Mabel Wagnalls’ speech, given at the dedication of the Wagnalls Memorial
Memorial Day, May 30, 1925
MABEL’S MEMORIAL DAY SPEECH
There has been a great deal published and said about this building, including every possible description of it, besides what we have heard this afternoon from these “Three Wise Men from the East”.
But in all that has been said, there is one item missing; even my husband who knows everything, has failed to refer to it.
I do not ever supplement anything that he says. There is seldom any need to, and I don’t get much chance anyway. But this time he will have to stand it: my own qualified announcement that he has omitted one very important fact.
You have not been told of my husband’s work on this building. Let me frankly confess that there wouldn’t be any building here if there was no such person as Richard J. Jones.
I would never have known how to go about erecting a Memorial Building. All I knew, or thought I knew, about putting up such a structure was that the first thing you do is dig a hole in the ground. Well, I was mistaken even about this. The first thing you do is consult a lawyer!
I had often heard my mother say she wished she might do something for Lithopolis – buy back the old home place perhaps, or rebuild it, but in those days there wasn’t enough money in our family to build anything but air castles.
And after she was gone, well, my father wasn’t a builder, excepting books and periodicals. And neither was I. Then along came this person from Pittsburgh and things began happening.
I soon noticed in reconstructing our Long Island home, there was nothing he more enjoyed, or did, with more efficiency than building and bossing. (not me – but workmen). His bossing, by the way, is of the high art sort, so that everybody he orders to do anything loves him.
I soon realized, too, these Pittsburgh steel men know a wonderful amount about materials. They know the value of everything from a tin plate to a Tudor-Gothic tower.
But my husband knows a great deal more than this. He knows the value and beauty of dreams long dwelt on. He is a mighty dreamer himself. I may say he dreamed this building into being.
Seldom a day or hour parted that he did not come to me with some new idea for it – some new color scheme, suggestion of symbolism or minutia of carving.
And in the matter of making contracts and attending to purchasing I know one salesman who confidentially told another, “Be careful what you say to Mr. Jones. He is not the purchasing agent. Oh no, he is seven of them!”
So in your eulogies of this building, its beauty and design, I beg of you – give all the credit to my husband and the architect.
Of course I do admit to signing my name on many little slips of paper. But when you praise me for this I feel very humble for it was not I who made the money. It was worked for and saved by my father and mother.
There is however one utilitarian phase to this Memorial I do claim a share in. Lithopolis needed a theater, we all knew this, and we knew too that a library would be welcomed – but there was something besides these that I have felt all my life Lithopolis must have – and this was a place in which to hold chicken suppers! Ever since I can remember I have seen the ladies of Lithopolis trailing from their homes with buckets and plates and platters and chairs to the Methodist or Presbyterian or Lutheran church lawns to serve chicken suppers to raise needed money. They were good suppers – I always enjoyed them. But how I pitied them, to see those hard-working, smiling ladies standing for hours around oil-stoves and coffee-pots on hot afternoons, and toting the utensils and plates back again afterwards.
In planning this Memorial, there was at first some talk of combining the auditorium and social room. But I held out against this. If there couldn’t be a distinct, separate and satisfactory place for chicken and ice cream I wasn’t going to play. We finally split the difference by letting me have my own way.
So again let me say to my Lithopolis friends. When you are admiring this building and enjoying the library and auditorium, praise my husband and Mr. Sims. But when you’re downstairs carousing in the social hall, please remember me!
Now, this is our deed and I hand it over with no admonishments at all because I know you will guard our building and use it wisely. My only hope is in using it, you will find as much joy as I have found in giving it.
This photograph was taken on the day of the dedication ceremony. Please notice the speaker in the tower room window. Because there were two thousand people at the Memorial that day, there was not enough room in the theater for everyone to hear the speeches given at the ceremony. A speaker was put in the window and those who could not get a seat in the auditorium listened to the speeches on the front lawn.