The “Bubbles” Speech*
The song, “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles,” has held special meaning to Shriners since the 46th Annual Imperial Council session in June 1920, in Portland, Oregon; for it was, at that meeting, that the assembled Shriners voted on the resolution to establish the Shriners’ Hospital for Crippled Children [now known as the Shriners Hospitals for Children in recognition of our expansion into pediatric burns care, to be initiated with a two-dollar tithing imposed upon each Shriner.
The resolution to establish the Hospitals was introduced by outgoing Imperial Potentate W. Freeland Kendrick (Lu Lu Shriners, Philadelphia [now in Plymouth Meeting]), in the shadows of a defeated proposal the previous year to establish an orphans’ home, introduced by Noble Philip D. Gordon (Karnak Shriners, Montréal).
Despite the generally supportive attitude among the assembled Shriners, many held reservations about creating a permanent, open- ended financial commitment. The de facto voice of the dissenters was Past Imperial Potentate, William Bromwell Melish (Syrian Shrine, Cincinnati), who had instituted long-absent fiscal controls and piloted the Imperial Counsel out of in- solvency in the early nineties.
Imperial Sir Melish spent fifteen minutes detailing his objections to the proposal, and seemed to turn the tide against the plan, but Noble Forrest Adair (Yaarab Shrine, Atlanta) rose from his seat near the front of the audience and put an end to the nobles’ reluctance with his now famous “Bubbles” speech.
Five years earlier, Noble Adair, as Commander in Chief of the Scottish Rite’s Atlanta Consistory, had been the virtual founder of the Scottish Rite Hospital for Crippled Children in Atlanta which has since merged with Egleston Children’s Hospital to become Children’s Health- care of Atlanta at Scottish Rite].
Noble Adair spoke thus: I rise, unlike my friend, Past Imperial Potentate Melish, without reluctance, but with enthusiasm.
I was lying in bed yesterday morning, about four o’clock in the Multnomah Hotel, and some poor fellow who had strayed away from the rest of the band – and he was a magnificent per- former on a baritone horn – stood down there un- der the window for twenty-five minutes playing “I am only blowing bubbles.” [sic] (Laughter.) Do you catch it? (Laughter.) And after a while, when I dropped back into a peaceful sleep, I dreamed of a little crippled children’s hospital, run by the Scottish Rite Fraternity, in Atlanta, Georgia, which has been visited by a number of the members of this Imperial Council, and I thought of the wandering minstrel of the early morning, and I wondered if there were not a deep significance in the tune that he was playing for Shriners, “I am only blowing bubbles.” [sic]
We meet from year to year; we talk about our great Order; we read the report on the hundreds of thousands of dollars that are accumulated and loaned to banks and paid us for our mileage and per diem, and on our visitations we stop in some oasis and we are taken in an automobile by a local committee, and he first drives us by and shows us, “This is our temple, our mosque. It is built of marble brought from Maine or Georgia. The lot cost fifty thousand dollars; we could have sold it for two hundred thousand dollars before we built upon it. The building cost us a million, and it could not be put up now for two and a half million.”
“What is that wonderful hospital over there?” I ask.
“That is the hospital of the Sisters of Saint Mary.” “What big school is that in the distance?”
“That is a school erected and maintained by the Catholic Church.”
And we get here and we hear the baritone. That fellow told us what we were doing.
The last United States census on this point shows us that there were four hundred thousand cripples in Georgia – (laughter) – there are four thousand in Georgia; there are four hundred thousand in the United States of America. And unfortunately, they are in the almshouses; they are in the homes; they are mendicants; they are paupers; and the best alms that you can give is that which will render alms unnecessary.
My Brother Melish goes back to these other resolutions which have been postponed from year to year, while we may blow more bubbles and sing again, ‘Hail, hail, the gang’s all here.’ This resolution has been changed. It does not establish, Brother Melish, a home. The word there is ‘hospital’; ‘The Shriners’ Hospital for Crippled Children.’ I presume that any intelligent commit- tee that may be appointed by the incoming Imperial Potentate will provide rules that, in the first place, no child be admitted – it is our rule down there [at the Scottish Rite Hospital ed.] – unless, in the opinion of the surgeons after careful examination, its trouble can be corrected or benefited. We take no feeble-minded. We do take them [children, not feeble-minded-ed.] from adjoining states. I have never had, and we started out without a dollar down there to build it, except about eight thousand dollars; I have been on the board from the beginning, and I have never had any very bad time getting all the money it wants, as long as G-d Almighty continues to put an occasional drop of the milk of human kindness in our blood.
I would give one thousand dollars in cash now if I had brought with me our Annual, which was printed just a few weeks ago; and I did send a few of you copies of it. I would show you a picture of a fifteen-year-old girl that had walked like a quadruped on her hands and knees, and under the magic skill of one of the greatest orthopaedic surgeons that has ever lived, – and who gives us his time without pay, –who when I was out at the hospital three months ago greeted me by saying, “Come here, Mr. Adair. I stand for the first time in my life erect.” And that child’s condition is worth two million dollars, –every bit of it.
My Brother Melish says that it places upon us responsibility. No, no, it does not. This resolution merely recognizes the fact that we appreciate that the responsibility is upon us, and while we have spent money for songs, and spent money for bands, – and they mean so much to us let us keep it up, – you cannot put your finger on a thing that I know of that has been done for humanity that can be credited to the Shrine as an organization. If this is established, these little rules and regulations that Brother Melish is so afraid of will be taken care of by a competent committee. If they don’t do it right and devote themselves too much to the Catholic children, the Negro children, we can fire them and get an- other committee. I apprehend we will not want to restrict it to the crippled children of Shriners. We don’t. The first prerequisite with us is that the child’s trouble may be corrected or improved. The second prerequisite is that they shall be financially unable to pay. You could not get your child in that hospital if you would pay a thousand dollars a week, because you would be depriving some little pauper child of a bed.
I want to see this thing started. For G-d’s sake, let us lay aside the soap and water and stop blowing bubbles and get down to brass tacks. If there is anything in the resolution that has formerly been passed that precludes it, let’s reconsider it and do away with the other one. Let’s blow all the dust aside. Let’s get rid of all the technical objections. And if there is a Shriner in North America, after he sees your first crippled child has been treated, in its condition, objects to having paid the two dollars, I will give him a cheque back for it myself.
I earnestly hope that this resolution may pass. I hope that within two or three, four or five years from now, we will be impelled, from the wonderful work that has been done, to establish more of these hospitals, in easy reach of all parts of North America. Every argument that Brother Melish makes, every argument that Brother Melish has presented against this is, to my mind, an argument in favour of it.
The room erupted with applause, and it was clear that Noble Adiar’s monologue had touched the hearts of those assembled. Fellow Yaarab Noble, Robert Colding stood and echoed Noble Adair’s sentiments, as did the following men: Noble Opie (Ararat Shrine, Kansas City), Noble Charles E. Ovenshire (Zuhrah Shrine, Minneapolis), Noble Edward C. Day (Algeria Shriners, Helena, Montana), Noble Henry Lambsburgh (Almas Shriners, Washington, D.C.), Noble F. F. Whitcomb (Tangier Shrine, Omaha), and Noble J. Harry Lewis (Osman Shriners, Saint Paul).
Imperial Sir Kendrick attempted to give the final statement in favour of his resolution: “The time has come, when we should do something big. And what can you do as big as to furnish a hospital for a poor little crippled child? Suppose it is Black; suppose it is Catholic; G-d put it here on earth and it is up to us to help it. And it means Canada as well as the United States, for our juris- diction is North America.”
Kendrick’s intent to have the final word was foiled when Melish stood again; but any fears that Kendrick, Adair, or the other champions of the Hospital may have had were quickly dashed when Melish asserted, “I want to say just one word. I think I know how this thing is going. I think the duty of us all, the duty of myself first, is that if action is to be taken today, as it is, upon this matter, that we want to go before the world showing that the vote was unanimous, and that is the way I am going to vote. “Indeed, the resolution passed with unanimous consent.
Noble Adair was appointed a member of the committee to establish what became the Shriners Hospitals for Children, by incoming Imperial Potentate Ellis Lewis Garretson (Afifi Shriners, Tacoma). Noble Adair was joined by Noble Sam P. Cochran (Hella Shrine, Dallas [now Gar- land]), Imperial Sir Kendrick, the aforementioned Noble Phillip D. Gordon, Noble Oscar M. Land- strum (Algeria Shriners), Noble John D. McGilvray (Islam [n/k/a Asiya] Shriners, San Francisco [now San Mateo]), and Noble John A. Morison (Kismet Shriners, Brooklyn [now New Hide Park]).
Who was the “wandering minstrel” who incessantly played I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles on his baritone horn outside of the Multnoma Hotel in the early morning of 21 June 1920, unknowingly inspiring the founding of Shriners Hospitals for Children? At least four Shrine temples have asserted that he was one of their brethren. Imperial Sir Kendrick penned in the Shrine News an article “Echoes of the Past,” in which he suggested the man may have been Noble Eugene Reitz (Isis Shrine, Salinas, Kansas).
*Article taken from the webpage of Medina
Shriners, West Suburban Shrine Club