Cooper: An unemployed statesman visits Lithia Springs


John James Ingalls appeared in Lithia Springs in August of 1891 at the Piedmont Chautauqua. Ingalls, who had recently retired from the U.S. Senate, was a political rock star at the time.

In early August 1891, one of the nation's political rock stars stopped in at the Piedmont Chautauqua in Lithia Springs to much acclaim. His name was John James Ingalls (1833-1900), and he had recently retired from the United States Senate following an 18-year career. It was reported the men who controlled the Piedmont Chautauqua had snagged Mr. Ingalls at great expense even though he was already traveling the country speaking and publicizing a book as an "unemployed" statesman.

From his birthplace in Massachusetts, Ingalls moved to Kansas where he settled in 1860, and worked as a newspaper editor before joining political forces working to make Kansas a free state. He was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1873. Known for his oratory skills that included "keen sarcasm and a quick wit," the Senate galleries were often packed when it was known Ingalls would be speaking out regarding legislation of the day.

The Piedmont Chautauqua was the brainchild of Henry W. Grady, the editor of "The Atlanta Constitution." It was his vision that enabled several acres just west of the Sweetwater Park Hotel in Lithia Springs to be transformed into a landscape of lush gardens, illuminated pathways, a manmade lake, and structures inspired by Moorish architecture that would serve as a base for adults to immerse themselves in educational and cultural endeavors.

The Chautauqua opened in 1889, and by 1891 the Chautauqua board, made up of many movers and shakers from the Atlanta area, worked to obtain some of the best speakers they could in order to draw the crowds during the Chautauqua season spanning the months of July and August each summer.

They also spared no expense in the days leading up to Ingalls' appearance to advertise the event to the masses making sure folks knew Lithia Springs would be Ingalls only appearance in Georgia, his topic would be "Problems of the Second Century of our Republic," and promised the event would be a great intellectual treat.

There would be plenty of Georgia Pacific trains leaving Atlanta throughout the day, and a round trip would cost 75 cents. For folks who went earlier in the day there would be plenty to do until Ingalls made his speech at 7 p.m. They could stroll along the illuminated grounds, eat at one of the restaurants, attend a band concert and could also listen to Georgia legislator, W.B. Hill who was scheduled to speak at eleven that morning.

In a day when newspapers carried more words than pictures the crowd awaiting Ingalls arrival at the Lithia Springs depot that day had never laid eyes on him, and I'm afraid a few were disappointed. As the train pulled into the depot there was an immense crowd waiting. The band struck up "Dixie," the crowd pressed closer, and John James Ingalls appeared on the platform. He was wearing a long Prince Albert coat, a tall white hat, and sported pearl colored gaitors or spats falling over his shining shoes. In appearance the slender and much older than thought Ingalls was anything but a fire eating orator as the newspapers had portrayed him.

The auditorium at the Chautauqua Grounds was approximately three-fourths full. Atlanta's Mayor William Hemphill introduced Ingalls making reference to the Civil War stating, "The war is over and the bloody chasm filled. I want to tell you in a few words why this is true. When a Confederate soldier in the heart of the South, under the sacred folds of the 'Star Spangled Banner,' can introduce with warmth and cordiality to a southern audience the Hon. J.J. Ingalls of Kansas, the most skeptical in this nation may know and feel the peace, brotherly love and good feeling reign all over this broad land."

With that Ingalls rose to take the podium to great applause and the waving of thousands of white hankies. Ingalls immediately got a laugh when he mentioned trains would not go till he got through, and he assured the audience they would leave on time.

His speech lasted 1 hour and 40 minutes, and while many were initially disappointed with Ingalls's appearance, he managed to hold everyone's attention. His oratory was such where he took his time and gave the audience a chance to enjoy a joke between paragraphs.

I can't recount the entire speech here, but of course, when reviewing speeches made in the past it is always important to take into account the context of the times, however, one section resonated with me greatly.

Ingalls said, "Every man should be a politician. If the laws are improperly administered, revenue squandered, and designing and unscrupulous knaves mount to power, it is the fault of the people, and unless the upright, intelligent, and honest take control of the administration, then the vicious will control."

Still true today ...

Lisa Cooper writes the amazing stories of Douglas County each Sunday. You can find her new book "Every Now and Then: The Amazing Stories of Douglas County" online at Amazon, print and Kindle versions. Locally, her books can be found at the Douglas County Museum of History and Art, The Farmer's Table and Lithia Springs Pharmacy.

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