from Fruit Garden and Home
The Mayor of Moravia
by Ellis Parker Butler
Why not a new third party?
In all this talk about a "third party" next year, Mr. Butler comes forward with a real suggestion. At least, it is as sensible as many of the "issues" professional politicians are creating.
Why not a garden party where our mayors and congressmen and dogcatchers are elected on real garden planks? Mr. Butler announces himself as a candidate for Mayor of New York "on the tulip platform," when conditions are favorable.
Why not a garden "bloc"? The garden is a more fertile source of "issues' than the tariff, the income tax, and prohibition put together. Doesn't it offer great political possibilities?
While the idea is absurd, of course, it has about the same voltage as many of the current political ideas gravely accepted in some quarters. You'll profit by reading "The Mayor of Moravia."
There is one mayor in the United States I want to take off my hat to. The other day -- along about the first of June -- I picked up a copy of a weekly newspaper called The Moravia Union, published at Moravia, Iowa, and on the first page was a news item. It was about the mayor of Moravia. Off and on I have read a great deal about mayors, in newspapers. One of the things a newspaper is fondest of is articles about its mayor. The mayor is an important man, at the head of the city government, and he sticks up like a sore thumb, in full view of one and all. If he signs the ordinance requiring lids on garbage pails one-half the newspapers in town declare it is evidence he has sold the United States to the Japanese and the other half declare he has saved the Constitution from the Bolshevists and that his name will go thundering down the ages alongside of those of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt. If he vetoes the ordinance requiring lids on garbage pails one-half the newspapers declare he has made a firmly noble stand for the rights of the Common People and that his name will be engraved on unperishing bronze and the other half declare that his goose is cooked.
In the last fifty years or so I have read thousands of articles about mayors of New York, Boston, Chicago, St. Louis, Muscatine and other big cities, here and in Europe. I have read of mayors being slaves of the traction ring, of mayors greeting kings of Belgium, of mayors opening hospitals and ballparks and all sorts of things, but I do not remember one single article about a mayor that was like the article in the Moravia Union. I never read any other article that made me think a mayor ought to be re-elected for the balance of his natural life and then made the patron saint of his hometown, but this one did make me think it.
"His Honor, the Mayor," the article said, "was down on his knees beside the flower bed in the northwest corner of the park, last Thursday evening, setting out canna and salvia plants -- the canna bulbs saved from the bed were planted in some of the other beds. Mayor McFatridge seemed to be in good humor, for he greeted us cheerily and said: 'Tell 'em even if Claude Alverson didn't come back, we are going to have flowers this year.' Mrs. Tommy Robb has assumed the planting and the care of the bed in the southwest corner. Moravia certainly has a right to be proud of her beautiful little park."
And, to my notion, she has a right to be proud of her mayor. A whole lot of statues of late lamented mayors would look better if they depicted His Honor down on his knees in the public park sticking canna and salvia plants into the flower bed than they do showing the gentleman standing with a high hat on his head and his right hand stuck in the front opening of his Prince Albert coat. The illustrated newspapers would be more interesting if, instead of showing pictures entitled "Mayor of Oompahville Swelling Out His Chest At the Convention of the Pennsylchusetts State Gum-Chewers' Convention," they gave us, now and then, a picture entitled "Mayor Jones, of Jonesville, Planting Petunias in the Flowerbed, Jonesville Public Park."
I don't know how many mayors there are in the United States -- perhaps forty thousand of them, mostly useless -- but what a grand sight it would be, on May 24th of each year, to see them all down on their knees in the flowerbeds in the northwest corners of their parks, setting out canna and salvia plants good-humoredly, and saving last year's canna bulbs for some of the other beds. It would not do most of our mayors a bit of harm to get down on their knees once in awhile, even if only to do a little respectable spring planting. When the British envoy visited the American army during the revolution and found a famous general dining on roast potatoes and water the war was won. When the envoys from Europe visit America and call at the city hall and hear: "I'm sorry, but the mayor isn't in just now; he's out in the flowerbed in the northwest corner of the park planting canna and salvia plants," the world will know we are real folks once more.
It would be a relief, when there is a convention of mayors, to hear the Mayor of New York utter his opinion of the relative merits of the dibble and the trowel in planting salvia plants, and to hear the Mayor of Chicago come back at him with fiery words, declaring that what the Mayor of New York don't know about planting early spring tulips would fill two books. When that time comes I am going to run for Mayor of New York on the tulip platform. If I give satisfaction I shall then run for Presidency of the United States, and I want Mayor McFatridge, of Moravia, on the ticket as Vice Presidential candidate. A man competent to lead the Senate of the United States out into the front yard of the Capitol to do a little spring planting ought to make a good Vice President. I know I would make a good President. What this country needs is a little less golf and a little more gardening and I gave up golf quite some time ago. When I put a bulb in the ground I know where it is, but when I hit a golf ball nobody on earth can ever find it again. If the fellow had gone ahead and invented his patent golf ball that would sprout and bear a large crimson lily on the end of a six foot stem I might have stuck to golf, but I can get the same results out of a golf ball now by handing it to a large dog and letting him chew it.
As a matter of fact I suppose I should not slam the Associated Mayors of America just because Mayor McFatridge went out on Thursday, May 24, 1923, and planted canna and salvia plants. Moravia is not as large as -- say -- Spokane, and does not have as many hired men in the municipal departments, and I've been in Spokane and know they're quite some planters. And even New York has a few thousands of acres of parks with flowerbeds in them. So has Chicago. In fact, one of the most amazing things a man who travels much notices is the surprising beauty that has been planted in the cities of the United States in the last twenty-five or thirty years. In many cities and towns the Park Department or the Park Commission practically rules the roost. The money needed for parks and flowers is set down in the "must" column when the budget is being made up, and that is as it should be. There has resulted a series of town and city parks throughout the United States that would make some of the stay-at-homers gasp with astonishment.
No book that could be published, even if it contained thousands of illustrations in color, could give even a partial impression of the superb beauty of municipal parks and plantings in even the few scores of cities I have visited. You hear of a town or city and you remember the name because something has made it famous. The thing may be codfish, cod liver oil, watch springs or dried prunes. You go to that town thinking to see a city of prunes or watch springs or oil or codfish, and you run into a park that would be an ornament to heaven. You think a lot better of America. We have parks here now that make most of the celebrated parks of Europe look sick and feeble.
I have an idea that parks and plantings and neat green lawns and flowers in blossom are a better part of education than algebra and Early English Poets, including Chaucer. The eye deserves something beside ten-by-twenty advertisements of Dingbat's Everblooming Laundry Soap. Even a strip of mown meadow with shrubbery borders is better than the best arranged array of red gasoline pumps.
But when one visits the smaller towns and villages, where the municipal income is insufficient to pay for Park Departments and gardeners, the eye is not always so happily greeted. They used to say, out in my country -- which is indeed Iowa -- that the small towns were populated by retired farmers who had moved to town and whose spare tune (seven days a week, twenty four hours a day) was put in wholly and solely in trying to prevent the Town Council from spending two dollars to buy paint to paint the iron fountain in the middle of the Public Square. This was not entirely true -- part of their time was put in in trying to induce the Town Council to let the Public Square grow to hay, which could be sold for $2 in the summer, thus reducing the tax rate by one-seven millionth of a mill per dollar, or about that. I have seen cows pastured in the Public Squares, and I have seen Public Squares planted to turnips, and I have seen Public Squares with the fences tumbling down and weeds head high. I have seen Public Squares sown to oats. I have seen Public Squares that looked worse, with tin cans and rubbish than a tenement backyard.
When I remember that and think of Mayor McFatridge of Moravia, on his knees in the northwest flowerbed, planting canna and salvia, I want to give three cheers. Perhaps I am not personally strong for salvia -- in color it may not be as modest as the violet, being somewhat inclined toward the scarlet -- but it certainly gives more result for the effort expended than anything else in the vegetable kingdom. You don't have to look for it with a microscope; you can almost see it around a corner or through a stonewall. Once you get your salvia to blooming it is as apparent as a stone bruise or a saxophone quartette. It is the B Flat cornet of flowers. But it certainly is cheerful in a land of loam.
The canna is also a safe bet. It sings like a music hall soprano but it certainly does sing. It lets folks know it is there. And it has foliage. One healthy canna plant can bring an air of tropical luxuriance to a square mile of Arctic landscape. To the small boy or small girl the canna plant in full foliage is romance and mystery, is Ceylon and Darkest Africa and the jungles of India and Brazil. I would almost be willing to bet that, when Mayor McFatridge's salvia and canna plants get their full growth some small girl or boy will stand and look at them with wide eyes, seeing far countries and romance, and from them get the urge that will drive them to do great deeds in far places. Of course, having to hoe corn on a hot day drives most of the boys to want to do great deeds in far places, but canna plants help some, too.
I like that picture of Mayor McFatridge down on his knees planting the Moravia park flower bed. He knows what a mayor is for. A small town with a beautiful little park is a better place to live in and to raise children in that a small town without a beautiful little park, and ten times better than one with a littered, unkempt, unsightly little park. And I like the thought that he did not leave all the planting to Mrs. Tommy Robb, who so kindly assumed the planting and care of the bed in the southwest corner. I like a mayor who makes up his mind that his town is going to have flowers even if Claude Alverson don't come back. Why should mayors depend entirely on the Claude Alversons and Mrs. Tommy Robbs of the world?
I hate to say it, but I almost hope that when Mayor McFatridge's cannas and salvias bloom there will be critics in Moravia who will walk around his bed and then around Mrs. Tommy Robb's bed and say her cannas and salvias have his cannas and salvias beaten a mile. And that they really have beaten his. And then I know just what that sort of mayor is liable to do -- he's going to run for re-election and be re-elected, and next year he is going to show Mrs. Tommy Robb and Claude Alverson and the Moravia Union what a mayor can do when he really gets his dander up and his knees down and plants cannas and salvias with both hands. And probably he will have the City Council out there planting with him. And then Mrs. Tommy Robb will line up the ladies and they will go at it, and the first thing we know we will hear that Moravia claims to have the best Public Park gardens of any town of its size east or west of the Mississippi, from Canada to the Gulf, and the rest of the small town mayors will snort viciously and laugh a scornful ha-ha, and get out the trowel and the hoe and go to planting cannas and salvias. You'll see mayors and city clerks and town marshals all over this broad land painting Public Square bandstands, mending Public Square fences, pushing lawnmowers and standing around flower beds with seed catalogs in their hands, and getting as mad as hornets when the Democrats declare the Republican administration's cannas should be replaced by gladiolas.
It will be a bully thing when the fight for the mayorship of the small town is conducted on a platform of which candidate is the best seed planter and bulb handler, instead of on the present plan of whether a Democrat or a Republican should go in -- which does not mean anything anyway, in most places.
I hope I'm starting something. I hope the women in the small towns this paper reaches will rear right up and say: "Well, Mr. Butler is right in one thing, anyway; the Public Square in this place is a disgrace! It's about time we women took a hand and saw to it that the next mayor we elect is the sort that will get down on his knees and plant the flowerbed in the northwest corner of the park. Or sees that some Claude Alverson plants it, anyway. It's nonsense that our Public Square should look like misery; we've got sun and we've got rain and we've got soil, and bulbs and seeds are cheap, and we'll just see what we can do about it."
I've never bothered much with politics but I hope I'm starting a wave of cannas and salvias that will sweep across the continent like a scarlet flame and sweep out of office all the mayors that let the Public Parks look like sin, and sweep into office mayors that will see to it that the flowerbed in the northwest corner of the park is planted, whether Claude Alverson comes back or stays away.
And Mayor McFatridge of Moravia need not worry. He has been down on his knees already. He stands squarely on his knees with a canna plant in one hand and a salvia plant in the other. Good luck to him!
A reader has evidently been re-reading Ellis Parker Butler's article on "My Neighbor's Chickens" published several months ago in this magazine. He heartily agrees with Mr. Butler, but wants to know whether the latter forgot the neighbor's dog. He says dogs running through the perennial border do it no more good than a flock of hens digging in it, especially when they break off the stakes and flatten out the flowers. I can add my hearty endorsement, especially to spaniels that want to swim in your lily pool. The place for a dog in the city is securely fastened to one end of a sturdy chain, not too long, the other end of which is attached to an iron stake, driven down in the ground well towards China. And I love dogs, too!