Knoxville historian Jack Neely has written a fascinating article on the legacy of East Tennessee’s own Admiral David Farragut, with an update on the disappearing birthplace monument.
The current status of Farragut’s boyhood home and the marker that once stood there is…well, complicated. Very, very complicated.
What I didn’t know before reading Neely’s piece is that Farragut has become a hero among Americans of Spanish-speaking descent. His father was a native of Minorca who settled in the Knoxville area back when Tennessee was still the Southwest Territory.
Knoxville historians once assumed they were the only ones who’ve ever heard of George Farragut, the early settler. But there’s a high-quality portrait of him at the Smithsonian. He’s the one Knoxville settler of whom we have the clearest physical image: a robust fellow on the verge of a chuckle. Now he has his own Wikipedia page. George Farragut has emerged as a Spanish-American patriot of the Revolutionary War.
His son who became an admiral has also gained new attention. “I am extremely proud of sharing the same heritage as Admiral Farragut,” says Coral Getino, the Spanish-born leader of Knoxville’s HoLa Hora Latina, hosts of the popular annual festival. “Farragut is a role model for us: A first-generation Hispanic-American, hard-working family man, who earned the highest Navy rank for the first time in history,” she says. “His bravery, determination, and perseverance—in battle and in life—exemplify values we want to teach our children. He is a national hero who was born right here, almost in my neighborhood.” Learning the Farragut story, she says, helped inspire her to get involved in the Knoxville community.
Navy guys, Civil War buffs, and various other constituencies are also keenly interested in the fate of Farragut’s birthplace. A pity more people from the admiral’s own neck of the woods aren’t as concerned. Neely notes that at the time of its dedication, the birthplace monument was probably the most prominent marker of its kind in the Knoxville area. You wouldn’t expect a rock like that to fade from memory, but then you wouldn’t expect it to grow legs and walk away, either.
…with updated exhibits. If you’re interested in learning more about the community that Admiral David G. Farragut called home—site of the infamous disappearing monument—then stop by and pay the museum a visit. Admission is free.
We may be arriving at a satisfactory solution to the Case of the Disappearing Admiral Farragut Monument. The folks in Knox County are working on an agreement that will hopefully make it possible for the marker to be set up somewhere near Farragut’s birthplace.
And if found, could it be headed back to Tennessee? Maybe so.
The property owner wasn’t obligated to put up with trespassers, of course, but handing over the marker to a third party instead of turning it over to the organization that originally dedicated it (and presumably paid for it) struck me as a downright lousy thing to do.
The always-readable Knoxville historian Jack Neely weighs in on the disappearing Farragut monument, and considers the wider implications. His assessment is that we East Tennesseans have been pretty lousy stewards of our historic resources, and I heartily agree with him.
“Laws of probability suggest that every privately owned historic site will eventually end up in the hands of someone who doesn’t care much about history,” he writes. “Independent-minded property owners have an advantage over preservationists: one property owner can cancel generations of care. Without some permanent enforceable protections in place, a community will erase its own history.” Of course, “permanent enforceable protections” will mean curbs on doing what we darn well please, which is anathema to a great many people.
I’ve been a conservative for quite a long time, and historic preservation is one of those areas where I often find myself in disagreement with fellow members of my political persuasion. Look, I’m all for a robust conception of property rights. The notion that a man can be told what to do or what not to do with what he owns gets my blood boiling; if you can’t do what you want with your property, one wonders if it’s really your property. But I also believe there is such a thing as responsibility to the common good, and protection of historic resources is very much a part of that common good. Few people ask for the onerous responsibility of stewardship over these resources, but a responsibility is never abrogated just because it isn’t desired.
We conservatives are a rather schizophrenic lot. We cheer when our leaders pose for photo-ops at museums and historic sites to spout platitudes about our heritage, and then we cheer just as loudly when they make decisions that deprive those museums and sites of the resources they need to maintain and share the heritage they invoke. We preach about looking back to our predecessors who sacrificed to secure the freedoms we enjoy, and then we exercise these freedoms by erasing all trace of those predecessors whenever it serves our immediate self-interest.
Oh, we absolutely love to invoke the past, so long as it doesn’t cost us anything.
…has been solved. Sort of, anyway.