Legends of Lake City: Will Rogers
On Saturday my friend Long Ears and I took a stroll on the new Jackson Park Trail. We started going west towards 15th Avenue N.E. and then paused to give a nod; for across that avenue is hallowed ground; where lingers one of Lake City’s most endearing legends.
A monument in Lake City honors that legend, and is a tribute to a man who changed the world with his candid and honest humor.
His name was Will Rogers and our memorial to him is in the heart of Lake City’s historical district. It stands in a park behind the library on NE 125th Street. Nearby is the beautifully restored Lake City School and down the street are the old, abandoned Fire Station 39 and a small empty church. In many ways Will Rogers is a symbol of the people of Lake City. We share with him a pioneer spirit and a neighborly humility.
Our connection to Will Rogers begins on a sunny day in August of 1935 when the most popular and well-known personality in the world came to Lake City to play a polo match. We had the honor of hosting a polo match for him at the new field. There are still a few poplar trees growing in stately rows where the horses and riders once played and on quiet August nights, Olympic Hills neighbors say they can hear the ghost of horses’ hooves galloping over the ground. Some neighbors over the years have found horseshoes when digging in their yards.
In memory of Will Rogers
On this field Will Rogers took his last ride. Shrines erected by the world will commemorate his passing but none could be more hallowed than this little patch of ground where the kindly, chuckling, hard-riding cow-boy played his last game of polo before he went roaring to his last round-up. We still hear his cheery halloo as with broad grin on weather-lined face he urged his pony into the thick of play. To the spirit of a mighty adventure hail and farewell.
Will Rogers 1879 – 1935.
Will Rogers, born in Cherokee Nation Territory (Oklahoma), became a cowboy in Argentina. It didn’t pay him much and was hard work, so he took his riding and roping skills to the circus and theater stages of Vaudeville. While doing his roping tricks, Will told stories that made people laugh. He went to Hollywood, made some silent movies, and when sound was added to the movies, Will Rogers became a great star. He continued to appear on theater stages, talk on radio shows and would write over 4000 newspaper columns and six books.
He died in a plane crash near Barrow, Alaska, only days after he had visited Lake City. Will Rogers listened and heard the words of great men and women and turned those words into something so pure and simple to understand that great men and women started listening to him.
Quotes of Will Rogers from the Will Rogers Museum www.willrogers.org:
“We will never have true civilization until we have learned to recognize the rights of others.”
“I never met a man I didn’t like.”
“People don’t change under governments. Governments change. People remain the same.”