One of our readers in Michigan wrote asking if the John Crerar library at the University of Chicago is connected to the same person who gave the Lincoln statue, and the answer is “yes” it’s the same person. In his will, he left $2 million for the creation of a free public library to be called The John Crerar Library. You can find the complete history on the Internet but after several locations, it is now part of the University of Chicago and contains over one million volumes. Please read the previous blog for more information.
John Crerar was a member of the Second Presbyterian church and attended services each Sunday. He read the Bible daily and his favorite chapter was Romans 8 which he had committed to memory. Somewhere, I read that you could not understand John Crerar apart from his religion.
He was a life member of the Illinois Saint Andrew Society and while most of our records have been destroyed by several fires, he must have been a regular supporter. The Society was remembered in his will, and overtime those funds were distributed to help the poor and needy. He was a member of the YMCA and left money for the American Sunday School Union and the Salvation Army. (You can find his entire will on the Internet. There were many gifts.)
The Saint Andrew Society held a special meeting at the Sherman House on November 29, 1889 and passed a resolution honoring John Crerar for his gift to the Society. Daniel Ross Cameron, John Alston and Andrew Wallace drafted the resolution. The resolution was then engraved, framed and presented to Norman Williams and Huntington Wolcott Jackson, the executors of his estate. I wonder if the library still has the framed resolution?
Although Crerar left money for a statue of Abraham Lincoln, he desired "a plain headstone" for himself. Judge B. D. Magruder took note of this: "With a modesty that bespeaks the greatness of his own soul, he orders a simple headstone to be placed at his own grave, but that a colossal statue be raised to the man who abolished slavery in the United States. The millionaire is content to lie low, but he insists that the great emancipator shall rise high." (Goodspeed’s historical sketch, 1920). This is the statue we will visit on our summer history tour.
On the Sunday before Christmas, December 23, 1889, a memorial service was held in the Central Music Hall located on the southeast corner of State and Randolph. (The great building was demolished in1900 to make room for Marshall Field & Company.) More than 2,000 men filled the music hall to overflowing and the doors were closed an hour before the service began. There were several speakers, some vocal music and Mrs. Crosby played the great pipe organ.
I think of all the speaker, Franklin MacVeagh said it best. “He began slowly and deliberately, weighing each word as it fell from his lips, his intense manner adding eloquence to his well-chosen language.”
“One who is here this afternoon to say a word cannot but be reminded that this is not an ordinary audience. You have not come to hear anyone speak in particular. And we, as speakers, have come, each burdened with some affection or sentiment toward John Crerar.”
“I am here because I knew John Crerar. There was much in his life to attract and charm us, to gain our admiration and affection. He was above all a pure man.”
“He lived and died a private citizen. He is now no longer a private citizen. What makes this change? It is not the revelation of his possession of this great wealth. We knew about that before, and he still remained a private citizen. There are others now living who have great fortunes. It is not the possession of that wealth which has made the difference. It is the use he made of that wealth. He has arisen from a private citizen to the ranks of creative men--poets, artists, philosophers, and statesmen.”
“There is a spiritual power in wealth, and John Crerar found the secret of it. He has taught us a lesson, not new, but never more beautifully taught. He has done more than that. He has set us an example of the right uses of wealth, the great uses of wealth, the permanent uses of wealth, and the final uses of wealth.”
“There are two ways of looking at property--one selfishly, as simply personal property; the other recognizing the claims of the community, the claims of the world to share at least in the surplus of wealth. He came to teach us this lesson at an opportune moment--a time when we are growing rich, when the accumulation of wealth is exceedingly pronounced, before it has been tested what will be the ultimate influence of democracy on wealth. It comes while we are still young, have still not made up our minds, when it is still possible for us to learn this lesson.”
“He did one other thing which I cannot omit. He showed a loyalty to Chicago, and the example of that was needed. Prophetic spirit! He saw this city entering upon a career that would make it metropolitan in wealth and power and appreciated its needs and responsibilities as the heart of the continent. He rose the conception of the spiritual side of wealth; he rose to the conception of the spiritual side of progress. Let us believe he did so knowingly, that his fame shall be certain and his name immortal.”
The plain headstone that marks his grave says simply “A just man, and one who feared God.”
(Quotations are from the Chicago Tribune)
Wayne Rethford, President Emeritus
Illinois St. Andrew’s Society
HISTORY TOUR - July 19, 2014:
Luxury bus arrives at Scottish Home at 11:00 a.m.
Bus departs Scottish Home promptly at 11:30 a.m.
1st stop - Grant Park, Logan Statue
2nd stop - “Seated” Lincoln, Grant Park
3rd stop - Millennium Park - Visit the Bean, play in the water, Military Museum
4th stop - “Standing” Lincoln in Lincoln Park
5th stop - Robert Burns statue in Garfield Park
Cost is $25 per person. Children under 10
admitted free. Box lunch and soft drinks furnished. Call 708.447.5092 or
630.629.4516 to make reservations.