Trees have always been planted as symbolic gestures. Greater Cleveland – and Cleveland Heights particularly – is an excellent example. In fact, this was one of the very first regions to coordinate a living memorial to soldiers who gave their lives in the First World War.
Following the Armistice on November 11, 1918, American Legion posts, garden clubs, school children, communities and families around the country planted trees, usually as part of dignified ceremonies. That very month, the Board Chairman of the American Forests Association, Charles Lathrop Pack, called for "a new form of monument - a memorial that lives." Greater Clevelanders lost little time. They mobilized to such a forceful extent that by Memorial Day 1919, the planting of a long chain of "Liberty Oaks" was already underway.
Under the leadership of Cleveland City Councilman Jerry Zmunt, Cleveland Director of Parks and Public Property Floyd E. Waite, and City Forester Harry C. Hyatt, a path was selected. On July 15, 1918, Ordinance 47590 was passed, "relative to changing North Park Boulevard, running through Ambler Park, Rockefeller Park and Shaker Heights Park from Cedar to Center (Warrensville) Road to 'Liberty Row.'"
Planting and casting began shortly thereafter, and by May of 1919 a dedication ceremony was held. Concurrent with the event, a poem by W. R. Rose was printed in the Cleveland Plain Dealer. It concluded:
The little trees that line the way, Sad symbols of a nation's pride, Are etched against the wintry gray—Oh let them live for those who died!
By 1924, some 800 Liberty Oaks had been planted. Almost 100 years later, a surprising number of North Park's Liberty Oaks and plaques are intact. You can also see quite a few along Shelburne Road in Shaker Heights, southeast of Shelburne's intersection with North Park near Horseshoe Lake. Unfortunately, the trees and plaques along Martin Luther King Jr. Drive have fared less well, often succumbing to theft and sudden encounters with out-of-control automobiles. Nevertheless, the spirit of the Oaks and the majesty they bring to the area is uncompromised. For many years, the American Legion Glenville Post 130 decorated the plaques. On patriotic holidays, flags are still placed by at least some of the remaining markers.