October 4th marked the 205th birthday of abolitionist, outdoorsman and school founder Frederick Gunn. In 2016, the school commemorated Mr. Gunn’s 200th birthday with a grand celebration that included an exhibit at the Judy Black Memorial Park & Gardens. This year, Head of School Peter Becker marked the occasion at School Meeting by sharing an excerpt from the eulogy the Rev. Henry Ward Beecher delivered on October 4, 1882, a little over a year after Mr. Gunn’s death. Friends and alumni gathered at the school the night before, and in the morning, filled the Meeting House on the Green.
“The church was decorated with branches of autumn leaves and wild flowers, and the throng in attendance more than filled the comfortable capacity of the building,” Henry W.B. Howard, Class of 1865, recounted in “The Master of The Gunnery,” a biography of Mr. Gunn, written by his pupils and edited and illustrated by William Hamilton Gibson, Class of 1866. Senator Orville Platt, who was Mr. Gunn’s student at Washington Academy, and worked alongside him at Towanda Academy, presided at the event as the President of the Memorial Association. “The Washington church choir and a quartette from the Mendelssohn Glee Club of New-York sang at appropriate intervals; the Rev. George S. Thrall, whose grateful tribute to Mr. Gunn’s efficient aid to the work of the church has been alluded to, offered prayer; and several of the former pupils of the Gunnery made remarks.”
The closing remarks were delivered by Beecher, who was an abolitionist and close friend of Mr. Gunn’s, and a Gunnery parent, like his more famous sister, Harriet Beecher Stowe. His words captured the emotion of that day, and the spirit of Mr. and Mrs. Gunn:
“He has not gone from us. He never was so near us; he never was so influential as he is to-day among us. He dwells in the very history of this town; he lives on these hills. His institution is purified, not alone by what overhangs the scene of his life; but there lingers there a benediction emanating from what is missed in the absence of the old master, as of the angels of God, and his memory is more serviceable to this community than his presence now would be. He will still be a blessing that will guide the coming generation in this goodly town of Washington. May the spirit of this man who has quickened the lives of so many never go out; may it abide here!”
In case you missed it, The Frederick Gunn School and the Gunn Historical Museum co-sponsored a special presentation, “Frederick Gunn: An American Original,” on September 13, 2021, as part of the museum’s Guest Lecture Series. View the recording here.