A Letter from Chautauqua

Isabella’s novels about Chautauqua Institution inspired adults from across the country (and around the world) to attend the summer assembly in New York.

But children also dreamed of going. In 1883 Isabella received a letter from a twelve-year-old girl named Faith who made an unexpected trip to Chautauqua. Faith’s letter to Isabella was reprinted in an 1883 issue of The Pansy magazine. You can read Faith’s enthusiastic account of her summer below:

Chautauqua, Aug. 1, 1883.

DEAR READERS: A wonderful thing has happened to me! It will do to put in that long list of modern events that I had so much trouble remembering in my history lesson. I am quite sure I shall remember this one, though, as long as I live.

I wanted to go to Chautauqua, and here I am!

I talked about it, and dreamed about it, but all the time I thought it was of no use, for mamma said she didn’t know as we could ever afford to go. I put it among the things, though, that I meant to do some time, when I grew up. I thought it would be years and years first, but don’t you think, that very night, Uncle John and Auntie May came. They were on their way to Chautauqua. Almost the first thing Uncle John said to me was, “Come, Faithie, pack your trunk, we are going to carry you off with us.”

I thought it was only some of his jokes, but after tea, when we all sat on the piazza together, Uncle John began to coax mamma in real earnest to let me go. Mamma said that a little girl only twelve years old was too young to go away from her mother, but Auntie May said she would take the best possible care of me, and Uncle John said I would have a real good time, and it shouldn’t cost me a cent, and it was a pity if they couldn’t borrow a child once in a while, when they had none of their own.

Papa hadn’t spoken yet. He looked at me and he saw that my eyes were saying, “Please, please, do let me go!” Then he said to mamma, “Suppose we let her go. It will do the child good.”

Mamma said then that she would think about it, and decide by morning.

I almost knew before I went to bed that I was going, for mamma said two or three times, “If you go, you will do so and so.” Then she came into my room and looked my clothes over, and said, “If you go, you can take the smallest trunk. Let me see, there is your white dress, and your gingham, and your black and white check. The one you have on, with your brown hat and sack, will do nicely for travelling. You can put your best hat in the trunk.”

I had on my brown cashmere skirt, and white waist, and I thought myself I would look nice, with my brown sacque and hat, with a clean linen collar. I was glad I happened to have a brown hair ribbon, too.

I couldn’t get asleep very soon that night, and when I did I dreamed that Chautauqua was at the top of a high, steep hill, and I was trying to climb up, but every step I took I fell back two or three. It wasn’t true at all, though. Chautauqua is not on such a very high hill, and I did not have a hard time getting here.

Mamma said “yes” in the morning, without any ifs and ands, except that I had to promise to wear my rubbers when it was damp, and carry my umbrella when it looked like rain, and not go out on the lake, and do just as Auntie May told me.

The only bad thing about getting here was saying good-by. I didn’t think I would feel bad, going away for just a little while, but the minute I kissed mamma, I felt as if I were going to choke. I was determined not to cry, so I never said good-by at all. I was afraid after I got started mamma would think I did not care anything at all about leaving her.

Where shall I begin to tell you about this wonderful, beautiful place?

Chautauqua is just ten years old. Yes, ten years ago this was just like any other piece of woods on the shore of a lake. Now, it is a large, beautiful grove, the underbrush is all cleared away, and streets and avenues wind in and out among the tall old trees. There are pretty cottages—whole streets of them—and there are white tents sprinkled about, fixed out with red curtains, and lace curtains, and hanging-baskets, too pretty for anything.

A row of four tents set up in a clearing, with small houses in the background. A woman stands in the opening of the first tent; a wooden chair is beside her. Families pose at the openings of the other tents.
Chautauqua tents and cottages, 1910

A great, handsome hotel stands not far from the lake, and the lawn, sloping down to the water, looks as if it were covered with green velvet.

Hotel Athenaeum, 1908

The pretty blue lake is smuggled into green woodsey shores, and steamboats are coming and going all the time; then there are row boats and sail boats flitting about.

Row boats for rent on the shore of Lake Chautauqua, as a steamer docks at Chautauqua.

Whichever way you look you see people dodging here and there behind the trees. It looks as if all the grown folks were playing live. I like it. I wish they would do so always, and I don’t see why they can’t go on doing these pretty things when they get home. Life wouldn’t be half so dull if we could always get up, and go to bed, and go to dinner, at the sound of a chime of bells, and hear the grand organ every morning rolling through the air, and great burst of song coming through the trees. Why, it seems half the time as if I was one of the people in a lovely poem. Then, don’t you think the robins hop right about the door, great, lovely robins, and cunning little squirrels chase each other up and down the tree trunks.

A group of small children play in the grace near the lake shore. A couple sits on a wooden bench, looking about upon the lake, where there are sail boats, row boats and a steamer.

To think of my seeing robins and squirrels so near by! But I suppose you have met those delightful people scampering and flying about at your own house this summer, so I needn’t take up room telling you about them.

The people are not all playing, though it might look so. Almost everybody is studying something. There are classes in French, and German, and Latin, English literature, music, clay modeling, drawing, and ever so many other things.

A group of about thirty girls sit on the grass. Each girl weaves a holds a length of straw or small
A girl’s class in basket making at Chautauqua.

Uncle John says I may take drawing lessons.

Lectures and concerts are going on in the great amphitheatre nearly all the time. The amphitheatre is such a place as you never saw in your life. Let me see if I can make you understand just how it is. It is just as if the water was all dipped out of Simmon’s pond, a floor laid in the bottom, making a room as large is three or four churches, in one. Then imagine the sides of the pond, made hard and smooth, sloping down to this floor and filled with seats beginning low and going, one above another, up, up to the very top. There are aisles every little way from top to bottom (it’s the greatest fun to scud down them when all the people are away.)

Photo of the inside of the amphitheatre, a large wood structure with a stage at one end with about 12 rows of raised seating behind. The floor and 3 remaining sides of the theatre are filled with rows of wooden benches.

At one end of the great room is a high platform for speakers, and back of it and higher up still, is the orchestra with a beautiful organ.

Photo of the amphitheatre stage. In the middle is an elevated platform for the organist and three large banks of organ pipes.
The Massey Memorial Organ, 1908.

This alone is large enough to hold a thousand people. It is a great sight to sit up there evenings, when the electric light makes it all as light as day and lighter, too—and see the audience. Every seat filled; six or seven thousand people making a huge half circle about the platform; then the red and blue and pink and green and white and black dresses, and shawls and ribbons and feathers and fans is just wonderful; it all looks like a very big bouquet—at least, that is the way it looked to me; but I am beginning to think that people see everything with different eyes. I heard Auntie May ask Uncle John if it did not make him think of that verse in Revelations, xx. “So a great multitude which no man could number, of all nations and kindreds and people, and tongues, stood before the throne and before the Lamb.” And Uncle John said he wondered if God saw the seal in the foreheads of all this company.

A view of the Amphitheatre from the stage in 1937.

It certainly seems as if we had got somewhere away from this world, at night, when the electric light streams far out and lights up the trees and cottages so beautifully.

I saw a lovely picture when I came home last night, only it was not painted and hung up, it was a live picture. It was a cunning little white tent with a light like sunshine on it. The red curtain was parted in front, the shadows of the leaves danced over it, and on the porch sat two pretty ladies, leaning back in their rocking-chairs resting.

It’s queer about things, isn’t it? If a great artist were to paint that and put it in a gallery how all the people would run to see it. Why don’t they gather round and wonder over pretty pictures before they are made up is what I would like to know.

Here I have written a long letter, and I have not told you yet how Chautauqua came to be. The man who thought it out and got it up, is Dr. Vincent. He and some of his friends came here one summer to study the Bible together in quiet. They thought it was a nice place, so they decided to hold a Sabbath-school assembly here the next year; from that it grew and grew to this great grand Chautauqua, where for six weeks in summer you can study anything, I think, from cooking up to all the ‘ologies and philosophies and dead languages and live languages that ever were heard of in the world, though the Bible is the chief book studied, by some of the people at least. Such grand lectures as I have been to!— not dry a bit. All the great orators speak in Chautauqua. Then the concerts, with all sorts of instruments and beautiful choruses and lovely solos. Oh, I tell you,  I’m having a good time!

The Chautauqua Regional Chorus performs at the Amphitheatre.

Uncle John says Dr. Vincent is a genius, and that the day will come when this will be a great university open the year round.

If you have any patience left after you read this, write to me, and if you want to hear more about Chautauqua I will write it, for there are whole books-full left.

Your loving friend,

Faith.

Pansy Approved Bicycles

Did you know Chautauqua Institution had its own commercial printing office? It produced brochures, maps of the grounds, programmes, daily schedules, and a newspaper called The Chautauqua Assembly Herald.

Published six days a week, The Chautauqua Assembly Herald filled eight to ten pages of every issue with news about Chautauqua, including the comings and goings of some of its residents and visitors.

On July 24, 1895 one of the newspaper’s reporters spotted Isabella’s familiar face at a concert in Chautauqua’s amphitheater:

Pansy’s placid, pleasant face was seen in the veritable sea of faces at the concert in Chautauqua’s amphitheater Wednesday. From her very looks one would judge Mrs. Alden as a woman who loves little people, even if one had never heard of the famous Pansy books.

Naturally, the reporter sought Isabella out as soon as the concert was over, and asked about her summer plans and whether she was writing anything special. Isabella confirmed she was indeed working on a story, and added:

“All of my stories, you know, are published in serial form in my magazine before they are put out in book form. My magazine work occupies most of my time.”

“For the past 19 years we have spent every summer at Chautauqua. We have our summer home here, but for many years past I have had to give up my Assembly work. I am much interested, however, in the Woman’s Club here.”

Knowing the Woman’s Club was to meet the next day, the reporter asked Isabella if she was going to read a new, unpublished story to club members.

“It is a story which not only has not been published, but which is not yet all written,” replied Pansy smiling.

Their conversation drifted into other topics, including an observation about the new phenomenon of women using bicycles as a means of getting around Chautauqua.

Studio photograph from late 1890s of young woman posed beside her bicycle. She is wearing a long dark dress with long sleeves and a high collar, and a bonnet.

Progressive-thinking Isabella had no problem with the new “wheelwomen” (as lady cyclists were called in 1895):

“I think the bicycle must offer a pleasant, healthful form of recreation to women, but I do like to see them dress inconspicuously and neatly when riding, and I do not like to see them wear bloomers.”

Photograph dated 1912 of woman standing beside her bicycle. She is wearing a long skirt, long-sleeved shirt with high collar, and a bonnet.

Any guesses which story Isabella was writing and publishing as a serial in The Pansy magazine during the summer of 1895?

It was Reuben’s Hindrances! Chapter eight of Reuben’s Hindrances appeared in the July 1895 issue of The Pansy; monthly installments continued into 1896 until all twenty-four chapters appeared in the magazine.

Reverend Alden Opens Chautauqua

Since it first opened in 1874 Chautauqua Institution has been an important part of people’s lives, and that was true of the Alden family. We can’t know exactly when Isabella and Reverend Alden first became involved with Chautauqua, but we do know that within one year of the assembly’s opening, the Aldens owned a cottage on the grounds.

1875 photo of Isabella, her husband and son seated on a wooden porch of a house. Behind them are seated Isabella's mother, her sister Julia, and an unidentied woman.
Isabella, Ross, Raymond, and family on the steps of their Chautauqua cottage (1875).

For the next twenty years, Isabella and her husband dedicated their summers to Chautauqua, teaching classes, organizing events, and working to promote Chautauqua’s ideals.

Just two years after Chautauqua first opened, Isabella published Four Girls at Chautauqua. That popular novel inspired generations of readers to experience Chautauqua for themselves, and attendance numbers bloomed.

An early cloth binding book cover for Isabella's novel Four Girls at Chautauqua. the title and author name are stamped in gold on a green background.

Reverend Alden was also an active ambassador for Chautauqua. He was a member of the Minister’s Council and conducted training classes for his fellow ministers.

He worked where he was needed, which meant he sometimes taught classes or led Chautauquans in prayer at opening day ceremonies, as he did in 1894:

1876 Newspaper article titled The Chautauqua Assembly reads: The opening exercises of the Chautauqua Assembly season for 1894 were held in the Amphitheatre. The Rev. G. R. Alden, of Washington, read the Scripture lesson and announced the hymn. The annual address of welcome was delivered by Bishop John H. Vincent, Chancellor.

He also traveled with Rev. Jesse Hurlbut, one of Chautauqua’s founders. Together they visited smaller Chautauquas throughout the eastern United States to address attendees and reinforce Chautauqua’s guiding principles.

Today Chautauqua Institution is still thriving! The assembly will reopen on June 26 with a generous slate of classes, lectures, and events to fill summer days and evenings. You can click on the image below to learn more about his year’s schedule.

New Free Read: “Scattered Verses”

This month’s Free Read is “Scattered Verses,” a short story Isabella Alden wrote in 1892.

In “Scattered Verses” Isabella illustrates the sacrifices mothers often make for their families, which makes this a perfect story for Mothers’ Day! Here’s a brief description:

“Such a chance! I never had any such chances, you know. They didn’t study the Bible much when I was a girl, not in this way!”

So says Mrs. Halstead when she, her husband and daughter, take a cottage for the summer at a famous Sunday-school assembly. But those Bible classes, as precious as they are, occupy a good deal of time—time she used to spend caring for her family; and while she may be learning a lot about Paul’s letters to the early churches, her little rented cottage is in chaos from kitchen to bedroom! Before long Mrs. Halstead is faced with a difficult decision: should her devotion to studying the Bible be stronger than her devotion to her family?

You can read “Scattered Verses” for free!

Click here or on the book cover above and choose the reading option you like best:

  • You can read the story on your computer, phone, iPad, Kindle, or other electronic device. Just choose your preferred format from BookFunnel.com.
  • Or you can choose the “My Computer” option to read a PDF version, which you can also print and share with friends.

Pansy’s Farewell to Chautauqua

October 1901 marked a milestone in Isabella’s life.

For decades she and her husband Ross and other members of their family had been deeply involved with Chautauqua Institution. Isabella strongly believed in its core principles, and she immersed herself in furthering Chautauqua’s mission.

Isabella, Ross, Raymond, and family on the steps of their Chautauqua cottage (1875).

Every summer for decades she taught classes at Chautauqua, and encouraged friends and acquaintances to attend the summer session. She helped extend Chautauqua’s outreach by quietly encouraging people she met in all walks of life to embrace the CLSC and its educational offerings.

And more than any other ambassador, she inspired an entire generation of readers to experience the place for themselves after reading about it in Isabella’s many novels about Chautauqua.

During the course of their marriage Isabella and Ross lived in many places; his occupation as a minister often required them to move from one church to another. But almost without fail their summers took them back to Chautauqua. For Isabella, who was born and raised in New York, her annual trips to Chautauqua must have felt very much like a homecoming.

Over the years Isabella and Ross rented different cottages on Chautauqua’s grounds. Many of them have since been demolished and replaced by newer buildings.

One of the last cottages they occupied was at 20 Forest Avenue, bounded to the north by the shore of Lake Chautauqua and to the east by normal Hall.

Excerpt from a map of Chautauqua with the Alden’s corner lot on Forest Avenue marked in red. Click on the map to see a larger version.

The house was built in 1890 and still stands today dressed in sunny yellow with white trim.

The house at 20 Forest Avenue, Chautauqua as it appears today (from Google Maps 2012).

Isabella and her family spent a few summers in that cottage, including the summer of 1901. And when the Chautauqua season ended in early September they, like all the other summer residents, made their way to the railroad depot and returned to their “regular” home.

Few people know, however, that just a few weeks later Isabella and Ross quietly returned to Chautauqua to pack up their belongings and leave Chautauqua for the last time.

How different Chautauqua must have seemed to them in October; and how quiet it must have been, with its closed cottages, empty meeting halls, and deserted dining rooms!

The empty park in front of the Administration building in January 1902.

Frances Hawley knew what Chautauqua was like off season. She was a year-round Chautauqua resident and Isabella’s friend. She was on hand when Isabella and Ross, along with their little daughter Francis, arrived at Chautauqua to pack up their possessions.

The Aldens intended to stay with Frances only a day or two, but their stay soon lengthened into a week, for there was much to do. Frances wrote:

They were very busy packing books and sorting papers and manuscripts. [Ross] would come in at night utterly weary, but with a big basketful to be looked over during the evening. They were obliged to stop and eat, and were tired enough at meal time to be glad of a little rest; and so three times a day our food was spiced with anecdotes and stories, wise and pithy sayings, and with the jokes that had been perpetrated upon old Chautauquans by the inimitable Frank Beard.

Wouldn’t it have been wonderful to be in that room and hear those stories about Frank Beard and his practical jokes?

Frank Beard giving an impromptu Chalk Talk to a group of young Chautauquans.

Frances said this about her friend Isabella:

The bright and sparkling style that has made Mrs. Alden’s books so attractive is hers outside of book covers, and her sweet and winning ways won all the hearts of the household.

Frances also described the moment when she realized the Alden’s visit was quickly coming to an end:

When at the close of their visit we parted with them and realize that it might be long before we could again have her kindly sympathy or feel the warm pressure of his hand and see the merry twinkle of his eye, the delight that the pleasure of this visit had given us was tinged with sadness and we were loath to let them go.

It’s sad to think that when Isabella and her family left Chautauqua that October day, they did so knowing they might never again see the place they had loved so much for so many years.

Their departure marked the end of an era for Chautauqua Institution. But Isabella and Ross were ready to move on to the next chapter of their life together.

Next week: Isabella Goes West!

Visit Chautauqua in 1890

In the summer of 1890 Isabella Alden and her family were once again at her beloved Chautauqua Institution.

That year, attendance at Chautauqua was remarkable. The Evening Journal—a newspaper in nearby Jamestown, New York—reported on the size of the crowd in an article printed August 20, 1890:

Another Sunday at Chautauqua has come and gone, and yet the big crowd and its interest in everything continues.

A crowd gathered in an open area of Chautauqua, about 1915.

There was plenty to be interested in. Chautauqua’s daily schedule included Bible lectures, practical daily living classes, entertainment, nature hikes, and plenty of opportunities for exercise.

An added attraction: that weekend Mr. Leland Powers, known as the “Dramatic wonder of America” presented a three-act comedy based on a story by Frances Hodgson-Burnett, in which he played all the parts!

A publicity photo of Mr. Leland Powers

 

The newspaper explained one major reason for the crowd size that weekend: more people were making longer stays at Chautauqua:

The outgoing stream has been large during the past week, and yet not enough to keep pace with the one pouring in. The outlet does not equal the inlet, and so the crowd grows larger. It will probably reach its culmination on Recognition Day, which will be Wednesday of this week.

“Recognition Day” is Chautauqua’s version of graduation for members of the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle. In 1890, all the C.L.S.C. members who successfully completed their four-year study course gathered at Chautauqua. Together they made a stately procession through the symbolic Golden Gate that stood near the Hall of Philosophy, and then they received their Chautauqua diplomas.

The Golden Gate at Chautauqua Institution

The same newspaper article reported:

Enthusiastic C.L.S.C’ers are coming in daily by droves, by swarms, by multitudes. Meetings of the various classes are held almost every day, and excitement is fast reaching its height. It seems scarcely possible that in another week the Chautauqua season of 1890 will be closed and the exodus will be begun.

A Chautauqua Recognition Day class procession in 1895. Each class carried their own distinctive banner.

Also on that Sunday morning, Isabella’s husband, the Reverend G. R. Alden, led a memorial service in honor of prominent Chautauquans who died during the preceding year.

Reverend Gustavus Rossenberg Alden

What a very busy weekend at Chautauqua! That Sunday evening brought rain, which reduced the crowd size at the remaining events. After so much activity, the newspaper report describes for us a peaceful Sunday night:

A ramble about the grounds just after the sermon, even if it did rain, well repaid the discomfort. Every cottage, every tent, every room in every cottage and tent, gleaming with lights through the dismal mist, presented a scene unprecedented and well worth seeing. The chimes rung out another Sunday at Chautauqua.

You can read the full article that contains many more descriptions of that busy Chautauqua weekend in 1890. Just click here; you’ll find the article in columns four and five.

Postcards from Chautauqua: Saturday in the Park with Pansy

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

Postcards from Chautauqua: On a Pilgrimage

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:

.

“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

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.”

.

.

The Edison Connection

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