“The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
If one acorn can create a thousand forests, Springfield’s Harriet Knudson had enough acorns in 1936 for a million forests. “There were so many that I had to put them out on the back porch. There wasn’t room for them in any space in the house, really,” she said in her 1965 oral history, archived at the University of Illinois Springfield.
Knudson was a victim of her own success – she had asked for the acorns. They were key to transforming about 60 acres of nearly barren farmland into what became Lincoln Memorial Garden on the city’s southeast side.
It was her idea in 1932 for the city to set aside land on Lake Springfield, which was being built at that time, for a living memorial to Abraham Lincoln. Jim Matheis, the garden’s executive director, says Knudson got the Garden Club of Illinois to back the project; noted landscape architect Jens Jensen, of Chicago, was chosen as the garden’s designer. “The idea was that all of the (garden’s) plants would be native to the three states that Lincoln lived in: Illinois, Kentucky and Indiana,” says Matheis.
Knudson and the garden’s other backers wrote to garden clubs throughout the country and asked for help through donations of plants, wooden benches, or tablets with Lincoln quotes. Then Knudson got the idea to plant oak trees in the future garden – lots of oak trees.
Jensen liked the idea, as a fall, 1935, letter (owned by the garden) from him to Knudson relates: “Your idea of planting acorns – the best ever – but plant plenty of them – you can always thin them out. Be sure that the squirrels don’t dig them up.”
The next fall (1936), Jensen wrote to her with advice about how to plant them: “The oaks should be placed in twos or threes or a ring of trees…once in a great while you may plant four oaks.”
On Nov. 14 of that year, “scores” of Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts from the Springfield area planted “thousands” of acorns at the garden site, under the supervision of A. Tomasek, state forester, according to the Nov. 15, 1936, Illinois State Register.
The Federated Garden Clubs of Kentucky sent acorns gathered near the farm where Lincoln was born in Hodgensville, Ky., according to an unidentified newspaper article in the garden’s archive. The Garden Clubs of Indiana sent some from the “fine old white oak from Lincoln’s old home in Indiana.” Others came from New Salem.
There was another Lincoln tie on acorn-planting day. Isaac Diller, whose family lived near Lincoln’s when Diller was a boy, helped plant the oak seedlings. The Nov. 15, 1936, Register article described him as “the oldest living person who has appeared in a picture with Abraham Lincoln.”
Today, the oak trees from those little acorns tower over the several walking paths, wooden benches, bridges, and stone “council rings” that comprise the beautiful garden.
To commemorate the 75th anniversary of the acorn planting, the garden is recreating the event, on a smaller scale. “Scout Day at the Garden” will be held Sunday, Nov. 13, beginning at 1 p.m. Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts from central Illinois, with their families, are invited to help plant more than 130 trees in the garden. (Scouts are asked to bring their own garden tools.) Afterward, the scouts and their families will march to the garden’s Lincoln Council Ring for a ceremony.
Scout Day also celebrates the many ways that scouts have helped the garden through the decades, by assisting with service projects and volunteering for special events. According to a press release from the garden, many Eagle Scouts have earned their rank through garden projects.
The first 200 scouts who register for the event will receive a free commemorative patch. Boy Scouts should register through the garden’s website: www.lincolnmemorialgarden.org and Girl Scouts should contact the Girl Scouts of Central Illinois office to register: 523-8159.
Contact Tara McClellan McAndrew at firstname.lastname@example.org.