George Cooper | Staff Writer
It might be that the name, Mary Frances Bestor Cram, is a mouthful. On the other hand, she had a lot to say. Her father, Arthur Bestor, presided over Chautauqua for some 30 years — through two world wars and the Depression. One remarkable event during those years was Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s visit to Chautauqua in August 1936, when he gave his “I Hate War” speech.
Roosevelt’s speech and Bestor Cram’s reminiscence of the president’s visit will be the subject of the Oliver Archives Heritage Lecture at 3:30 p.m. today in the Hall of Christ.
Presiding over today’s activity will be Jon Schmitz, Chautauqua’s archivist and historian, and Greg Peterson, chairman of Jamestown’s Robert H. Jackson Center Board of Directors.
The speech and Roosevelt’s presence on the grounds stand as important moments in Chautauqua’s history. The Institution was just emerging from difficult financial circumstances, and the presence of such a formidable figure generated a lot of attention. Roosevelt became yet another in the series of presidents who have come to Chautauqua. And the speech itself is something of a curiosity, being, at least in title, an anti-war speech, delivered at a time when the rumblings of war were becoming audible in Europe and northern Africa.
“Roosevelt didn’t want to look like an interventionist, even as he had to intervene,” Schmitz said.
The speech as represented in the statement, “I hate war,” was a personal claim made in a public arena, but the public reality was otherwise.
Schmitz said Roosevelt knew war was coming, but, just like many American citizens, he hated the idea of war.
“Roosevelt had a way of calming people and focusing attention on issues productively,” Schmitz said.
Roosevelt came to Chautauqua with just a few days’ notice. Security was tight.
“He came because he felt he could reach a large audience by way of radio,” Schmitz said.
It all caused quite a stir on the grounds.
Some of the drama of the occasion is captured in Bestor Cram’s memoir of Chautauqua, Chautauqua Salute: A Memoir of the Bestor Years.
More intimate will be Peterson’s 2004 interview with Bestor Cram.
Peterson brought her to the Jackson Center for a tour and a showing of the 16-minute “I Hate War” film — a showing of which will be included in today’s program.
Peterson then interviewed Bestor Cram, providing a rare first-person account of Roosevelt’s visit to Chautauqua, including the preparation, her father’s relationship with the president and the circumstances of the invitation.
In conjunction with this 75th anniversary of the speech and Roosevelt’s presidential visit to Chautauqua will be an exhibit at the Oliver Archives relating to the five presidents who visited the grounds during their presidency, as well as other figures who visited and later went on to be president, Schmitz said.