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Postcards from Chautauqua: Saturday in the Park with Pansy

8 Aug

A Sunset service at Palestine Park

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“Nevertheless, she suffered herself to be persuaded to go for a walk, provided Eurie would go to Palestine….Flossy explained to her that she had a consuming desire to wander along the banks of the Jordan and view those ancient cities, historic now.” (Four Girls at Chautauqua)

Sometimes, I really, really wish I could take the Way Back Machine and latch onto Pansy’s group as they enjoyed the apparently mesmerizing lectures by a flamboyant Middle Eastern-born tour guide named Augustus Oscar Van Lennep. Not content to introduce the lakeside miniature Holy Lands that are a relic of Chautauqua’s Sunday School Assembly days, this enterprising, creative fellow dolled up in “Oriental” costume to give his lectures. That’s our man below, lounging in Rajah-like style, while his indulgent friends retain their upright Victorian postures.

Courtesy of the Chautauqua Institution Archives.

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Gus must have had an equally fun set of folks who joined him—witness his jolly crew of costumed believers at Palestine Park in 1875/6-ish. Can you imagine??? Oh, how much fun must that have been!

Courtesy of the Chautauqua Institution Archives.

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Alas, today the Park is largely neglected and used more as a family playground than an instructional living map.

I’ve been studying a 1920’s Bible Atlas by Jesse Lyman Hurlbut (Chautauqua lecturer, founding father, and big-time booster) to gain a working knowledge of the Holy Lands. As Dr. Vincent believed, I think understanding the topography and layout, relative distances and terrain of Palestine environs is extremely helpful when reading Scripture. I mean, when you see how far Gideon and his 300 brave soldiers had to track the Philistines, you really do understand why he was so angered when the locals wouldn’t give them any foods to keep their strength up!

According the Pansy’s many charming references to the Palestine Park, students were treated to not only the basic layout, but tiny townscapes and identifying plaques dotted the carefully crafted map. Bible verses connecting each significant stop provided context—and reasserted the importance of the location for the Christ-following traveler.

Today, in an effort to keep the residual charm of the place, small cast iron plaques are embedded along the landscape—they’re kept painted and somewhat landscaped. I understand there’s a “tour” each Sunday night and I hope to attend it someday.

I paced off various Bible place names made familiar by my Old Testament studies and was genuinely surprised to see how concentrated a radius these events encompassed. Here’s Jerusalem in relation to the Mount of Olives, only a stone’s throw from Bethany.

Mount Hermon in the distance provides the perfect “king of the hill” locale for the resort’s kiddie population. The impressive crevasse made me wonder if erosion hadn’t made the Jordan Valley a bit too deep?

“Here we are, on ‘Jordan’s stormy banks…I suppose there was never a more perfect geographical representation than this.” (Four Girls at Chautauqua)

Compared to the vintage postcards you’ll find in this blog’s archived Chautauqua posts (see the links at the conclusion of this post), I’d say the accuracy factor might be off a bit these days.

I found it charming that Jericho was in “ruins”—the flat-topped ancient buildings crumbled and scattered, like those of Hebron (though I’m not certain these ruins were intentional.)

Is someone is tending Jacob’s Well? Even on the dry day I visited, it was filled with water.

My favorite? The truly little town of Bethlehem.

I read the plaque as I exited the park, wistful at the thought of those tent-dwelling Sunday School teachers, nestling eagerly beside the “Mediterranean Sea” and along the shores of the Jordan, to understand more about the lands their spiritual ancestors walked.

What would they make of this rarely visited, gently poignant reminder of the Park’s original purpose? Today, no Bible markers or tablets grace the small stony stand-ins, no tiny replica buildings remain to represent scenes from the life of Jesus as they did in Pansy’s time. I turned my gaze to Chautauqua Lake, imagining the steamer pulling up to the nearby dock and unloading four lively 19th century girls, eager for fun, not knowing they would never be the same, thanks to their time in this beautiful place.

“Now, the actual fact is, that those three people wandered around that far-away land until the morning vanished … They went from Bethany to Bethel, and from Bethel to Shechem, and they even climbed Mount Hermon’s snowy peak and looked about on the lovely plain below. In every place there was Bible reading …” (Four Girls at Chautauqua)

Thanks for allowing me to share these mementos with you of my all-too-brief Chautauqua visit. My hope and prayer is to return soon to follow further in Isabella’s footsteps.

My fascination has led me to launch a tribute Chautauqua Literary & Science Circle reading plan—I’m pairing 19th century texts with contemporary works and next August, I hope to carry the Pansy Year banner in the Recognition Day parade. Interested readers can follow along with my literary journey at my blog, The Hall in the Grove.

Dusting off my sandals,
Karen

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If you missed previous posts about Chautauqua Institution, you can read them by clicking on the links below:

Postcards from Chautauqua – Pansy-trod Pathways

Postcards from Chautauqua – On a Pilgrimage

Postcards from Chautauqua – Summer of 2017

A Tour of Chautauqua: Getting There

A Tour of Chautauqua: Strolling the Grounds

A Tour of Chautauqua: Where to Stay

A Tour of Chautauqua: Lectures and Classes

A Tour of Chautauqua: Having Fun

A Tour of Chautauqua: The Teachers’ Retreat

A Tour of Chautauqua: A Healthy Body

A Tour of Chautauqua: Palestine Park

100 Years Ago at Chautauqua

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Postcards from Chautauqua: Pansy-trod Pathways

2 Aug

“I was coming down the hill, away off, you know, by the post office…”
(Four Girls at Chautauqua)

A walk through Bestor Plaza, toward the fountain and the library beyond.

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“All the younger portion of the congregation seemed to be rushing back up the hill again…”
(Four Girls at Chautauqua)

On day two of my Chautauqua wanderings, I stopped for a breather in lovely Bestor Plaza (the perpetual hill-climbing here is murder!). This carefully tended, beautifully landscaped watering hole and gathering spot commemorates the life and contributions of Arthur Bestor, Chautauqua’s president from 1915 to until his death in 1944.

The keynotes of his presidency are struck in the centrally placed fountain, where monumental icons to Knowledge, Religion, Music, and Art dominate the waterworks.

While I cooled my heels and absorbed the view, I noticed a Post Office in one corner of the Plaza and followed my curiosity there.

The Chautauqua post office, as it appeared in the 1920s

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Hoping to find postcards, I instead found a delightful hybrid of contemporary governmental efficiency and mid-Victorian charm. No one was around to quiz about the dates and history, so I let my imagination wander as I snapped these personal postcards.

Did Isabella post a few notes to her friends from this window?

Did Pansy receive some of her fan mail via one of these charmingly designed post office boxes?

Did someone from the Alden household purchase stamps here?

Did Pansy send her niece Grace to claim a package here?

Did this busy hive of cubbies shelter a stirring new work by a favorite author for Pansy to read sitting on a lakeside rustic bench?

How many newspapers passed through here to enlighten and entertain the 19th century crowd?

Discovering artistically elaborate fittings like these for something as pedestrian as mailboxes confirms my belief that Chautauqua’s ongoing commitment to enriching every aspect of life is more than lip service. Their original ideals of glorifying each element of one’s life—dedicating it to the Lord and ennobling the humblest of tasks—is inspiring and convicting.

Take a close look at the door frame of the Postmaster’s office. See the totally unnecessary but utterly beautiful detail there? Maybe it’s time for us to imitate those who recognized that every moment of our days, no matter how mundane, can be an opportunity to worship the Creator Who made all things beautiful?

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Finding my roots (and leaves and blossoms)

“The museum was not; it had not yet been evolved. Neither had the lovely hall. Where it stands was a grove…I dreamed out many a flower-strewn path leading to it…”
(Eighty-Seven)

As I left the Post Office, I admired the plaza’s beautiful flower beds, brimming with summer’s prettiest blooms.

The flowers reminded me of yesterday’s pilgrimage to The Hall in the Grove and some touchingly innocent 19th century floral-themed mosaics that wreathed the speaker’s platform, celebrating the C.L.S.C.’s earliest classes. Can you even imagine a contemporary co-ed reading circle allowing themselves to be dubbed “The Pansy Class”? Hardly.

I loved all these timeless tributes, but one class year stopped me in my tracks. There they were, my spiritual, cultural, and literary “ancestors”—the C.L.S.C. Class of 1884: “Irrepressibles.” While I obviously feel a deep kinship with all things Pansy, I must admit everything in me said “Yes!” as I stood, motionless, before this joyful declaration of literary enthusiasm.

So, this day, while I enjoyed the blaze of seasonal glory, I nodded a special ‘hello” to my new favorite flower, the confident, courageous lily. The buoyant Class of 1884 couldn’t have a better floral representation than the trumpet-shaped blossom that symbolically celebrates Christ’s promise of eternal life.

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Irrepressibly His, Karen.

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In her final Postcards guest post, Karen guides us on a walk through Chautauqua’s miniature Holy Land.

If you missed previous posts about Chautauqua Institution, you can read them by clicking on the links below:

Postcards from Chautauqua – On a Pilgrimage

Postcards from Chautauqua – Summer of 2017

A Tour of Chautauqua: Getting There

A Tour of Chautauqua: Strolling the Grounds

A Tour of Chautauqua: Where to Stay

A Tour of Chautauqua: Lectures and Classes

A Tour of Chautauqua: Having Fun

A Tour of Chautauqua: The Teachers’ Retreat

A Tour of Chautauqua: A Healthy Body

A Tour of Chautauqua: Palestine Park

100 Years Ago at Chautauqua

Postcards from Chautauqua: On a Pilgrimage

26 Jul

Karen Noske joins us again to share photos and descriptions of the Chautauqua landmarks she explored this summer, with Isabella Alden’s novels in mind. Welcome back, Karen!


My next objective was the Hall of Christ, as there was an archival lecture to be given momentarily on one of the most influential early religious leaders at Chautauqua, the renowned Shailer Mathews.

I imagined how Isabella might have felt, sitting in this arena, listening to contemporary reflections on the man whose influence changed the course of the Institute in so many ways.

The Hall of Christ, as it appears today.

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“The Hall of the Christ, is first of all, to stand in the center of Chautauqua to represent Christ as the center of all learning and all true living; the Key to the true and eternal wisdom…a Hall where Jesus Christ is enthroned; where only his story is allowed; told in print and picture and sculpture and the human voice. Isn’t it grand!”

(Four Mothers at Chautauqua)

The workmanlike interior of the unprepossessing Hall of Christ makes me wonder if there haven’t been many changes to it over the years.

The Hall of Christ as it appeared in 1909

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The general atmosphere is one of beneficent neglect and exhaustion. A magnificent organ dominates the stage—sadly, it was eclipsed by the speaker’s screen and I only got this tantalizing glimpse of it.

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Engrossing as the lecture was, I was glad to make my way out towards my next objective—the centerpiece of Chautauqua for Isabella and, as it turned out, for me.

The Hall in the Grove

Directly adjacent to the Hall of Christ is the cherished “Hall in the Grove.” I recognized it immediately by its prominence and its beauty:

“If you have up to this time been even a careless reader of this volume, you have doubtless discovered that the center of Chautauqua life was the ‘Hall in the Grove.’ A beautiful grove, with trees old enough and grand enough to be worthy of their baptismal name—”St Paul’s Grove.” White-pillared, simple, plain, yet suggestive of such a brilliant past and hinting of such a glorified future … this bit of green and white, with a glimmer of lake between.”

(The Hall in the Grove, page 286)

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The dedication plaque on the “Hall in the Grove” reads, “Erected in 1900 on the site of an earlier wooden hall placed here in 1879. This building was erected by the generous gifts of members of C.L.S.C. classes and other friends of Chautauqua.”

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A talk by the very popular Bill Moyers (of CBS News fame) was just finishing up, so I crept in around the edges and starting following the elaborate and beautiful mosaics that frame the lecture hall’s floor.

“All was quiet there. The sunset meeting which had been held in that white, still place was closed sometime since, and their feet, as they stepped on the floor, resounded throughout the vacant Hall.”

(The Hall in the Grove, page 240)

I was delighted to find the shield of Pansy’s Class of 1887 in a place of genuine honor—nestled around the corners of the lectern.

The lectern platform itself is still a modest affair, virtually unchanged since Pansy’s class approached to celebrate their graduation. Let’s join Paul Adams from The Hall in the Grove here:

“Arrived at the white, quiet building, he entered it with soft tread, and, under an impulse which he did not in the least understand, uncovered his head. He stepped softly onto the platform, drew the armchair, which was the seat of honor, forward a trifle, and settled himself in it. Then he brought up before him in review the many and varied and wonderful experiences which the weeks had brought him in connection with that spot … Then he got down from the professor’s chair and … after a silent last look at the Hall, he walked home with Joe, they two speaking words together that were better than marble columns or millions of money, for they represented manhood.”

(The Hall in the Grove, page 382)

In The Hall in the Grove, Isabella shares a peek into her heart:

“…the gleaming pillars of the Hall of Philosophy rose up before him; something in the purity and strength and quaintness seemed to have gotten possession of him. Whether it was a shadowy link between him and some ancient scholar or worshiper I cannot say … but treading the Chautauquan avenues for the first time … his young heart thrill[ed] with a hope and a determination, neither of which he understood, every time he saw those gleaming pillars.”

(The Hall in the Grove, page 198)

When Caroline Raynor (another character in The Hall in the Grove) objects to the Hall being made in the style of a Temple of Minerva, she is vigorously corrected by her soon-to-be suitor, Robert:

“I like it exceedingly. Let the beautiful white temple be rescued from its heathen desecration and dedicated to the service of the good and true God our Father, and his Son Jesus Christ.”

(page 204)

I passed an ancient oak near one of entrances that was garmented in ivy and wondered … if I parted the ivy, would I find a lichen-crusted carving in the tree reading “Vine, 22, 1887”? (EightySeven, page 12.)

I surely saw what Dr. Winter Kelland did when …

“he and Vine walked … around under the hill, and up the hill, and come out beside the white-pillared hall and stopped under one of the tallest trees, and looked about them, and were silent. Dr. Kelland took off his hat and looked up reverently to the very top of the tall tree, beyond the top, into the blue of heaven.”

(Eighty-Seven, page 318)

As I walked reluctantly away from the Hall, I looked up and felt sure I was seeing the same trees, the same sky, the same view Pansy enjoyed in Four Girls at Chautauqua:

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“None of all … who spent the day within the shadow of that sweet and leafy place have surely forgotten how the quaint and quiet beauty of the place and its surrounding fell upon them; they know just how the birds sang among those tall old trees; they know just how still and blue and clear the lake looked as they caught glimpses of it through the quivering green of myriad leaves …”

(Four Girls at Chautauqua, page 180)


Next time, Karen makes a little visit to the Chautauqua Post Office before trekking to the “Holy Land.”


If you missed previous posts about Chautauqua Institution, you can read them by clicking on the links below:

Postcards from Chautauqua – Summer of 2017

A Tour of Chautauqua: Getting There

A Tour of Chautauqua: Strolling the Grounds

A Tour of Chautauqua: Where to Stay

A Tour of Chautauqua: Lectures and Classes

A Tour of Chautauqua: Having Fun

A Tour of Chautauqua: The Teachers’ Retreat

A Tour of Chautauqua: A Healthy Body

A Tour of Chautauqua: Palestine Park

100 Years Ago at Chautauqua

Too Much of a Good Thing, and a New Free Read

19 Jul

Isabella Alden was very close to her sister Marcia, who married the Reverend Charles Livingston. For many years Isabella’s and Marcia’s families lived together under the same roof.

Isabella Alden (left) and her sister, Marcia Livingston in an undated photo.

Isabella Alden (left) and her sister, Marcia Livingston in an undated photo.

In the summer months the Aldens and the Livingstons traveled to Chautauqua, New York and shared a cottage on the grounds of the Chautauqua Institution.

In the winter they made the pilgrimage to Florida, where the two families lived in a large house in Winter Park.

The Alden house in Winter Park. From Winter Park Public Library archives.

The Alden house in Winter Park. (From Winter Park Public Library archives.)

Isabella’s son Raymond and Marcia’s daughter Grace attended Rollins College in Winter Park, and Grace went on to teach physical education classes there.

Grace Livingston Hill in her early twenties.

Grace Livingston Hill in her early twenties.

Before Grace took up her pen to write some of America’s most beloved novels under the name Grace Livingston Hill, she was one of the first teachers at Rollins College. She was also a true advocate for the “physical culture” movement that was sweeping the country at the time. She recognized the freedom it gave women to pursue physical health in a way they hadn’t been able to before. At Rollins she taught ladies’ classes in calisthenics, basketball, gymnastics, and fencing.

Grace Livingston (front and center) with her Greek Posture Class, about 1889.

Grace Livingston (front and center) with her Greek Posture Class, about 1889. (From Rollins College Archives.)

She also taught men’s classes in physical culture, such as fencing and Greek Posture:

Grace teaching a fencing class in 1890. (From the Rollins College Archives.)

Grace teaching a fencing class in 1890. (From the Rollins College Archives.)

 

Men's Greek Posture Class, about 1890. From Rollins College Archives.

Men’s Greek Posture Class, about 1890. (From Rollins College Archives.)

And when she wasn’t teaching at the college, she taught physical culture classes at the Florida Chautauqua.

An 1889 announcement from the Florida Chautauqua.

An 1889 announcement from the Florida Chautauqua.

Like her niece, Isabella appreciated the physical culture movement. She even featured the craze in one of her short stories, “Agatha’s Uknown Way.”

Image of the cover for Agatha's Unknown Way

And she wrote “Too Much of a Good Thing,” a story about how one young girl got so caught up in the physical culture craze, that she made life difficult for her entire family. You can read “Too Much of a Good Thing” for free below.

Would you like to learn more about Grace Livingston’s teaching years at Rollins College? Click this link to read a fun story about one of her biggest challenges at the school, and how she convinced the faculty to see things her way.

You can read Isabella’s short story, “Agatha’s Unknown Way” for free. Just click this link.

You can also read a previous post about the birth of gymnastics at Chatuauqua Institution.

Enjoy Isabella’s story, “Too Much of a Good Thing”:


Too Much of a Good Thing

Downstairs everyone was busy. Uncle Morris and his entire family, just from Europe, were coming by an earlier train than it had been expected they could take, and many last preparations for making them comfortable had still to be attended to.

Mrs. Evans had been up since daylight, planning, directing, and helping to the utmost that her small strength would admit.

Indeed, her eldest daughter Laura had constantly to watch, to save her mother from lifting something heavy, or reaching for something high. Often her clear voice could be heard with a “Oh, mother, don’t! Please—I’ll take care of that.” And often the gentle answer was:

“Dear child, you cannot do everything, though your will is strong enough. Where is Millie?”

“Millie has gone to sweep and dust the hall room; you know we didn’t think we should need that, and I used it as a sort of store room; but since Arthur is coming with them, we shall have to get it ready; and he will need to go at once to his room, since he is an invalid, so I sent Millie to put it in order. I told her just what to do, and she will manage it nicely. She must be nearly through now, and I’ll have her finish dusting here, so I can help you with those books; they are too heavy for you to handle.”

No, Millie wasn’t nearly through. In fact, she could hardly have been said to have commenced. The truth is, she had been thrown off the track. It was an old print which fell out of an, unused portfolio that did it. The print showed the picture of a girl in fun Greek costume, and reminded Millie of what was not long out of her mind, that in the coming Physical Culture entertainment she was to chess in a costume which was supposed to be after the Greek order.

“Let me see,” she said, bending over the print, “this girl has short sleeves and low neck. Why, the dress is almost precisely like the one which Laura wears with her lace over-dress; I might wear that. It would be too long, of course, but it could be hemmed up. I am almost sure Laura would let me have it; and with her white sash ribbon tied around my waist it would be just lovely. Then that would save buying anything new, and save mother any trouble. I mean to go this minute and try on the dress, before I say anything about it.”

Away dashed the Greek maiden to one of the guest chambers which Laura had left in perfect order, dragged from a seldom used drawer the elegant white mull dress with its lace belongings, all of which saw the light only on state occasions, and rushed back to the hall room again, where she had left the print she was trying to copy. In her haste, she dragged out with the dress various articles of the toilet. Laura’s white kid gloves which she wore when she graduated, a quantity of laces, and a handkerchief or two, to say nothing of sprays of dried flowers. These she trailed over the carpet, seeing nothing of them. The important thing in life just now was to get herself into that dress.

It was accomplished at last, not without a tiny tear having been made in the delicate stuff, but which Millie’s fingers were too eager to notice. She tied the white sash high up about her waist, after the fashion of the picture, seized the dust brush in one hand as if it were a dumb bell, or an Indian club, and struck a graceful attitude with her arm on the corner of the mantel.

“There!” she said, “I would like to have my picture taken in this dress; I have a very nice position now for it. I wish the girls were here to see me. Laura must let me wear this; it fits exactly. I don’t believe it is much too long for a Greek maiden. I should like to wear my dresses long; it must be great fun. I wonder if we couldn’t have our pictures taken in costume? I think it would be real nice; and our folks would each want to buy one. Perhaps we could make some money.”

There were hurried steps in the hall, and the Greek maiden’s musings were cut short. Laura came forward rapidly, talking as she
came.

“Millie, aren’t you through here? You have had plenty of time, and mother needs your help right away. Hurry down just as quickly as you can; she is over-doing, and it is growing late; the carriage may come any minute now. Why, Millie Evans!”

She stopped in amazement, for the Greek maiden was still posing. She smiled graciously and said: “Don’t I look fine? I borrowed it a minute to see if it will do to wear to the entertainment. It is just the thing, isn’t it? You will lend it to me, won’t you? Just for one evening? I’ll be awfully careful of it.”

“And you have been to that drawer where all the nice things are packed, and dragged them out! There is one of my white gloves under your feet, and my only lace handkerchief keeping it company! I must say, Millie Evans, you deserve to be punished. Here we are trying our best to get ready for company, and keep mother from getting too tired, and you neglect your work to rig up like a circus girl; and go to a drawer which you have no right to open. I shall certainly tell father of this.”

The Greek maiden’s cheeks were in an unbecoming blaze. Laura was hurried and tired, and spoke with more severity than was her custom. It certainly was trying to find the room in disorder, and her best dress in danger.

“Take care,” she said, as Millie’s frantic efforts to get it off put it in greater danger. “Don’t quite ruin that dress. Indeed you shall not wear it. I am astonished at you for thinking of such a thing; when father hears what you have been doing, I doubt if you will need a dress for the entertainment.”

Then Millie lost all self control. “You are a hateful, selfish thing!” she burst forth. “Take your old dress; I don’t want to wear it; and I won’t be ordered about by you as though you were my grandmother. I’m nearly fourteen, and you have no right to manage me. I’ll just tell father myself that I—”

“What is all this?” Mr. Evans’ voice was sternness itself, and he looked at the girl with blazing cheeks, in a way that made her angry eyes droop.

“What does it mean, Millicent? I heard you using very unbecoming language to your sister, and to judge from your appearance you have been about some very inappropriate work.”

“Well, father, Laura burst in here and—”

“Never mind what Laura did, Millicent. Unfortunately for you, I know which daughter tries to care for and spare her sick mother in every possible way. I overheard enough to show me which one is to blame. Laura may tell me what is the trouble, and you may listen.”

But Laura was already sorry that she had spoken so sharply, and tried to soften the story as much as truth would permit.

“Her mind is so full of the Physical Culture entertainment, father, that she does not stop to think. I know she did not mean to hinder and make trouble.”

“I see,” said Mr. Evans, speaking grimly. “I have heard a good deal about this Physical Culture business. If everyone is as much carried out of common sense by it as our Millicent is, I should say it was high time to have some moral culture. Millicent, you may put yourself into a suitable dress for sweeping, and do the work you were sent to do, at once; and you will not need to think any more about a dress for the entertainment, for you are to be excused from attending it. You may tell your teacher that I said so.”

Poor Millie! The hall bedroom floor might almost have been washed, if that were desirable, with the tears she shed. No hope had she of any change of mind on her father’s part. He rarely interfered with his children, but when he did, his word was law.

And poor Laura! She went downstairs heavy-hearted and miserable. Why had Millie been so silly, and why had she allowed her vexation to make matters worse?

The poor frail mother actually cried when she heard of Millie’s disappointment. “Yet I really cannot ask her father not to notice it,” she said sorrowfully. “Millie has been so remiss in her duties for weeks, all on account of the hold which that Physical Culture craze has upon her. It is too much of a good thing. I am afraid her father is doing right.”

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The Edison Connection

5 Apr

In the summer of 1885 inventor Thomas Alva Edison was a rock star in American culture.

An 1899 advertising poster for Edison's Concert Phonograph.

An 1899 advertising poster for Edison’s Concert Phonograph.

Americans admired his intelligence and strong work ethic. They revered him for inventing products that made the average American’s life easier and more enjoyable.

Advertising trade card for the Edison phonograph ca. 1910

Advertising trade card for the Edison phonograph ca. 1910

He was affectionately called “The Wizard;” reporters and photographers followed him wherever he went; and authors wrote imaginative stories endowing Edison with cartoon-like super-hero powers (at the bottom of this post you can read an example).

Advertising card for Edison's Vitascope motion picture process, 1897.

Advertising card for Edison’s Vitascope motion picture process, 1897.

In the summer of 1885 Edison was 38 years old. He was touring Mount Washington, New Hampshire with a party of friends, when a reporter asked him for a quote for his newspaper.

Thomas Edison, ca. 1880.

Thomas Edison, ca. 1880.

This was not an unusual occurrence; reporters were used to Edison spontaneously offering up heady scientific thoughts or pithy quotes for them to print.

Edison Quote Abstinence

But on this particular day, Edison took the newspaper reporter’s pencil and pad and wrote on it:

Miss Mina Miller of Akron, the most beautiful woman in Ohio, is today a guest of Mount Washington.

It was a stunning revelation: The Wizard of Menlo Park—known for being so focused on his work that he usually slept in his laboratory rather than going home to his family—had a romantic streak! But who was Mina Miller?

Mina Miller about the time of her marriage to Thomas Edison in 1886 when she was 20 years old.

Mina Miller about the time of her marriage to Thomas Edison in 1886 when she was 20 years old.

Mina Miller was the 19 year old daughter of Lewis Miller, co-founder of the Chautauqua Institution and an inventor himself. He had made a fortune designing and manufacturing farm equipment.

Lewis Miller, inventor and co-founder of the Chautauqua Institution.

Lewis Miller, inventor and co-founder of the Chautauqua Institution.

That summer Mina was one of Edison’s party touring Mount Washington. She had just graduated from a ladies’ boarding school in Boston and was pursuing her music studies when she met Edison through an introduction in a mutual friend’s drawing room. Edison fell instantly in love.

Mina Miller Edison, about 1906

Mina Miller Edison, about 1906

A widower, Edison had been married before to Mary Stillwell, a young woman who worked in his laboratory. An 1896 article in a Louisiana newspaper described his courtship of Mary:

Opelousas Courier 1896

While Edison’s first marriage may have had a very practical beginning, his second marriage was undoubtedly a love match.

Edison himself joked that he was so distracted by thoughts of Mina, he was almost run over by a street car. When Mina and the rest of the Miller family removed to Chautauqua Institution for the summer, Edison followed, determined to win Mina’s heart and the good opinion of her parents.

He taught her Morse Code so they could converse privately when other people were around. It was while they were riding in a motor car with friends that Edison tapped out his marriage proposal on the palm of Mina’s hand. She tapped out her acceptance.

Mina and Thomas Edison in their locomobile

Mina and Thomas Edison in their locomobile

Six months later they were married in Mina’s home in Akron, Ohio. Newspapers of the time described every detail, from the cost of the floral decorations, to a description of the extravagant wedding gifts they received.

Headline wedding

America embraced the new Mrs. Edison with the same spirit in which they admired Thomas Edison. Newspapers described her as “young and fine looking,” “vivacious,” “brilliant,” and “sweet.”

Edison proved to be a thoughtful and attentive husband, even though he still worked long hours on his inventions and many business endeavors. He built Mina a new home, which they named Glenmont. Mina decorated the home with exquisite taste and filled the rooms with music and friends.

Glenmont, the Edison's home in West Orange, New Jersey.

Glenmont, the Edison’s home in West Orange, New Jersey.

Because her father was a noted inventor, Mina knew the peculiarities of living with someone who worked when inspiration struck. When her husband spent whole days and nights at a time in his laboratory, Mina didn’t complain; instead, she slept on a cot near his workbench so she could be with him.

Thomas Alva Edison in his laboratory.

Thomas Alva Edison in his laboratory.

She was active in the Temperance Movement, and served on committees, councils, and boards for charities and civic causes.

Eleanor Roosevelt (third from left) and Mina Miller (far right) in 1934. They worked together on charitable endeavors.

Eleanor Roosevelt (third from left) and Mina Miller Edison (far right) in 1934. They worked together on charitable endeavors.

Mina also succeeded in one area where many others failed: She got Thomas Edison to take time off from his work and relax. They were frequent visitors to Chautauqua, and often stayed at the Miller cottage. They invited friends to stay with them, and entertained Henry Ford and his wife on a number of occasions.

Henry Ford and Thomas Edison in the garden behind Miller Cottage, 1929.

Henry Ford and Thomas Edison in the garden behind Miller Cottage, 1929.

Edison, who never went to college, joined the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle, and was a member of the “Edison Class” of 1930. No mention was made in the press about whether Mr. Edison walked with his class on Recognition Day.

C.L.S.C. banner for the Edison Class of 1930.

C.L.S.C. banner for the Edison Class of 1930.

The Edison’s happy marriage lasted 45 years until Thomas Edison’s death in 1931. Mina died in 1947.

Thomas Edison in 1913.

Thomas Edison in 1913.

 

Mina Miller Edison in her later years.

Mina Miller Edison in her later years.

They are buried side-by-side at Glenmont (now a property of the National Park Service), where thousands of people visit to pay their respects to the Wizard of Menlo Park and his brilliant wife.

Mina Miller Edison and Thomas Edison

Mina Miller Edison and Thomas Edison


Would you like to read more about Mina Miller Edison? Click here to visit EdisonMuckers.org. Be sure to scroll to the end of the post where you can see some of the Edison family recipes. You can also download a very nice biography of Mina Miller Edison by John D. Venable that contains several seldom-seen photographs.

You can also learn more about Glenmont, the Edison’s home in New Jersey by following these links:
EdisonMuckers.org
ThomasEdison.org

Here’s an example of some of the popular fiction written around the turn of the century featuring Thomas Edison in the story. Follow these links to read the 1898 serial, “Edison’s Conquest of Mars.”

Chapters 1 and 2

Chapters 3 through 5

Chapters 6 through 8

Chapters 9 and 10

Chapters 11 through 13

Chapters 14 through 16

Chapters 17 and 18

Chapters 19 and 21

Chapters 22 and 23

Chapters 24 and 25

New Free Read: The Chautauquans

22 Mar
Bishop John Heyl Vincent

Bishop John Heyl Vincent

John Heyl Vincent co-founded Chautauqua Institution based on one over-riding theory:

Life is one. Religion belongs everywhere. Our people, young and old, should consider educational advantages as religious opportunities.

With this in mind, he set out to prove that education was the right—and the responsibility—of all people, not just the privileged few. To Bishop Vincent, no man had the right to neglect his personal education “whether he be prince or ploughboy, broker or hod-carrier.”

He created the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle (“C. L. S. C.”) as a means of bringing education to people, thereby eliminating geography or personal circumstance as barriers to learning. And he made it easy and inexpensive for people to form C. L. S. C. “circles” in their own towns. Circles popped up across the country in every possible venue: house, shop, farm and market; anyplace people could gather to exchange curriculum books and discuss what they’d read.

One of those C. L. S. C. members was author John Habberton. He was a popular writer in the late 1800s, most famous for his children’s book, Helen’s Babies. He was a frequent visitor to Chautauqua Institution and served as president of the C. L. S. C. class of 1894.

Helen's Babies by John Habberton (1899 edition)

Helen’s Babies by John Habberton (1899 edition)

Like Isabella Alden, he was inspired by the Chautauqua ideal; he knew from experience the good that resulted from the C. L. S. C. curriculum. And like Isabella, he wrote a book about his experiences.

Cover The ChautauquansHis novel The Chautauquans tells the story of the residents in a small town who come together to form their own C. L. S. C. chapter. It’s a charming story you can read for free. Just click on the book cover to start reading.

You can also find out more about Bishop John Vincent’s ideas that inspired the creation of Chautauqua Institution and the C. L. S. C. His book The Chautauqua Movement is available for free on Google Books. Click on this link to read it.

 

Good-bye to the Chautauqua Amphitheater

15 Mar

For over 130 years the Amphitheater has been the centerpiece of Chautauqua Institution.

The existing Amphitheater as it appeared about 1915

The existing Amphitheater as it appeared about 1915

From its humble beginnings as a simple speaker platform, the Amphitheater has evolved and expanded as Chautauqua Institution grew.

The original 1874 speaker's platform (ciweb.org).

The original 1874 speaker’s platform (ciweb.org).

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Black and white photograph of men and women seated in the Auditoriam amid the trees

An early gathering at the original Chautauqua Auditorium under the trees

When Chautauqua’s leaders built the current Amphitheater in 1893, they designed it to last 100 years. It certainly has done just that, but not without some trouble along the way.

In just the last twenty years alone, the Amphitheater has undergone major renovations to update the electrical capacity for lighting and sound, repairs to the foundation and roof, and the addition of accessible ramps for the disabled, all requirement which could not be envisioned when the original structure was built.

You can click on the illustration below to see a timeline of the Amphitheater’s history and changes over time:

Click on the image to view a timeline of the Amphitheater's history

Every repair and update was a challenge. Chautauqua Institution’s leadership has long tried to balance the needs of a modern age with a desire to preserve the much-loved character of the structure. But, section by section, the Amphitheater has been torn down and rebuilt again and again over the years.

Filled to capacity; a view of the stage from the back of the Amphitheater, 1913.

Filled to capacity; a view of the stage from the back of the Amphitheater, 1913.

Last year, Chautauqua Institution’s governing board at last cried “uncle” and determined that no amount of updates and renovations could prepare the existing Amphitheater for the needs of current and future generations of Chautauquans.

So in last December Chautauqua Institution announced a major remodel of the Amphitheater.

An artist's rendering of the new Amphitheater, looking toward the stage from the rear of the building

An artist’s rendering of how the new Amphitheater will look, viewing the stage from the rear of the structure. (www.ciweb.org)

Construction has already begun on the grounds surrounding the Amphitheater. This fall, after the 2016 season has closed, the existing Amphitheater will be thoroughly remodeled and updated. Essentially, a brand new structure will be built. If all goes according to plans, the new Amphitheater will be completed in time for the 2017 summer season.

An artist's rendering of the view from the stage toward the rear of the structure. (www.ciweb.org)

An artist’s rendering of the view from the stage toward the rear of the structure. (www.ciweb.org)

You can see all the artist’s renderings of the new Amphitheater design by clicking here.

If you’ve ever thought about visiting Chautauqua Institution to see the Amphitheater and the incredible Massey Memorial Organ as Isabella Alden once saw them, 2016 will be the last year you will be able to do so.

Some people are saddened by the change. It’s the end of an era, but the beginning of a beautiful future for Chautauqua Institution’s Amphitheater.

The Chautauqua Salute … Part 2

12 Aug

There’s no question that Chautauqua Institution had far-reaching influence over the people who attended the summer assemblies at the turn of the Twentieth Century. But one of Chautauqua’s traditions—the Chautauqua salute—transcended the Institution grounds and became popular across the country.

An 1880 drawing of the Chautauqua Salute by Joseph Becker.

An 1880 drawing of the Chautauqua Salute by Joseph Becker.

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You may have read in a previous post how the Chautauqua salute came to be, and how it was used as a gesture of respect and affection for special speakers and instructors at Chautauqua. In that venue, only Bishop John Vincent could initiate the Chautauqua salute.

But outside the Institution, in towns and villages across America, the Chautauqua salute caught on and became something of a sensation.

Francis Edward Clark

Francis Edward Clark

At the 1897 Society of Christian Endeavor convention in San Francisco there were so many attendees, the newspaper reported that Christian Endeavorers had “conquered the city.” And when Christian Endeavor President Francis Edward Clark tried to address the convention, the crowd gave him a Chautauqua salute that lasted several minutes.

When President Theodore Roosevelt arrived in Tacoma, Washington he was greeted by a crowd of 30,000 people waving their handkerchiefs in a Chautauqua salute.

Tacoma Times Oct 4 1913 headline

But American’s didn’t reserve the Chautauqua salute only for respected speakers and past U.S. Presidents. The Los Angeles Herald society page reported on a surprise birthday party for a man named Howard L. Lunt, where “the Chautauqua salute and congratulations” began the program, followed by “dainty refreshments.”

Another 1904 news article told of a group of Christian Scientists who gave the Chautauqua salute to Mary Baker Eddy … who didn’t seem to appreciate the gesture.

Spokane Press WA Jun 13 1904

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And a Colorado newspaper reported baseball fans used the Chautauqua salute to cheer for their team after neighbors near the playing field complained about the noise during Sunday games.

image_681x648

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Not everyone thought giving the Chautauqua salute was a good idea. By 1912 the U.S. Public Health Service (the precursor of today’s U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) began warning the public of increased health concerns caused by crowds of people waving handkerchiefs.

Fulton County News PA Jan 15 1912

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For the most part, Americans ignored the warnings and kept enthusiastically fluttering their handkerchiefs, sometimes with comic results:

Daily Arizona Silver Belt July 12 1902

Tacoma Times Oct 4 1913

Chautauqua’s Hall of Philosophy

7 Aug

Isabella Alden considered The Hall of Philosophy one of the most beloved locations at Chautauqua Institution.

The Hall of Philosophy, viewed from the side

The Hall of Philosophy, viewed from the side

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The Hall of Philosophy—sometimes called the Hall in the Grove because of its location in idyllic St. Paul’s Grove—was an open-air structure that sat under a canopy of trees that shaded and cooled the Hall during the hot summer months. It was a favorite gathering place for Chautauquans, even when no lectures were held there.

The view from the top of the steps of the Hall of Philosophy; photo courtesy of TripAdvisor.com

A modern view from the top of the steps of the Hall of Philosophy; photo courtesy of TripAdvisor.com

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If you were a Chautauqua visitor, you could stand at the edge of the Hall of Philosophy and look out upon different views of the grounds. From one vantage point, you’d see the Hall of Christ and the spires of the different denominational chapels.

Chapel-Episcopal

The Episcopal Chapel at Chautauqua Institution.

Presbyterian Headquarters building at Chautauqua Institution

Presbyterian Headquarters building at Chautauqua Institution

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From another direction you’d see gingerbread-trimmed cottages and inviting expanses of green lawns.

The Colonnade Cottages, 1908.

The Colonnade Cottages, 1908.

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The original Hall of Philosophy was designed by Bishop John Vincent for the Christian Literary and Scientific Circle (C.L.S.C.). Twenty years later, when it was discovered the building needed to be replaced in order to last for future generations, the C.L.S.C. lead a fund-raising campaign and raised the money needed to erect a new Hall of Philosophy in the same location.

 

When the new concrete floor was poured in 1905, it included 51 different mosaic tiles, each designed by a different C.L.S.C. class, beginning with the class of 1882 (the first class) and ending with the class of 1924. Each tile depicts the class year, name and logo.

The floor plan of the Hall of Philosophy showing the position of the individual CLSC class tiles.

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For instance, the first C.L.S.C. class of 1882 was called “The Pathfinders.” Their emblem was the nasturtium and their motto was “The truth shall make you free.”

The class of 1915 adopted the name “Jane Addams” and used the American laurel as their emblem. Their motto: “Life more abundant.”

The mosaic tile for the 1915 CLSC class; photo courtesy of TextileFusion.com

The mosaic tile for the 1915 CLSC class; photo courtesy of TextileFusion.com

Class Tile 1903 from The Chautauquan Vol 72

Class Tile 1908 from The Chautauquan Vol 72

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Isabella Alden was a member of the 1887 class; her fellow classmates honored her by naming their class the Pansy Class. They used the pansy flower as their emblem and “Neglect not the gift that is in thee” as their motto.

Cover of The Hall in the GroveIsabella paid tribute to the Hall of Philosophy and her own experience with the C.L.S.C. in her novel The Hall in the Grove. The story centers around a diverse group of people who each spend a summer at Chautauqua for different reasons—and each end the summer changed by their experience. The Hall of Philosophy is almost another character in Isabella’s story, for it plays a prominent role in the different characters’ spiritual journeys. (You can click on the book cover to learn more about the novel.)

Thanks to the determination and rallying spirit of the members of the C.L.S.C. the Hall of Philosophy was rebuilt, and is still in use today.

This short video by Chautauqua Institution gives a brief history of the Hall of Philosophy and shows some examples of the C.L.S.C. class tiles:

 

The Heroine of the Temperance Cause

31 Jul

Isabella Alden was a great campaigner for the temperance movement. She had seen for herself the consequences of an unregulated alcohol industry. Alcoholic drinks in her time were often far more potent than commercial beer, wine and distilled liquor we’re used to today, making them much more addictive. Sometimes alcoholic beverages were laced with other substances, like cocaine; and alcohol was openly marketed to children.

This short video by documentary film maker Ken Burns describes the influence of  liquor on America at the turn of the Twentieth Century.

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Isabella’s dear friend Theodosia Toll Foster (whose nom de plume was Faye Huntington) was another tireless worker for the cause of temperance. Many of her novels were written for publication by the National Temperance Society and described the impact of alcoholism on the lives of individuals and communities.

Cover_John Remington MartyrAnd in her own books, Isabella often wove stories around the impact alcoholism had on families. She and her sister Marcia Livingston co-authored the novel, John Remington, Martyr, which chronicled one man’s efforts to fight the power of the alcohol industry and its hold on society.

Isabella, Theodosia and Marcia, as well as Marcia’s daughter, Grace Livingston Hill, were active members of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. The W.C.T.U. began in 1874 as a “crusade” of 208 dedicated temperance workers.

The Baptist Church in Fredonia, NY. Here on December 15, 1873 208 crusaders met and organized the Women's Christian Temperance Union

The Baptist Church in Fredonia, NY. Here on December 15, 1873 208 crusaders met and organized the Women’s Christian Temperance Union

When Frances Willard was named the W.C.T.U.’s president in 1879, she inherited an organization comprised of several autonomous chapters with no unified action plan to achieve the group’s goal of reforming the distribution and sale of alcohol in America.

Up to that point, the organization was known for it crusades—bands of women visiting local saloons to pray and ask saloonkeepers to close their doors and stop selling spirits. For the most part, they were seen as teetotaling moral zealots.

An 1874 illustration of crusaders

An 1874 illustration of crusaders

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Frances Willard had a different vision for the organization. By profession she was a teacher. She was educated, dynamic, and persuasive; she used those talents to redefine the W.C.T.U. Knowing that America’s high rate of alcoholism was directly related to crime, sexual assault, poverty, and domestic violence, she redirected the organization to focus on social reform and political activism.

Frances Willard in an undated photo

Frances Willard in an undated photo

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She formed alliances with politicians, instilled a sense of sisterhood in W.C.T.U. members, and cultivated powerful and influential allies.

W.C.T.U. card from about 1912

W.C.T.U. card from about 1912

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Lewis Miller, co-founder of Chautauqua Institution and a multi-millionaire industrialist, was a staunch supporter of the W.C.T.U.; his wife Mary was one of the first members of the Ohio W.C.T.U., a well-organized and militant branch of the organization.

Mina Miller at about age 19

Mina Miller at about age 19

Their daughter Mina recalled how her mother, with other “dauntless women” visited saloons and pleaded with the male proprietors to close their doors. They were often subjected to insults and even had buckets of water thrown on them.

After Mina Miller married Thomas Edison, the great American inventor, she used her influence as “Mrs. Edison” to further the W.C.T.U.’s programs.

And what programs they were! W.C.T.U. members developed and taught temperance lessons to children in Sunday schools and visited drunkards in prison. They lobbied for free public kindergartens and prison reform. By 1889 W.C.T.U. chapters were operating nurseries, Sunday schools, homeless shelters, and homes for fallen women. Members supported labor reform, suffrage, disarmament, and the eight-hour work day.

The W.C.T.U. Marching Song

The W.C.T.U. Marching Song

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Isabella often wrote about the activities of the W.C.T.U. in her books. Most striking was her novel One Commonplace Day. In that story, a group of people come together on their own to help one family overcome the effects of alcoholism; and they employ many of the  W.C.T.U. methods to do so.

W.C.T.U. headquarters building at Chautauqua Institution, New York

W.C.T.U. headquarters building at Chautauqua Institution, New York

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Isabella and Frances Willard often lectured together, speaking before different chapters of the Sunday School Assembly and at regional Chautauqua locations.

Statue of Frances Willard in the United States Capital, Washington D.C.

Statue of Frances Willard in the United States Capital, Washington D.C.

By the time Frances Willard passed away in 1898 the W.C.T.U. was an acknowledged political and social force in the United States. Under her leadership the organization united women from varied backgrounds, educated them and empowered them to form one of the strongest and most influential women’s organizations in American history.

In 1905 a statue of Frances Willard was erected in National Statuary Hall at the United States Capital in Washington D.C. Her statue was the first honoring a woman to be chosen for the National Statuary Hall Collection.


Would you like to learn more about Frances Willard and the W.C.T.U.? Click here to visit the organization’s website.

Click on this link to read more about the statue of Frances Willard in Statuary Hall at the United States Capital.

Grace Livingston Hill wrote a short biography of Frances Willard’s early years. Click here to read her 1909 article.

You can watch the full 90-minute Ken Burns documentary “A Nation of Drunkards” here:

The Hall in the Grove

Author of Classic Christian Fiction

Isabella Alden

Author of Classic Christian Fiction

Author Jenny Berlin

Stories that take you home

Britt Reads Fiction

Reviews and giveaways for Christian fiction. Bringing readers information on great stories and connecting authors with their readers.

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