The Eloquence of Mayville Professor T. E. Lockhart On Memorial Day
Once in a while you stumble upon something as if it were trying to find you.
In preparing for an article on Memorial Day for the Post-Journal several years ago, some of our local historians provided me with a cache of articles spanning more than 100 years that reported on the way in which Chautauqua County historically celebrated this day of tribute.
I was struck by the eloquence of many of our local residents from the past who commemorated Memorial Day with sermons and speeches.
In particular, I was taken with an oration given by a Professor Thomas E. Lockhart as he spoke to residents gathered in the Episcopal Church in Mayville on Memorial Day in 1897.
Who was this Professor Lockhart, whose words would make any modern day speechwriter envious?
Further investigation provided the answer: He was the principal of Mayville High School, and he retired at the end of the school year in 1902 and died in 1920.
By all accounts, he was held in high esteem. At graduation ceremonies the year he retired, he was presented with a solid gold ring on behalf of the students and faculty, which was reportedly set with “a large and costly stone.”
I also discovered Lockhart’s son was a friend and a contemporary of my great grandfather, Dr. John S. Hickman of Jamestown in the early 1900s.
Lockhart presumably wrote this speech three decades after the Civil War had ended. His eloquence as he spoke to veterans of the Civil War certainly bears repeating. His words are as relevant today as they were in 1897. It’s a wonderful read and I’m glad it’s been taken from the shelf of history and dusted off to share with you today.
An oration given by Professor Thomas E. Lockhart on Memorial Day 1897 in Mayville to Civil War Veterans:
“Man is more than a dull piece of perishable matter — that is, to go down to the grave and be no more. He is endowed with a soul that is imperishable and eternal as God himself.
A man passes away from the fleeting scenes of earth, but his immortal part marches down through the centuries to guide, quicken and inspire those who are left on the stage of time. The spirits of those brave self-sacrificing men, who left the comforts of fireside and friends to pass through the grim and saddening scenes of a war that was to cement the country and make out of it the mighty American nation that it is today, these men are with us still, fresh with the immortality of youth. True, some of these have been laid away in the silent chambers of death, but their glorious example is an uplifting force for the world’s betterment.
One by one the Great Reaper is thinning these ranks that stood shoulder to shoulder and carried forward our glorious flag to victory, and today, up and down the length and breadth of this fair country, whose integrity they preserved, a part of the small remnants that remain are found about the graves of their comrades. They scatter flowers — aye, more, they shed the silent tear, for the memories of the past are fadeless and green, and as these old war days crowd in upon them, the feelings of their hearts must find expression. Mightier than cables of iron that may be snapped asunder are the feelings of the human heart — feelings that carry us across the grave and defy all the vicissitudes of time, and draw us today about these sleeping places of the dead soldiers to cover their mounds with flowers and garlands.
Champions of our American Republic, as ye stand around these green-swarded mounds where your comrades lay this Memorial Day of 1897, what emotions pass in alternate of vibrations of sadness and thrills of joy through your hearts.
You are sad because the inexorable grave will not give back those you love — those who fought in your regiment on the battle field and fell by your side far away from the tender amenities of home; you are also filled with joy because the nation that they have helped to establish in peace has emblazoned their names in undenying luster in the annals of fame, and because a grateful people have enshrined them deep within their heart of hearts.
Veterans of ’61 to ’65, you gather here, but your thoughts go back to the battle grounds, and by the paling lamp of memory you go over the tented fields and sit again by the old camp fire and hear again the roll call, and feel the silent sorrow because some of your comrades answer no more.
Memorial Day prophetic of a time when the grand review of the armies of the earth shall pass in triumphal procession along street and through cities that have not heard the voice of war, and tent forevermore in mighty encampment under the shadow of everlasting hills.”