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A beautiful and glorious world

The young woman turned her sightless eyes upon the crowded Ashland Armory. In a voice she was never able to hear, she told her audience about her life and gave praise to those who had guided her “out of the darkness — to you who now sit here in the light.”

Helen Keller, renowned as the woman who miraculously overcame the loss of senses taken from her when she was but 19 months old, stood beside her beloved teacher, Ann Sullivan Macy. It was a chilly March evening in 1914.

“I am not dumb!” 33-year-old Helen shouted. Attacking the word that others called her deafness — a word she had learned over 25 years before, while touching fingers with Mrs. Macy to read and spell words.

“My world,” Helen said, “is full of touch and sensations, devoid of physical color and sound; yet, without color and sound it breathes and throbs with life.”

Never had more people been in the armory. More than 400 men, women and children sat in admiring silence.

Admission cost 50 cents for adults and 25 cents for children. “We could have filled the house at a dollar a ticket,” said Ida Gard, president of the Sunshine Committee that had arranged Keller’s visit. “But people cannot afford to bring their children at that price, and it is important that every school child see Helen Keller. Her achievements will be an inspiration to them.”

The once in a lifetime event had opened with songs sung by the local high school’s male and female quartets, and was followed by Mrs. Macy, who told of training Helen in her infancy, and how later, she had helped Helen receive a Bachelor of Arts degree from Radcliffe College — the first deaf and blind person to do so.

Helen’s audience wasn’t prepared for the sound of her voice — what one reporter called “the mechanical enunciation, the utter absence of expression.” “Her voice,” he said, “is low and lacks tone, due to the fact that she learned to speak by feeling the lips of others, and naturally employs only the muscles of cheeks, lips and tongue in shaping and pronouncing her words.”

But soon her audience was charmed and spellbound by her perpetual smile and how she answered all their questions — each conveyed to her by the touch of moving fingers and sometimes lips.

“I am happy and contented almost all the time,” Helen said. “My only unhappiness is in knowing that others are less fortunate than myself.”

As she talked, she one-by-one picked the flowers off the pansy plant presented to her as a gift. “What dainty flowers,” she said, prompting a reporter to write, “one could almost see with her sightless eyes the beauty she saw.”

“How grand your Oregon mountains must be,” she said with that radiant smile. “The fir trees were covered with snow as we came over the pass. What a beautiful place Oregon must be. How bright the sun shines.”

Perhaps the Ashland Tidings editor summed up Helen Keller’s appearance best.

“Deaf and sightless, yet with a mind stored with knowledge and a soul radiant with the touch of divine glory, she has been chosen to teach us how little we value our blessing and how little effort we make to develop them for the world’s good. Miss Keller says the world is beautiful and life glorious. What a lesson!”

Writer Bill Miller is the author of “History Snoopin’,”a collection of his previous history columns and stories. Reach him at newsmiller@live.com or WilliamMMiller.com.