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Boy Scouts place wreath at Lincoln bust, 1947
Boy Scouts place a wreath at the George Grey Barnard bust of Lincoln, February 12, 1947 Courtesy Heritage Room Archives, A.K. Smiley Library

History of the Boy Scout Pilgrimage to the Lincoln Memorial Shrine in Redlands, California

Originating in 1940 in Redlands, California, the symbolic pilgrimage to a statue of Abraham Lincoln pays homage to the martyred sixteenth President. The idea for the event was borrowed from the Boy Scouts in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, who had begun their own Lincoln pilgrimage in 1934. The pilgrimage coincides with the celebration of Boy Scout Week, the anniversary of the founding of the scouting movement in the United States.

Robert Watchorn, a wealthy winter resident of Redlands, through his son had become interested in the life of Abraham Lincoln. Watchorn wrote that he felt "so strongly that the influence of Abraham Lincoln is powerful enough to help the whole world, if it were widely enough realized and utilized, that I should esteem myself very highly honored and especially favored if I might be able to introduce this immortal personage...." Guided by this sentiment, Watchorn funded the memorial shrine to Lincoln to be built in his adopted city of Redlands. Although it was intended to honor Abraham Lincoln, it also was dedicated to the memory of Watchorn's son Emory, who had died of wounds suffered in WW I. The centerpiece of the memorial was a marble bust of Lincoln created by sculptor George Grey Barnard; books and a collection of Lincoln memorabilia were also donated by Watchorn to the site in Redlands. It is the only museum, archives and library dedicated to Abraham Lincoln west of Springfield, Illinois, Lincoln's hometown.

Scouting executives of the Riverside County Council first proposed a pilgrimage closely modeled on the Ft. Wayne event. Following a parade with Scouts starting at the Chamber of Commerce in Redlands and proceeding to the Shrine, a program was presented. The program was to include a presentation of colors, the Scout Oath, a welcome, an address promoting the strengths of Lincoln with Scouting and its principles, and the presentation of a wreath at the Barnard bust. Its success in its inaugural year caused the Riverside Scouting executives to declare it an annual event. Over the years, the starting point of the Parade and the site of the address has changed and other groups from the community became involved in the ceremonies, including drum and bugle corps, military units, the Post Office, YWCA and others. The parade grew, featuring floats, area beauty queens and area bands, and on one occasion, the Air Force Band from March AFB. In 1970, Scouting officials, wishing to re-emphasize the pilgrimage aspect and the honoring of Lincolnian principles and values, scaled back the popular parade to a march.

In 1949, the year of the 10th pilgrimage, for the first time Girl Scouts and Brownies were included; the assembled Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Sea Scouts, Cub Scouts and Brownies taking part numbered 2,000 that year. In the nation's Bicentennial Year (1976), a Bicentennial Parade was combined with the Pilgrimage, and 2,500 youth attended. Today attendance at the Pilgrimage has averaged about 1,000. Each year every Scout taking place receives a patch with the profile of Lincoln and the words "Lincoln Shrine Pilgrimage."

Project documentation includes an 11-page history of the Pilgrimage; a list of all the speakers at the Pilgrimage from 1940 on; pictures of ribbons, awards, patches and uniforms from the Grayback District of the B.S.A. California Inland Council; and photographs of past Pilgrimages and their descriptions from the Archives of the Heritage Room, A.K. Smiley Public Library.

Originally submitted by: Jerry Lewis, Representative (40th District).

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The Local Legacies project provides a "snapshot" of American Culture as it was expressed in spring of 2000. Consequently, it is not being updated with new or revised information with the exception of "Related Website" links.

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