As the Assistant Registrar for Cranbrook Educational Community, it is my job to keep track of the objects in the collections of the Art Museum and the Cultural Properties across the campus. Though not trained as a Museum Registrar, George Booth had a similar goal: he fastidiously kept his many collections and cultural properties around his home and the various school buildings inventoried or appraised.
The inventory, “Cranbrook Museum Art collection: 400 thru,” led me to a wonderful collection of coins and medals. Some were ancient, some were more contemporary, but one in particular stood out: a memorial medal for soldiers who died during the First World War. What was the story behind this medal? Since none of the Booth children died during the war, I wondered why George Booth would have one of these medals in his collection.
During World War I, many prominent Americans spoke out against the war in Europe, including Henry Ford and Reverend Samuel Marquis (who in 1927 became the first rector of Christ Church Cranbrook). As the editor of The Detroit News, George Booth oversaw “the leading newspaper in the country to give open and courageous expression to criticism.” The News editorial staff had “sincerity of purpose and courage to voice temporarily unpopular principles.” The United States entered the war in 1917 but The Detroit News continued its criticism. That criticism, however, was focused on governments and policies, not at the soldiers who put their lives on the line.
Indeed, Booth was very supportive of the fighting men who went off to war and of the families of those who did not return. He, architect Albert Kahn, and Clyde Burroughs (Director of the Detroit Museum of Art) established the Welcome Home Committee of Detroit – similar committees were formed in other major U.S. cities. The committee made sure all soldiers who returned from the front received the thanks of the nation and distributed rings and certificates of service to them upon their return.
The Committee’s recognition did not end with the men who returned. It also distributed the memorial medal to the families of the war dead from Detroit. This medal, designed by sculptor Paul Manship and forged by Medallic Art Company in New York, was given as “a token of sympathy and gratitude to the nearest kin of those who gave their lives in the country’s service” during the Great War.
The front of the medal bears a winged female figure representing Victory striding forward while holding a sword wrapped in a palm leaf (sword of war and palm of peace) with a radiant sun in the background. The text around Victory reads, “VIXIT VIVIT VIVET” [lived, lives, will live].
The back of the medal reads, “Presented by the City of Detroit 1919.” At center is a scroll inscribed, “In Memory Of One Who Died in the Cause of Freedom and Humanity.” Above, an eagle holding a laurel wreath is perched atop the end of a cannon and ball.
The Burton Historical Collection at the Detroit Public Library has a great image of a large crowd at Campus Martius for a memorial service to honor WWI soldiers. I suspect that one of the men on the dais is George G. Booth, there to honor the Detroit war dead and their families.
For more on George Booth and his opinions on the war in Europe, see the George Gough Booth Papers and for more on Manship’s work at Cranbrook, check out Cranbrook Archives Digital Collections and Cranbrook Art Museum.
– Leslie S. Mio, Assistant Registrar