Gee, a state legislator wants to create a new state symbol. The official state historical dog.
Rep. Joe Aull of Marshall says Jim the Wonder Dog should have that title. Jim purportedly was smarter than Lassie and Rin Tin Tin together. His owner refused to make him a movie star or, more appropriately, make himself rich by letting others make Jim a movie star. Jim died in 1939, so much a local celebrity that he had a special burial place and today a Friends of Jim the Wonder Dog Organization is promoting his elevation into the pantheon of great symbols of our state.
Many years ago, Clyde Lear — the founder of our company — and I conducted a long interview with a man who was the Speaker of the House when Jim the Wonder Dog made an appearance before a joint session of the House and the Senate. He told us some pretty interesting stories about how Jim dazzled the lawmakers. We know where the interview is and one of these days we’ll have it transferred from reel-to-reel to a modern media.
Usually this official state symbol silliness is the product of some fourth grade class project in which a teacher decides the best way to teach the kiddos about the way government operates is to embarrass a local representative or senator into introducing a bill designating something as an official state symbol. At one time the legislature had so many bills designating state symbols as learning experiences that Senator Kevin Engler of Farmington suggested that learning experience should include a couple of words: filibuster and defeat.
We already have 26 official state symbols. The first one was created in 1822, a state seal. We didn’t get another one until we got an official state flag in 1913. An official day was created in 1915 and we’re supposed to celebrate Missouri Day every year (bet you don’t.). Our official “floral emblem” arrived in 1923–the blossom of the Hawthorne bush (my back yard is overrun with these darned bushes and later this year I plan to assassinate a large number of state floral emblems). The Bluebird became our official state bird in ’27. Then we went 22 years before getting one of the msot absurd of our absurd state emblems.
Our official state song is the Missouri Waltz, a song that has almost nothing to do with Missouri. It’s a song about a song that somebody learned while sitting on their mammy’s knee in Missouri. And on top of that, it’s boring.
It took us six more years before we got our official “arboreal emblem,” the blossom of the flowering dogwood tree, a circumstance that has led to the observation that Missouri has a state tree that is a flower and a state flower that is a bush.
The legislature showed ambition in 1967 by giving us a state “lithologic emblem” with Mozarkite. You and I refer to it as the state rock regardless of the pretentious language in the bill. It also gave us the state mineral–Galena, or lead ore.
We waited 18 years before the current craziness began.
The legislature declared in 1985 that we had to have a state insect. Two years later we got a musical instrument. Two years after that the legislature—ignoring some of its own members, several of us in the press corps thought at the time—declared the crinoid as the official state fossil.
1990 brought us the official state tree nut. It was five years before the state symbol-making machine really cranked up with the square dance (or the American Folk Dance) declared our official state dance. That same year we got an official state animal, the mule of course. Two years after we got an aquatic animal and a fish (both animals are fish–paddle and cat). There was a five-year break before we got an official state horse. The next year the state grape was defined. The year after that, a dinosaur and the following year was the amphibian, the bullfrog.
The year of 2007 was the year the legislature went overboard by giving us a state grass, a state invertebrate (the crayfish), a state game bird (a state symbol that we are encouraged kill, how nice), and a state reptile.
I got into an argument with a fifth-grader in 2008 when she convinced the legislature to pass a bill designating the ice cream cone as our official state dessert. I wrote a news story that the legislature had just passed a bill saying our official state dessert is a dry, tasteless, crumbly, air-filled piece of dough as the state dessert. The young lady sent me an e-mail protesting my unfairness, noting that an ice cream cone included ice cream. I wrote back to her that her bill did not mention ice cream as part of the dessert, just the cone the ice cream comes in. In fact, some group or other was serving ice cream cones in the rotunda and I went out and had one then messaged her that I had just enjoyed the state dessert, with ice cream. It was a reminder that state laws have specific words lest they be misunderstood.
I still believe her bill would have been much more effective if it said the state dessert is an ice cream cone with Central Dairy ice cream in it. But it doesn’t say that.
So to recap: We have a state song that has almost nothing to do with Missouri; a state flower that is a tree and a state tree that is a bush, a generally tasteless and crumbly state dessert, two fish and a bullfrog representing our waters, two kinds of rock, a symbol we are supposed to shoot at, an invertebrate that more likely belongs to Louisiana, two fossilized things, a grass that two other state symbols can eat but you and I probably wouldn’t like, and assorted other things that are supposed to tell people what Missouri is like.
And now, Rep. Aull thinks we need a historical dog. Of course there’s competition from the Warrensburg area where Old Drum was shot to death and lionized (well, maybe that’s a poor choice for word) in a speech about dogs generally by George Graham Vest. And then there’s the famous Houn’ Dog that was part of the Houn’ Dawg Regiment in the Spanish-American War and subsequent wars and even was part of a presidential campaign song, “You Gotta Quit Kickin’ My Dog Around.” One thing about Jim, though, is that he was a setter. He can point the state game bird so we can shoot at it.
So far we have not fallen to Oklahoma’s level. Oklahoma has an official state dirt.
There is an irony in all of this sate symbol creating fervor. It is done inside our greatest state symbol, the capitol. While all of this great effort has been put forth in the last 17 years, the capitol has developed significant problems. Sidewalks and steps are crumbling. The basement leaks. Hallways are so dark it’s hard to see the great paintings. Paint on the walls is peeling. Governor’s portraits are deteriorating. It’s a long list. But designating another official symbol of the state is more important than taking care of our greatest symbol.