(about a plaque, lies, lying, laying, deception, and redemption)
There are lies in Goodale Park.
You can find five of them on the plaque below the bust of Lincoln Goodale on the monument near the southeast entrance.
Now that I think about it, there’s at least one other lie in the park – The misleading Flytown Marker that we looked at last September.
And if I broaden our use of the word, there’s another category of “lies in the park”:
And I’m tempted to claim that trash “lies in the park” too, but as my mother taught me, trash “lays” in the park, grammatically speaking.
But back to regular lies and the plaque. I learned about the Goodale plaque lies from Terry Sherburn. Here’s a quick summary (in no particular order) of what I learned from Terry (along with a few of my own thoughts):
LIE #1: “Dr. Goodale was a founder of Capital University…”
Lincoln Goodale was instead a University Trustee. I’m a Goodale Park Board Trustee; maybe it’s okay for me to say that I founded Goodale Park. 🙂
LIE #2: “Dr. Goodale was a founder of…Trinity Episcopal Church.”
Lincoln Goodale did not found Trinity Episcopal Church, and wasn’t even a member of their congregation. But he did rent a pew for a while (to financially support the church).
LIE #3: “…this beautiful 40-acre tract of land…”
It’s true that it is beautiful, but the area of Goodale Park is not 40 acres. Although you might not care about the minutiae, the original park area that Lincoln Goodale donated was only 33.35 acres (that’s almost a 20% exaggeration!). Today, the Park is 31.96 acres (after losing a bit to the streets over time). And that’s a full 25% exaggeration.
LIE #4: “On July 14, 1851, he donated…”
The Goodale Park land wasn’t donated on that date. On July 14, 1851, the offer of the park was presented at a City Council meeting. This was a proposal, not the gift; the deed was signed and notarized in November of that year.
LIE #5: “Dr. Goodale was also a successful businessman whose wealth and generosity allowed him to provide free medical care for the poor.”
As Terry Sherburn points out, this is “well-meaning and probably not too inaccurate”. But Lincoln Goodale’s wealth didn’t allow him to provide free medical care; his medical practice (and those particular acts of kindness) came before he became a wealthy businessman. This is even more impressive than the lie!
All of these lies got me thinking more broadly. Lying is complex. We have different kinds of lies, like “bald-faced lies”, “white lies”, and “social” lies. Opinions vary on what constitutes these lies, and when lying might be okay. Immanuel Kant claimed that any lie was always wrong. A century later, John Stuart Mill disagreed with Kant, making the case that lies are contextual. In Mill’s philosophical world, a white lie told to protect your children from emotional trauma would likely be okay (like when my mom told my sister and me that the “abandoned” baby bunnies that my sister and I “rescued” and unsuccessfully tried to feed with milk from an eye dropper were safely retrieved by their mother after we had gone to bed).
The errors on the plaque are a specific kind of lie. They were cast in metal and put in a public place, so they’re authoritative lies that get shared as facts. They’re like the Texas textbook examples that proposed teaching children that Moses and Solomon inspired American democracy.
We can’t really call something a lie except at its source, and that’s one of the problems with authoritative lies. When any trusted authority lies, and then those lies are retold in good faith to others, the statements become crystalized as accepted facts, and the additional damage done by the unwitting accomplices creates a cascading problem.
When those plaque lies are shared second-hand by our park patrons in good faith, they’re technically not lies anymore since the well-meaning patrons aren’t trying to deceive anyone. Lying requires intentional deception, and the park patron is just “reporting” what they read on a trusted plaque. This makes the lies even more insidious.
In fact, just last Saturday I was measuring the plaque (see below), and a family came up and marveled at the lies as they read them aloud. What if I hadn’t been there to run interference and help them with the truth? I was tempted to stay there for the rest of the day to provide repeated clarifications for everyone passing by, but I was carrying fresh chicken home from North Market Poultry.
There are (of course) lots of examples of insidious lies. As The Guardian points out, you’d think we could trust the statements of an ophthalmologist and a Harvard-trained attorney, but it turns out that Rand Paul (ophthalmologist) and Ted Cruz (Harvard alum) “deny basics of modern science – that the Earth is about 4.5 billion years old, [and] that humans evolved from earlier primates over millions of years”. And these two are trusted sources for a ridiculously large number of people who spread the Paul & Cruz lies as facts, changing the lies into sadly misinformed errors propagated by their hapless pawns. This has resulted in (among other things) around 42% of people in the U.S. denying the scientific validity of evolution and natural selection.
If we stewards of Goodale Park allow the misinformation on the Goodale monument plaque to perpetuate, then we’re no better than Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, and the Texas legislators. We have met the enemy, and he is us.
Fortunately, that’s not the end of the story. The redemption of Goodale Park is at hand, thanks to Terry Sherburn and Jeff Smith. Terry has been trying to remedy these lies since at least 1999, and Jeff is enthusiastic about involving the Short North Civic Association. I just took measurements for a replacement plaque, so keep an eye on the Goodale Monument. Things will be changing soon.