The purpose of a holiday, or holy-day, is to celebrate or remember an event or tradition. I have several memories linked to various holidays.
Groundhog Day marks the anniversary of Dad’s hole-in-one.
Thanksgiving is always around my wife’s birthday.
The Fourth of July is when I broke my ankle.
MLB’s Opening Day (should be a national holiday) and I always remember the legend of Mendy Lopez.
Good Friday and I remember the lynching on the square.
I met John on the square and he took me straight to the plaque with the name of the three men.
John told me the story that has fascinated me ever since I first heard it in the fifth grade. The story of a woman from Fair Play who hooked up with a travelling salesman. They claimed they were assaulted and robbed and falsely accused two men as assailants. In a series of acts driven by hate and fear, three men were lynched and burned in the middle of the square on Good Friday in 1906.
“It’s still hard for me to talk about,” John said. “Even 112 years later, such a gruesome, heinous act. It started to make national news on the east coast and would have put Springfield on the map — only a population of about 25,000 then — but the earthquake in San Francisco on Easter changed all that.”
John is the Executive Director of the History Museum on the Square. He volunteered for a few years, from 1976 – 1979, then left for work. He returned to Springfield in 2000, was able to serve on the board, retired in 2004, and has been filling in as director since 2005.
“Understandably, immediately the African-American population hid in sheer terror. They hid in houses and churches and a steady exodus left Springfield, going to Tulsa or Kansas City or St. Louis. Long term, in a growing city that was progressive and thought to be welcoming, a city that once had a black population of 10 – 12 percent, it now dropped down below 1.
“It is important, imperative to remember stories like this. It explains how we got to where we are and, hopefully, serves as a cautionary tale of how people’s fear and lack of tolerance can impact generations. What we need to do after hearing and reflecting on these stories is not turn and walk away. What we need to do is put our arms around one another and commit to making the future brighter and better. Together.”
If I had been thinking, I would have grabbed my 1940’s Wilson mitt to use for our game of catch. I wasn’t thinking. I was still trying to get blood to circulate into frozen toes and fingers after Dad and I hit the links for our monthly game of golf. We were the first ones out on the Stewart Golf Course today, taking advantage of the sun after a week of rain. The company was great; the golf, well…memorable. But we did both par three of the last four holes.
John and I tossed the ball right in front of the plaque and shared more stories. He told me of a torn rotator cuff, how he arrived to a game quite late, didn’t really warm up, and ran straight out to centerfield.
“One of the first balls was hit to me, and I threw the ball back hard to the infield and my arm went right along with it.”
I felt an immediate connection with John as we swapped telling stories about baseball and life in Springfield. I loved hearing him use stories to teach history and life lessons. As we parted ways and promised to stay in touch, John said, “I retired in 2004. Now, every single day, I get to meet new people, hear new stories, and learn new things. That is truly a joy.”
We tell stories to remember and hopefully learn from yesterday’s mistakes. We tell stories so we can face tomorrow’s unknowns with courage and new friends.