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MICHIGAN HISTORICAL REVIEW 36:2 (Fall 2010): 37-61©2010 by Central Michigan University. ISSN 0890-1686 All Rights Reserved. Memory and the Myth of Albertus C. Van Raalte: How Holland, Michigan, Remembers Its Founding Father by Michael Douma Across the United States, numerous statues commemorate pioneers and the founders of American cities and towns. These memorials honor the doctrines and deeds of exceptional men and, less frequently, women. They are also manifestations of various ideals, promoting such virtues as individualism, sturdiness, sacrifice, leadership, and vision, all essential qualities on the American frontier but thought to be lacking in today‟s society. John Bodnar observes that “the pioneer was a popular historical symbol in midwestern commemorations during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. [The pioneer symbol‟s] appeal to ordinary people resided in its vernacular meaning of sturdy ancestors who founded ethnic communities and families, preserved traditions in the face of social change, and overcame hardship. These defenders of vernacular culture were especially important to midwesterners who were anxious about the pace of economic centralization and the impact of urban and industrial growth upon their local places.”1 John Higham adds that the social elites who controlled local historical societies in the early twentieth century sought “demonstrable continuity of descent and civic leadership” between the city‟s early settlers and themselves.2 Bodnar and Higham argue that public memory is formed through the interplay of the vernacular culture (the interests of the people) and the official culture (the interests of the state and political leaders). Business leaders and politicians profit from burnishing an image of a city‟s past that justifies their own positions and actions. But citizens The author would like to thank Elton Bruins, Peter Ester, Christopher Griffin, Richard Harms, Robert Swierenga, and several anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on earlier drafts of this article. 1 John E. Bodnar, Remaking America: Public Memory, Commemoration, and Patriotism in the Twentieth Century (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1993), 17. 2 John Higham, “The Ethnic Historical Society in Changing Times,” Journal of American Ethnic History 13 (Winter 1994): 31. 38 Michigan Historical Review must also agree that the official representation of the city‟s past is factual, plausible, or at least beneficial to their own goals. Cultures form foundation mythologies through a complex exchange between those who propagate myths and those who choose whether to accept them. A foundation mythology, furthermore, tends to form when a society faces the threat of cultural changes. In New England, the critical period of mythmaking was the 1830s, when the Revolutionary War generation was passing and large numbers of Irish and German immigrants poured into the United States, causing Americans to question the nature of their national identity. The Founding Fathers and the Puritans were enshrined in the pantheon of American heroes, representing true Americanism. As time passed, the stories of their great deeds became more idealized, according to Michael Kammen.3 In the Midwest, the age of foundation mythology came two generations later. Southern Michigan, for example, was settled in the 1830s and 1840s as an extension of Yankee culture relocated westward along migratory paths.4 These pioneers were followed by further waves of Yankees and Canadians, then Northwest European immigrants. By 1900, the pioneer generation had almost entirely passed, and as Frederick Jackson Turner told an audience of historians in 1893, so had the frontier. Like the American East of the 1830s, the Midwest at the turn of the twentieth century sought to honor its origins by erecting statues of city founders and great men. For example, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, honored its founder, Solomon Juneau, with a statue in 1896; in 1904 Indianapolis, Indiana, unveiled a statue of Revolutionary War General George Rogers Clark; Peoria, Illinois, erected a statue of politician and scientist Robert G. Ingersoll in 1911; and St. Louis, Missouri, unveiled a statue of its namesake, King Louis IX of France, in 1906, and in 1916 erected a statue of the city‟s founder, Pierre Laclède as well. This activity was so pervasive, in fact, that one historian has labeled this phenomenon “statuomania.”5 3 Michael Kammen, Mystic Chords of Memory: The Transformation of Tradition in American Culture...

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