Happy Birthday to a Heretic, Robert Green Ingersoll, died 1899
1899 – Robert Green Ingersoll – The most Famous man everyone heard of.
2012 – Robert Green Ingersoll – The most famous man few people remember.
Ingersoll was called the great agnostic (some call him atheist). He traveled the nation in the late 19th century lecturing about ethics, freethinking, human rights, women’s rights, racial equality, separation of church and state, and the evils of war. Ingersoll’s themes would have fit in perfectly today. His causes then are our causes now. They are just as vital to the nation as they were then.
In a time where there was no radio, no TV, no internet, no telephone, Ingersoll was the great communicator. He spoke without electronic enhancement. Crowds came by the thousands to hear him. On some occasions overflowing crowds paid one dollar to be close enough to hear and see him. A dollar then was a small fraction of its worth today. Not everyone agreed with him but they came anyway to hear this man say what few people ever said before. His words shocked some, but inspired all.
Ingersoll’s famous oration on War was given at the great War Monument in the center of Indianapolis. Over ten thousand persons heard the speech that paid tribute to those who gave their lives and health and sons in the War Between the States. Ingersoll’s tribute moved the crowds and was considered only second to Lincoln’s tribute at Gettysburg. Ingersoll’s words have long since faded in the city’s downtown center and the memory of his words has faded. Generations have passed and the words have been forgotten.
But, this evening, Sunday, August 12, Ingersoll’s moving words were heard once again from the great War Monument. Appropriately, Tom Flynn, Director of the Center For Inquiry, spoke them. Tom read Ingersoll’s whole speech to a small crowd gathered at the South steps of the monument. Reba Wooden, The Director of CFI Indiana introduced Tom and followed his words with her own. I was privileged to read some of Ingersoll’s quotes, which pertained to today’s national problems.
As I listened to Ingersoll’s words it struck me that this was the first time they had been repeated from the steps of the war memorial since thy were first spoken. It was about time. The words held the same emotion and sad beauty they did when they left Ingersoll’s lips. They could have been spoken in honor and recognition of all fallen heroes and their loved ones. Although traffic drove by and curious pedestrians wondered what was happening on the Circle that Sunday evening, I was thrilled to be present, as were other CFI members.