United Nations at Muir Woods 70 Years Ago

The Memorial Service for President Roosevelt among the redwoods at Muir Woods on May 19, 1945. Courtesy of The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley
The Memorial Service for President Roosevelt among the redwoods at Muir Woods on May 19, 1945. Courtesy of The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.

On May 19, 1945, more than 500 United Nations delegates came from the first U.N. peace conference in San Francisco to gather at Muir Woods National Monument.

At the time of this historic event, World War II was not yet over. Save the Redwoods League proposed the idea to gather representatives of the United Nations in the serenity of the redwoods to focus on sustaining world peace. The concept of an UN retreat to the redwoods was proposed in a letter to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt by the Secretary of Interior Ickes in February 1945:

Not only would this focus attention upon this nation’s interest in preserving these mighty trees for posterity, but here in such a ‘temple of peace’ the delegates would gain a perspective and sense of time that could be obtained nowhere in America better than in a forest. Muir Woods is a cathedral, the pillars of which have stood through much of recorded human history. Many of these trees were standing when Magna Carta was written. The outermost of their growth rings are contemporary with World War II and the Atlantic Charter.

Tragically, President Roosevelt passed away two weeks before the United Nations gathering and the retreat to Muir Woods became a fitting memorial for the late leader. Under the beauty of the redwoods in Cathedral Grove that day, U.S. Secretary of State Edward Stettinius, Jr. said, “These great redwoods at Muir Woods National Monument are the most enduring of all trees. Many of them stood here centuries after every man now living is dead. They are as timeless and as strong as the ideals and faith of Franklin D. Roosevelt.”

Many decades later, Cathedral Grove was designated the first quiet zone within the National Park Service, a place where serenity and quiet for reflection are protected as natural resources. I invite you to walk through Cathedral Grove at Muir Woods on your next visit to experience the forest that inspired an urgent call for global peace.

Learn more about what to experience at Muir Woods National Monument here.

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About Emily Burns

Emily Burns, the League’s former Director of Science, led the research program that includes the Redwoods and Climate Change Initiative. She holds a PhD in Integrative Biology on the impacts of fog on coast redwood forest flora from the University of California, Berkeley.

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