S Pigall, of whom I can uncover no trace. I hope soon I can visit Minneapolis and share these photos with the Historical Society. They are a great slice of turn of the century life there.

      • David C. Smith on

        I have not heard of Dr. Pigall either. Keep us posted on your pictures. If they are made available through the Historical Society, let us know — especially if they include any images of parks!

      • lightonadistanthill on

        David,
        Actually I do have numerous park pictures but not being from there don’t know which parks. Except one, a Scott-Pigall family outing at Minnehaha Park. I do have 15 photos of Dr Pigall and family. I also have something no one there may have-a cameo photo of Florence Barton as a young woman. I have selected 3 photos I can send you via e-mail if you can give me a more private method.

  2. Grace on

    The picture would have been at the Mission Inn in Riverside inside the Court of Birds. I volunteer for the Mission Inn Foundation and we have a similar picture in our archives.

    • David C. Smith on

      Thanks so much for that information, Grace. Just this week I ordered a copy of Master of the Mission Inn, the biography of Charles Loring’s close friend in Riverside, Frank Miller. I made a too-brief visit to Riverside when I was writing City of Parks: The Story of Minneapolis Parks. I would love to return some day to learn more about Loring’s life as a winter resident of your beautiful city.

      I am curious how Loring chose Riverside for his winter home. I have never come across that info. Have you? Loring had travelled extensively in the U.S. and Europe, so his choice of Riverside as a winter residence seems significant to me.

  3. […] I’ll be the entertainment on the Yard and Garden Show, Saturday, February4 at noon on WCCO radio, 830 AM. I’ll talk about how the Minneapolis park board became responsible for all the street trees in the city. Did you know that most of Minneapolis south and west of the Mississippi was once open prairie? Then where did all these trees come from? The park board planted most of the trees along our streets — and still owns them. But did you know that’s also one reason the Minneapolis park board has its own police force? Of course, Charles Loring deserves most of the credit; his love of trees was well-known. […]


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