Understanding the past is more complex than we think

Roger Blashfield of Hood River, who portrays Philip Carroll in Cemetery Tales, wrote this observation about his participation in the program and what it means to him. Philip Carroll’s was a life spent partly in Hood River, and it ended here, but in researching Carroll, Blashfield found that Carroll’s reach went far beyond Hood River.

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My wife and I moved to Hood River in 2011 from Auburn, Ala. Before retiring, I had been a clinical psychology professor who studied the classification of mental disorders. After arriving in Oregon, a new friend encouraged me to volunteer for a program called Cemetery Tales as a way of learning about the Hood River community.

As a volunteer, Cemetery Tales involves three activities: First, I need to research the history of the individual whom I am representing. Second, I write a monologue that summarizes my view of what is most relevant about that individual. Third, during the weekend in which Cemetery Tales is presented, I dress in a costume that would be similar to what that individual might wear, I stand at the grave of the person I am discussing, and I present the monologue to small groups of individuals who go through the cemetery in groups.

The overall goal is to allow people to make a personal, intimate connection to the stories of individuals from the past in our community.

Last year, I played the part of Jack Green, a Christian logger. I met with Jack Green’s son and daughter multiple times. I had the honor of also meeting his wife. Being a psychologist and playing the part of a logger was a stretch, especially since many of Jack Green’s family attended Cemetery Tales.

This year, I am learning about Philip H. Carroll (1885-1941). I know almost nothing of Philip Carroll prior to his early adulthood. However, after World War I, Carroll became an important figure in the American Relief Administration.

A history professor at Stanford University wrote an award-winning book about the ARA’s effort in Russia during early 1920s immediately after the communists took control of that country. Philip Carroll was an important figure in the first 100 pages of this book.

Reading about Philip Carroll also led me to obtaining biographies of the most significant American humanitarian of the early 20th century. This individual, known as “The Chief,” could be described in modern terms as cross between Donald Trump and Jimmy Carter — famous, rich, effective, religious and highly respected for his integrity.

I had heard of The Chief prior to learning about Philip Carroll, but I had only thought of this individual because of a significant failure with which he was associated, not because of his humanitarian efforts. Philip Carroll worked for The Chief.

As a clinical psychologist, a goal when doing psychotherapy was to take a good history of a client. The first and most fundamental rule of being a clinician is “The past predicts the future.” But understanding that past is often more complex than we think.

In researching Philip Carroll, I have learned a great deal about providing food to the needy, about the 1920s, and about a famous man who proved to be much more complex than I thought.

By the way, if you have not guessed, Philip Carroll’s boss, The Chief, was Herbert Hoover, 31st President of the United States. Most of us only think of Hoover in terms of the Great Depression.

Hoover once said, “It is the youth who must inherit the tribulation, the sorrow … that are the aftermath of war.”

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Roger Blashfield, whose ancestors are buried at Idlewilde, lives on the family property in Hood River with his wife, Linda. They have three children, seven grandchildren and are competitive ballroom dancers.

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