Gardens in Historical Context
Wiley Middle School
8th Grade American History
Teachers’ background ESSAY:
The following essay will be divided into four sections of scholarship:
the history of the gardens in general, the history of the country of Lithuania, the design and
lifespan of the Lithuanian garden, and the history of the African-American
garden. All information can be referenced in the bibliography section
at the end of the lesson.
The History of the Cleveland Cultural Gardens
The Cultural Gardens is among the best hidden secrets
of Cleveland. The gardens have
a rich history beginning with the creation of Rockefeller
Park in 1893. The park was turned into a place
for civic progress in 1916, when an area was dedicated as the Shakespeare Garden. In 1926, the Cleveland
Cultural Garden League was created with the purpose of making the gardens
a place for “peace, tolerance, and friendly intercourse.” “The Cleveland Cultural
Gardens is a collection of formal spaces featuring
mixed artworks (mostly sculpture), landscape architecture, and organic
arrangements” (Tebeau, p. 1). The gardens consist of over 20 independent,
smaller gardens built by various ethnic groups in Cleveland. Although much of the funding for the gardens came from
the WPA, individual groups and foreign nations also contributed. Several
gardens have been added over the years.
addition to the garden occurred in 1939 with the “Crypt of Nations.”
Soil from all over the world was poured into a crypt to symbolize the
coming together of many ethnic groups here in America.
This attempt at a multi-cultural melting pot is a bit confusing as it
contradicts the overall message of the gardens as a place to honor differences.
The gardens did see its fair share of conflicts.
Throughout much of its history, vandalism has played a role. Usually,
the vandalism occurred as a part of ethnic or racial quarrels between
groups. Statues disappeared, plants were uprooted, and paint was sprayed.
We will discuss the racial issues of the 1960’s in greater detail in the
African-American section below.
A Brief History of the Country of Lithuania and Lithuanians in Cleveland
Lithuania is a county whose
borders have frequently and dramatically changed. The Lithuanians are
a branch of Indo-European peoples who are distinct from any of the peoples
of its surrounding countries. The language shows a similarity to Sanskrit
and skulls recently unearthed in the region show that the Lithuanians
were there centuries before any of their Slavic or Germanic neighbors.
They were a Pagan group and were actually the last in Europe
to convert to Christianity.
In 1569, Lithuania
merged with Poland and at the end of the eighteenth century, it came under the rule of Russia. The whole Lithuanian
culture virtually disappeared. Somehow, even though the press was silenced
and the language outlawed, they retained their pure language and remembered
the ancient legal codes. Most of the country converted to Roman Catholicism
in the 16th century and have since then remained consistently
Catholic. The Soviet Union’s domination ended in the 1990’s and Lithuania
now stands as an independent nation.
The earliest known Lithuanian immigrants to the
U.S. came in the late
18th century to fight for American’s independence and to buy
land in America.
After 1868, Lithuanians migrated in great numbers to the U.S.,
particularly to the coal regions of Pennsylvania.
Since Lithuanians were classified as “Poles” or “Russians” prior to 1899,
it is hard to pinpoint exact numbers of Lithuanian immigrants.
The earliest known Lithuanian settler to Cleveland
came in 1871. Many came to escape military service in the Russian army
from 1904-1915. Most of the men that came over were skilled mechanics.
Many of the Lithuanians also established themselves as astute businessmen.
By 1910, when only 1,000 Lithuanians lived in Cleveland, “about 50 business
establishments—many of them taverns that also served as informal community
centers—boasted Lithuanian ownership” (Ruksenas, p. 3). One author commented,
“Cohesiveness, thrift, diligence, and recognition of educational values
were evident traits noted by observers of the Lithuanian immigrants” (Ruksenas,
During the second wave of immigrants from Lithuanian,
after WWII, many of the refugees believed that they would return to Lithuania after their country was freed from Russian
domination. Due to this notion, many immigrants tried to create environments
and organizations that were self-contained. They did not want to integrate
with their American neighbors. The organizations, churches, and various
societies created during this time were numerous and effective. As time
passed, Lithuanians engaged more and more in the political and social
arenas of Cleveland. According the Encyclopedia of Cleveland
Lithuanian community is recognized as one of the most active and productive
in terms of organizational activity, community consciousness, political
and civic involvement in the general affairs of Greater Cleveland, literary
activity and the arts, and folk art ensembles, and is the home community
of many of numerous persons prominent in various fields among Lithuanians
The History of the Lithuanian
Garden was dedicated on June 11, 1933. The first
monument was a bust of Dr. Jonas Basanavicius who was considered the patriarch
of the nation. He was a medical doctor and a scholar who collected and
canonized much of the history and culture of the country. The dedication
speaker was B.K. Balutis, the Minister of Lithuania to the U.S. At this ceremony, the plans for the rest
of the garden were unveiled. The bust was a gift from the government
The rest of the garden was dedicated in a ceremony on October 11, 1936.
The garden is built in the shape of a lyre,
the ancient musical instrument. The lyre was chosen because it is “emblematic
of the Lithuanian love for music, which, through centuries of national
oppression, the Lithuanian people expressed their moods of sorrow and
There are three distinct areas of the garden
that represent three stages in the history of the country. The first of
the three areas was a fountain honoring the Pagan history of Lithuania. A famous Lithuanian legend inspired
the building of the fountain. A woman named Biruta was a vestal virgin
to the Goddess Praurime. She was just about to become a priestess when
Kestutis, the son of Gediminas, met her and fell in love with her. Their
son was Vytautas the Great, who in 1410 defeated the Crusaders at Gruenwald.
This fountain is a tribute not only to Biruta, but to feminine virtues
as well. Another Pagan influence in the garden can be seen in the zig-zag
movements of the stairs throughout the garden which symbolize lightening.
This honors the God of Thunder, Perkunas.
The second of these areas was the “Pillars
of Gediminas.” This symbolized how the Grand Duke Gediminas unified three
different tribes in the fourteenth century making a large and cohesive
Three pillars, representing the three tribes, were built in Vilnius
by Gediminas. A reproduction of the pillars was built in the Cleveland
garden. (For photo, see Power Point presentation.)
The final of the three areas is the rebirth
of the nation after World War One. This is where the bust of Dr. Basanavicius
(mentioned above) resides. The busts added later were Dr. Vincas Kudirka,
a poet, and Maciulis Maironis, a poet and priest.
Other symbols include two oak trees that
represent the Lithuanian Alliance of America and the Lithuanian Roman
Catholic Alliance of America. A linden tree was planted by Anna Kaskas,
who was a famous singer in the Metropolitan Opera in New York.
History of the African-American Garden (or lack thereof!)
There was a very visible group of residents
in Cleveland who were not offered a garden, the African-American
community. Councilman Leo A. Jackson proposed a “Negro Cultural Garden”
in 1962. The City Council voted it down because a high-rise apartment
building was proposed for the same land. In 1968, the Councilman proposed
a memorial of Martin Luther King, Jr. The mayor at the time, Celebreeze,
supported the idea. Although Liberty
Street was renamed “Martin
Luther King Blvd.,” there was still no African-American Garden.
As racial tensions in Cleveland increased during the 1960’s between blacks and whites, the
gardens became a canvas for hatred. In the fall of 1966, a Ku Klux Klan
rally was held in the gardens. In September of that same year, 24 monuments
were defaced with words such as “black power” and “get whitey.” George
Washington and Abraham Lincoln statues were defaced as well. An interesting
note to this issue was the enormous amount of press coverage after these
actions. The shocking part of this story is that on two occasions that
previous summer anti-African-American slogans and swastikas were painted
on park buildings and benches, yet there was no coverage of those incidents.
The first sign of anything African-American
in the gardens was in 1970. In the American Garden, a bust of Booker T. Washington was erected with the following
quote: “I resolve that I would permit no man, no matter what his color
might be, to narrow and degrade my soul by making me hate him.”
Finally, in 1977, an African-American Garden was dedicated. It
consisted of four acres of land which would only have one statue at first,
that of John P. Green, the founder of Labor Day. Markers were placed
in the areas that would honor Garrett A. Morgan, inventor of the gas mask
and traffic light, and Bishop Richard Allen, a colonial hero. Other markers
would indicate future statues of Jesse Owens, June Hunter, and Langston
Hughes. The dedication occurred on Oct. 23, 1977.
It is now 2005 and no progress has been made
in the African-American Garden, other than a sign placed there this summer that describes the
proposal of the garden. (See photo in presentation.)
Andrzejewski, Tom. “Black pride, stick-to-itness keep
Glenville coast golden.” The Plain Dealer, July 10, 1985.
Bodnar, John. The Transplanted.
University Press, 1985.
Cadzow, John F. “Lithuanian Americans and Their Community
of Cleveland.” Cleveland Ethnic Heritage Studies.
State University, 1978.
Dolgan, Robert. “One world: Afro-American, Indian
cultural gardens hailed.” The Plain Dealer, July 19, 1976.
Drexler, Madeline. “Pride and Prejudice.”
The Plain Dealer Magazine. August
Goldberg, David J. Discontented
University Press, 1999.
Hammack, David, et al. Identity,
Conflict, and Cooperation. Cleveland: Western
Reserve Historical Society, 2002.
Mihal, John. “Lithuanians’ Garden Tells History of
Nation.” The Plain Dealer. Sept 14,
Loveland, Roelif. “Just Plain Soil Welds
People of 28 Nations.” The Plain Dealer. July 31, 1939.
Ruksenas, Algis. “Lithuanians.”
The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History. http://ech.cwru.edu/ech-cgi/article.pl?idL11
Tebeau, Mark. “Sculpted Places: Identity, Community,
and the Cleveland Cultural Gardens.” Cleveland State University, 2005.
Unknown. “Cultural Gardens Vandals Hit” The Plain Dealer,
Sept 9, 1966.