Sunday, June 07, 2009

Footnote people


There is a Statuary Hall in the US Capitol, and Thomas Starr King's statue has been removed to make room for another Californian. The New York Times reflects on the moment:

Stop a moment, please, to say goodbye to Thomas Starr King. After more than 75 years of quiet and unwavering government service, he has lost his job of representing California in Statuary Hall in the United States Capitol. He has ceded his spot to Ronald Reagan, whose statue was unveiled on Wednesday.

Each state gets to honor two citizens in Statuary Hall. For California, first and second prize now belong to the Gipper and Junípero Serra, the Spanish friar who founded all those missions. Third prize is you’re fired, which for King means a one-way ticket to Sacramento.

He wasn’t a powerful politician or businessman. He was sickly and funny-looking. ...

He was a Unitarian preacher, and an amazing one at that; spellbinding, said people who heard him. He spoke up for slaves, for the poor, for union members and the Chinese. Most memorably, he spoke up for the Union, roaming the state on exhausting lecture tours, campaigning for Abraham Lincoln and a Republican State Legislature, imploring California not to join the Confederacy. He succeeded, but he did not live to see the Union victory. He died of diphtheria in 1864, age 39.

“He saved California to the Union,” this paper wrote, quoting Gen. Winfield Scott.

Statuary Hall is an exclusive club, but its members are not all well remembered. ...it would be hard to fill a schoolbus with New Yorkers who know Robert Livingston, one of the lesser founding fathers, and George Clinton, not the guy with Parliament Funkadelic, but the other one who was Thomas Jefferson’s vice president.

And that’s as it should be. Boldface names get all the attention. The Capitol needs a place for footnote-face names. Isn’t that what bronze and marble are for, to affix dimming reputations and outlast frail memories?

Here, then, a final toast to the worthy but obscure. To the frail patriot Thomas Starr King. And to Gov. George Washington Glick, bumped by Kansas in 2003 for Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Of course, in the long view even Eisenhower will be forgotten, unlikely as that might seem this week.

Image: today's footnote person.

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