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Some Dayton Saints and Prophets


THE title of this book will be, in fact has been, objected to by the literal and the scrupulous. They claim that it depicts plain, retiring people under extraordinary and sublimated titles. That, of course, depends upon definitions. If by "Saints" we mean ethereal, halo-ed entities wrapped in ecstasy and pink clouds, eyes heavenward, hands enfolded, feet not touching the earth, then the title does mislead; there have been no such in Dayton.
     If, when we say "Prophets," our mind's eye repeats, as the only manifest of the title, Sargent's noble row of figures, the book errs again and begs to apologize. The church in the past and the artists for the church are responsible for the misdirecting of popular thought on the subject of saints and prophets. The symbolism necessary to express veneration has worked unexpected wonders, pictorially.
     In Ptolemy's time, when artists wished to portray the Emperor's greatness in a panorama on a frieze, they made him five times life size; the other figures only life size. When the mediaeval masters desired to express the spirituality of a saint intelligibly to the people, they knew no better way than to paint a ring of light behind the head, turn the eyeballs upward, and the palms together.
     Such forms are denied us in these matter-of-fact days. We have no abnormalities to match the Egyptian warriors, but we still have heroes; no visible devotees (except under the bonnet of a Sister of Mercy), but still, thank God, finely-lived lives, full of unselfishness and devotion; no more veiled figures anathematizing the errors of a mistaken world, but yet men who see what events mean, and can interpret them; men who do not mix effect with cause nor generalize with weak or one-sided facts, and who dare to speak plainly.
     For "the Prophet," I find, does not mean necessarily the fore-teller of the future, but rather the forth-teller, the clear-thinker, the right-doer, the plain-sayer. This in our modern life may be a doctor or a minister, or the editor of a daily paper; he (or she) may be a teacher, a working-woman, a poet or a professor, perhaps a business man, whoever works to the glory of God. Indeed, if we go back to scources we may find that the saints and prophets who hold the title unquestionably, in our thoughts, were most of them people in the ordinary ranks of life. Their emergence into the glamour of publicity came as a result of doing common things uncommonly well.
     When Peter went down and dwelt among the saints at Joppa, it is to be supposed that he stayed and visited with the church people, the good citizens; those who held their lives, in a sense, consecrated, as we all do. Paul was a tent and awning maker; Matthew a tax-collector; Joan of Arc a cow-herder; Elizabeth of Hungary a good housekeeper, whose wealth and position did not make here forget those less fortunately situated; David took care of cheeses, then of sheep, then of men. Shepherd, soldier, commander, Prime Minister, have we no modern prophets whose history from little to better and then to great, makes David's career familiar? Moses distrusted his own powers. He thought he could not before he found that if he would he might, and could. Therefore he did.
     All this to prove that in the ancient roll of honor, as in the modern, the saints and prophets may be both smaller and greater than they are held to be. The ones who belong by right in either classification are those who have made some impression upon their community and who have left it, on the whole, better in some way, for having lived. There are so many who do neither that it seems only right and fair to preserve those other spirits from complete oblivion.
     In Dayton we have had, if the pages following will bear out the claim, both saints and prophets; men who put into the town of Dayton the best work and thought of which they were capable, and all the money and time that they had. Farther back than this list of prophets, there were the men who founded the city, laid out the streets and named them; chose the cemetery site on the hill; built the hydraulic; started the turnpikes branching at all angles like the spokes of a wheel and, like true prophets, saw in imagination, or tried to, the Dayton we now know.
     Later there were those who founded the Public Library, built bridges, school-buildings, and the water-works; planted trees, established the High School and Board of Health, planned for sewers and car service, and they also worked for a better Dayton. How have they been rewarded for all their labors? Is there a statue to Peter Cooper, or a fountain to John Van Cleve, or a Patterson Square, or a Morrison Boulevard ? There is, to be sure, a Van Cleve Park, in which few ever walk, and a Cooper Park, which has been robbed of its name. The only true monument is the Steele High School, and some tablets upon its walls. For the most part, the memory of those who lived in Dayton, made a part of its active life, planned and worked long years before we were here, is fading away. Their obituaries are in the dusty yellowing files of the daily papers in the archives of the Public Library where nobody ever reads them. The squirrels at Woodland see more than other eyes the inscriptions on the monuments. Each family keeps certain treasures put away in desk drawers, but the outside public, filled with new interests, remembers little, thinks less.
     "How soon we are forgotten when we are gone!" cried Rip when he found even his name recalled with difficulty by the second generation.
     Shall we let it go at that?
     There will be names missed from this book at first glance. Their absence must be excused solely upon the misfortune of the writer. Where she had no personal acquaintance she cannot write. Reminiscence, to be picturesque and vital, must be personal; hearsay will not do. And these small sketches are in no sense biographical or complete; they are visual impressions, partial portraits only; about each, many things could be said, and better said than are put down here. Our lives touch at small surface points, here and there, now and then, with spaces of oblivion between. Remembrance of friends is made up of fleeting impressions and transient experiences, which, if not sooner or later recorded, will be swept away from even the brain that held them, like writing on a slate.
     All that has been attempted in this book is to preserve the flavor of personality, the impress of characteristics of the people who are gone, for the benefit of those who, being born too late, missed the charm of having known them.
     No apology is offered for including some saints of most humble station; they may have omitted the manicuring of their hands, but they kept the moral law. The best of them, of any station, have not been idealized; they are put down as they were in life, their weakness as well as their strength, in order to be encouraging and not discouraging to us who are still here.
     Pericles wrote to the Athenians, "The praises bestowed on men are only to be endured when others imagine themselves to be able to do the feats that have already been done."

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Thanks are due to the Crowell Publishing Company, of New York, and to the Dayton Daily Herald for kind permission to reprint several of these sketches. Thanks also to those who have reinforced the writer's memories with their own, and been patient under much questioning.

C. R. C., Dayton, December, 1907.

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