In 1893 Katherine L. Bates, a little-known English professor, left Boston to travel across the United States by train to teach a summer class at Colorado College. Like so many who have visited Colorado Springs during this era and after, she decided to take a trip up to the top of Pikes Peak. While at the summit the English professor was inspired to jot down some inspirational thoughts and feelings that flooded over her in this breathtaking landscape—purple mountain majesty. From this inspiration she wrote a poem entitled “Pikes Peak,” which was published in 1895. The poem became so popular that it was eventually put to music composed by Samuel A. Ward in 1910. The song, “America the Beautiful,” was born and today is etched in our national psyche.
In the image lit up by the early morning light is the “Purple Mountain” of Pikes Peak. Pikes Peak is an oddity really. It isn’t the highest mountain in the country. It isn’t even the highest in the state of Colorado, not even close. In Colorado it is number 30 in height. So, why is it so famous? Well, I think when Bates visited the mountain it was semi-famous because of accessibility. The mountain sits on the front range of the Rocky Mountains and is located very close to Colorado’s second largest city, Colorado Springs, which was easy to get to by train. Add to this that the cog railroad opened in 1891 making it easy to summit the mountain and you’ve got a popular tourist attraction for the time. Today, however, when all of our country is accessible and the higher Mount Evans has a road to its summit and is closer to Denver, why is this still such a well-known tourist attraction? I believe Pikes Peak remains popular because of the effect of this 100-year-old poem. The Pikes Peak Hill Climb opened in 1913. Add this world-famous race to a song attached to our national identity and you have created an advertising juggernaut for what is now known worldwide as America’s Mountain.
The Promise of Our Nation
“…we stood at last on the Gate-of-Heaven summit….and gazed in wordless rapture over the far expanse of mountain ranges and the sea-like sweep of plain.” Katherine L. Bates wrote these words after she returned to Colorado Springs from the Summit of Pikes Peak. She remarked to friends that countries such as England had failed because while they may have been “great,” they had not been “good.” She said, “Unless we are willing to crown our greatness with goodness, and our bounty with brotherhood, our beloved America may go the same way.” I think her warning for our great nation is needed today perhaps more than at any other time in our nation’s history. We need to find a way as individuals, and as a nation, to strive for goodness and to love our brothers.
Finding goodness and love for our brothers is hard. It’s hard because as individuals we aren’t instinctively good. At times, we as a people can’t even agree on what “good” means. I think deep inside each of us we do know what goodness looks like. We often ignore what is good/right for what is good for me in the moment. If each of us could struggle to be good for our brothers, putting others first instead of ourselves, than we as a nation would start to heal. We need to give our fellow citizens grace, choosing to believe the best of one another instead of thinking the worst. Like I said, it is going to be hard. I think the first step, as Michael Jackson said, is to “look in the mirror, and make a change.” Change the way we treat and criticize our brothers. If we choose to give those around us the benefit of the doubt, listen to them, and put their needs above our own desires than perhaps this brotherly love would ripple throughout our population and we will once again be a good nation.
Happy Independence Day!
“O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
America! America! God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!” – Katherine L. Bates