Logan Park residents enjoying the ten-acre open space where neighbors gather probably do not spend much time reflecting on the life and times of their community’s namesake; it’s unlikely that most even know the political drama that surrounded the selection of John A. Logan for the honor. Still, Logan was a legend in his own time — racist turned anti-slavery advocate in defense of the Union, Major General in the Civil War, Republican nominee for vice president in 1884, and the man generally credited with the establishment of Memorial Day (originally Decoration Day), a day to honor those who died in the Civil War.
In 1883, when the park was first designated it was christened First Ward Park, later changed to Ninth Ward Park when the political wards were restructured. At that point, in 1887, the Civil War veterans of the Dudley Chase Post of the Grand Army of the Republic proposed the park recognize the deeds of John A. Logan. After some Park Board deliberations, the name selection went instead to one Cadwallader C. Washburn, founder of the Washburn Crosby Company (now General Mills) and one-time Governor of Wisconsin.
Next, the Park Board decided the honor should go to Cadwallader’s brother William who actually ran the Minneapolis business interests of Washburn Crosby. William Washburn, a former Congressman and a friend of a couple of park commissioners, was subsequently sent to Washington DC when Minneapolis voters elected him to the U.S. Senate in 1889.
That’s when the Park Board had a change of heart – and John A. Logan’s name reappeared on the agenda of the Park Board Nomenclature Committee. Later Dr. William Folwell, who served on t he Nomenclature Committee, explained the turn of events and the role of Northeast DFLer and Park Board member Patrick Ryan, in this way: “Because Paddy Ryan wanted that name, it probably was named for Major-General John A. Logan, who was also a United States Senator for while Paddy was a good Democrat, he also was a good politician and that may be the reason for naming the park after a republican statesman and Major-General.”
Minneapolis park historian David C. Smith suggests that [Ryan] preferred naming the park for a man who had been elected from both political parties in Illinois instead of the brother of the incumbent Republican senator from Minnesota.”
No matter the politics, Logan’s name and reputation add to the rich history of the park and the neighborhood.
John Alexander Logan was born in 1836 in what is now Murphrysboro, a Southern Illinois town that began with a gift of 20 acres of land donated by Logan’s parents. After three years of study at Shiloh College Logan served as a second lieutenant with the Illinois Infantry in the Mexican-American War, earned a degree in law from the University of Louisville, practiced law and dabbled in local politics. His political career took him from county clerk to the State House of Representatives and in time to election as a Democrat to the U.S. House of Representatives.
With the onset of the Civil War Logan, once pro-Southern and thus pro-slavery, determined that “the union must prevail.” While still a member of Congress, Logan fought at Bull Run as a volunteer with a Michigan regiment. He returned to Washington, resigned his Congressional seat, and entered the Union army as Colonel of the 31st Illinois Volunteers which he organized. It was there that he acquired the nickname “Black Jack” because of his dark complexion and black eyes; the nickname stayed with him throughout his lifetime. Nickname or no he went on to succeed as a military hero, ultimately named by Sherman to command the Union army during the May 1865 Grand Review in Washington. Some historians have identified Logan as the most prominent volunteer general in the Civil War.
After the war Logan, now a Republican, returned to his seat in the House of Representatives and then to the Senate. It was his involvement in veteran’s affairs that motivated him to lead efforts to create Memorial Day, then Decoration Day, as a tribute to those who lost their lives during the War Between the States. He was elected to serve in the Senate in 1871 and again in 1877.
In 1884 Logan was nominated for Vice President on the presidential ticket with James G. Blaine, Republican from Maine. He nomination was based to a great extent on his military record and on his personal following as a platform speaker and partisan spokesperson. Though the Republican ticket was defeated in that election by Grover Cleveland Logan continued to serve in the Senate until his untimely death in 1886 at the age of sixty.
Today, Logan Park is not the only public tribute to John A. Logan. Minneapolitans know Logan Avenue, of course. Travelers may have had their pictures taken at the equestrian statue at Logan Circle in Northwest Washington DC or at Grant Park in Chicago. Visitors to Murphrysboro will know the Logan Museum in his hometown.
Over the years, Logan Park, the park itself, has thrived as the locus and gathering place for countless community events for every age. Dancing, singing, theater, sports events, ice skating and scores of other lively activities have engaged and united the neighborhood. Today, Logan Park, the neighborhood, blossoms as the epicenter of the flourishing arts area that is the pride of Northeast Minneapolis.
The story of its namesake, military hero and political leader James A. Logan, simply adds a brilliant splash of color to the rich tapestry that is the Logan Park neighborhood of today..