A Brief History of the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Fireplace
By: Katie Plese, March 5, 2007
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In our Capitol city of St.
Paul, lays a beautiful wooded park of 347 acres (largest in
the city) by the name of Como Park. Within this park, in a
forgotten area surrounded by a chain link fence, stands an
impressive structure nicknamed the “Dutch Ovens.”
This structure is not Dutch, nor even an oven. The structure
is actually a large stone fireplace erected in 1936 as a memorial
by the members of the Joyce Kilmer Post of the American Legion.
It was dedicated to honor the poet, Joyce Kilmer for both
his poetic expression of the beauty of trees (hence the memorial's
home in a tree-filled park) and for giving his life in the
service of his country.
Alfred Joyce Kilmer was born in New Brunswick, New Jersey
on December 6,1886. Kilmer was the youngest child of 4, and
he became a prolific poet. He is most remembered for his poem
“Trees”, first published in 1914 in a collection
entitled: “Trees and Other Poems.” Many adults
remember versions of this poem from their childhoods, but
most have forgotten the author. The original text follows:
|I think that I shall never see
A poem as lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.
Joyce Kilmer enlisted in the Seventh Regiment
of the New York National Guard. In August of 1917, Kilmer
was assigned with the 69th Volunteer Infantry Regiment (also
known as the “Fighting 69th”), which was later
re-designated as the 165th Infantry Regiment.
Kilmer quickly rose to the rank of Sergeant, and from many
accounts, was well loved by the troops he lead. His life was
cut tragically short at the age of 31. He was killed on the
battlefield near Seringes, France on July 30,1918.
While he was buried in France,
several memorials were erected in his honor here in the
United States. One of them was erected in the City of
St. Paul, Minnesota.
The Joyce Kilmer Arboretum Monument, erected in Como Park
funded by the American Legion, was dedicated by city officials
on June 28, 1936. Among those gathered in Como Park on
that day were Fred M. Truax, commissioner of St. Paul
Parks and Playgrounds; W. Lamont Kaufman, Park Superintendent;
William F. Lynch, fourth district American Legion Commander;
Con. Toomey, fourth district Commander-elect, and members
of the Joyce Kilmer post of the Fourth district American
Others participating in the dedication ceremony in the Arboretum
were Harry M. Walsh, chairman of the dedication committee;
Laurence C. Hodgson (“Larry Ho”) newspaper columnist;
and Bob Gehan, singer.
Originally this memorial arboretum was a larger complex that
included a cascading waterfall, a wooded grove, the stone
fireplace and a plaque with Kilmer’s poem “Trees”
hung from a nearby oak. Of these landmarks, only the fireplace
remains today. Unfortunately the memory of what this memorial
stands for, as well as the integrity of the structure itself,
has suffered through decades of neglect and occasional vandalism.
A dedicated group of community volunteers have taken it upon
themselves to work towards restoring the surrounding wooded
area into the Como Woodlands Outdoor Classroom as well as
the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Fireplace.
In restoring the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Fireplace, the immediate
area surrounding it would also become a meeting place for
students and picnic area for all residents to savor and enjoy
the natural beauty of trees – trees that inspired a
poet nearly 100 years ago.
Katie contacted Joyce Kilmer’s granddaughter,
Miriam A. Kilmer. The Joyce Kilmer Centennial Commission is
preparing to celebrate the centennial of the poem, “Trees.”
Miriam A. Kilmer: firstname.lastname@example.org Chair of Centennial
Commission: Harvey Brudner (1-732-572-0524). Book about Kilmer
is Joyce Kilmer: A Literary Biography, by John Covell.