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.
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.
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:
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.
“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.
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!
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
If you missed previous posts about Chautauqua Institution, you can read them by clicking on the links below:
“I was coming down the hill, away off, you know, by the post office…” (Four Girls at Chautauqua)
“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.
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?
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.
Irrepressibly His, Karen.
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:
For Isabella Alden there were few places on earth more dear to her than Chautauqua Institution. She spent many summers there, and was greatly involved in the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle (C.L.S.C.).
You can judge just how great an impact Chautauqua had on her by the loving manner in which she described the place in her Chautauqua books, which she wrote in the late 1890s and early 1900s.
Chautauqua Institution is still a thriving summer destination for thousands of people. Earlier this month, Karen Noske, a regular reader of this blog, took a trip to Chautauqua. Today she is sharing the highlights of her quest to see for herself the beloved Chautauqua locations Isabella so dearly loved and faithfully described in her books.
Take it away, Karen!
Like many of Pansy’s fans, I’ve longed to walk the “tree-shaded” avenues of her hallowed Chautauqua, and decided to take the plunge this summer, as I live only about 3 hours east.
I’ve limited my review to those seminal books as they hold some of the richest treasures for modern-day Chautauquans and fans.
(For much more detailed information about this cultural retreat, you can find a list of previous posts about Chautauqua at the end of this post.)
Climbing ever higher
I should have paid more attention to the carefully worded descriptions of Isabella Alden’s favorite summer retreat, Chautauqua. In her marvelously descriptive and touching books about its lakeside, forested environs, she often mentioned that her characters “went down” to the lake or “went up” to the dining tent or the grove.
As I breathlessly labored to keep from running pell-mell down the steep inclines that make up 90% of the avenues here, I realized she’d been remarkably coy about this physical aspect of the grounds. Mountain goats would love this place.
After stowing my meager luggage in one of the many charming cottages that cling defiantly to the nearly vertical hillside, I hiked up to my first stop—the Archives, where I hoped to meet Pansy by way of her works.
This small brick building houses the full complement of the C.L.S.C. volumes, from the year of this reading circle’s inception (1878) to the present day.
Her eyes lighted with pleasure as she recognized it. This, at least, was an old friend: Philosophy of the Plan of Salvation. She did not need to read the letters on the title page to make sure that the book—so like her own—bore that name. “C.L.S.C?” she said, hardly realizing that she said it.
(The Hall in the Grove, pg 202)
I was delighted to find Pansy’s The Hall in the Grove (required reading for the C.L.S.C. class of 1881-82) snuggled between weightier academic tomes shown here.
I hunted for, and found the impossibly dense (reportedly dry, according to more than one The Hall in the Grove character!) Merivale’s History of Rome … one brief dip into it made me admire “Paul Adams,” “James Ward,” and “‘Pick ‘Em Up’ Caroline Raynor” all the more for virtually memorizing its contents.
How utterly hopeless it looked to him! He read over the first sentences six times without having an idea as to their meaning…
(The Hall in the Grove, pg 90)
I learned from the very helpful, very gentlemanly guardian of these treasures that one can indeed become a member of C.L.S.C. without having to limit oneself to the current crop of books! He assured me that I could “graduate” with a future Chautauqua class by reading a specified number of ANY C.L.S.C. materials, from any year!
“We are bound in honor to undertake all manner of work which will develop the spirit of Christian love and fellowship; it is the central feature of our organization … always with a view to reaching hearts as well as intellects. Why don’t you join us?”
(Eighty-Seven, pg 188)
Karen’s next Postcard from Chautauqua will feature The Hall of Christ and the Hall in the Grove.
If you missed previous posts about Chautauqua Institution, you can read them by clicking on the links below:
Isabella Alden lived during the golden age of train travel, and her books reflected the time. At the turn of the last century, an intricate systems of railroad tracks and heavy, powerful locomotives connected nearby towns and far-away locations.
Railroads made it possible for people to easily travel to summer resorts, as Eurie, Marion, Ruth, and Flossy did in Four Girls at Chautauqua. Advertisements made distant American destinations sound exotic and adventurous.
But railroad travel also made it possible for people to quickly and economically travel short distances between towns.
In Christie’s Christmas, Christie Tucker set off on a simple, twenty-mile train ride to visit her relatives for the day in a neighboring town.
Christie’s parents arranged the trip based on the arrival and departure times that were posted at the train station closest to their farm. Christie’s mother told her:
“You are to go up on the train that passes at seven in the morning, and come back on the six o’clock, and that will give you nine whole hours at your Uncle Daniel’s. I’m sure that will give you time to see a good many things.”
The trip was a thrilling adventure for a girl who lived on a farm miles from the nearest neighbor or school.
And though train travel was fairly economical, Christie’s parents had to scrimp and save to afford the fare:
“Eight-five cents there, and eighty-five cents back; that’s a dollar and seventy cents! It seems a good deal to spend; but it is your birthday, and it is Christmas day, and you’ve worked hard, and father and Karl and I think you ought to go.”
To accomplish her day trip, Christie probably traveled in a standard Pullman car, with its narrow seats that faced both front and back.
By contrast, Miss Mary Brown (in The Browns at Mount Hermon) could afford to travel in luxury. When Mary left the mid-western village of Centerville, it took her two full days to travel by train to California. Her accommodations probably included a seat in a very nice club car during the day.
For the overnight portion of her journey, Mary could have secured a berth in a sleeping car.
No matter how long the journey, travel by train usually took preparation. Travelers had to consult departure timetables and plan for connections between railroad lines.
In those days, travelers had to visit their local train station to obtain printed routes and schedules. But if an in-person visit wasn’t possible, they wrote a letter to the railroad’s passenger agent to ask for help in planning their journey.
The station master wrote back with instructions, usually accompanied by printed schedules.
Once on board, train passengers were ruled by the train’s conductor. It was his job to ensure the train arrived on time at each stop, and that his passengers’ needs were taken care of.
For the most part, train travel was incredibly efficient. The Georgia Railroad claimed their trains were so timely, residents in the city of Atlanta could set their clocks by the sound of trains going by.
It was also a relatively safe mode of travel. An in an age when few women walked a city street without a chaperone, many women felt comfortable traveling alone by train.
No matter how long the journey, train travel could be tedious; and it was up to the passengers to find ways to entertain themselves.
With the exception of Caroline Bryant, who slept through her train ride in Twenty Minutes Late, Isabella’s characters usually accomplished their journeys by making new friends of their fellow passengers.
That’s what Christie Tucker did. When her twenty-mile train ride came to an unexpected halt because of trouble on the tracks ahead, she set out to make herself useful to her fellow passengers, and reaped unexpected rewards in the process.
Many more of Isabella’s books featured travel by train than those mentioned in this post. Do you have a favorite Pansy character who road the rails? Please use the comment section below to share your favorite.
If you’d like to learn more about train travel in Isabella’s time, visit Rails West.
Be sure to view their page on overnight accommodations, where they have some interesting illustrations of sleeping cars on trains.
There’s a new Isabella Alden Pinterest board for you to view: “Clothes Pansy’s characters might have worn” is a budding collection of clothing, jewelry, hats and shoes from the time period in which Isabella wrote her books.
And this delicate gown may remind you of the gown Flossy Shipley ruined in the rain on her first visit to Chautauqua.
You’ll also see several black gowns that Ruth Burnham might have worn (she never wore any other color) in the book Ruth Erskine’s Crosses.
You’ll find examples of traveling costumes, day dresses, tea gowns, and walking suits, as well as some jewelry, purses, and shoes to help you visualize Isabella’s beloved characters as you read her books. Click here to view Isabella’s Pinterest board now.
Frank Beard was one of the most popular lecturers at Chautauqua Institution. His Chalk Talk lectures drew standing-room-only crowds because of their pitch-perfect blend of humor, art and Biblical truths.
In an 1895 interview, Frank recalled how his Chalk Talks came to be:
“I was a young artist in New York, and had just been married. My wife was an enthusiastic churchgoer; and a great deal of our courtship was carried on in going to and from the Methodist church. The result was that I struck a revival and became converted. This occurred shortly after I was married, and like other enthusiastic young Christians, I wanted to do all I could for the church.”
Soon after he joined the church, the congregation put together an evening of entertainment. The ladies, knowing of his talent, suggested that Frank draw some pictures as part of the program. Frank agreed, but he felt that just standing in front of an audience and sketching without saying anything about the pictures “would be a very silly thing.”
He decided instead to make a short talk and draw sketches to illustrate his points. The talk was to be given as part of a Thanksgiving celebration, and Frank later joked that he rehearsed in front of his wife, his mother-in-law, and the turkey. “Well, my wife survived, my mother-in-law did not die while I was talking, and the turkey was not spoiled.”
When he gave his talk in front of the congregation, it was a great success. Soon, other churches asked him to repeat his talk, and in very short order he had more invitations to speak than he could ever hope to accept. His wife suggested charging a fee for each lecture, hoping that the cost would deter organizations from inviting him to talk at their functions. So Frank dutifully began charging $30 per talk. The requests continued to pour in. He increased his fee to $40, then $50, but his talks continued to be in great demand.
That was the birth of the Chalk Talk, and Frank soon hit the lecture circuit. He was one of the first speakers at Chautauqua Institution in New York; and he lectured at many of the daughter Chautauquas. This 1899 clipping from the Los Angeles Herald recounts Frank’s Chalk Talk at the Long Beach Chautauqua (which named July 19, 1899 Frank Beard Day):
The topics of his Chalk Talks ranged from morality tales to stories from the Bible, each told in a casual, funny, but reverent, way. He knew that people who wouldn’t listen to a “sermon” would listen to his Chalk-Talk if the truths were presented in an entertaining fashion.
In Four Girls at Chautauqua, Eurie Mitchell proved that very point. Eurie was so opposed to listening to “sermons” at Chautauqua, she refused to go to any of the lectures; but when she heard about Frank Beard’s caricatures, she decided to go see him for herself.
If you have never seen Frank Beard make pictures, you know nothing about what a good time she had. They were such funny pictures! Just a few strokes of the magic crayon and the character described would seem to start into life before you, and you would feel that you could almost know what thoughts were passing in the heart of the creature made of chalk. Eurie looked and listened and laughed.
In Isabella’s book, Frank’s Chalk Talk was able to do what no other lecture at Chautauqua could: reach Eurie’s heart and lead her, ultimately, to salvation through Christ.
“Pictures can often tell stories quicker and better than words,” Frank once said, “and I believe that cartoons can be used in the service of religion, righteousness, truth, and justice.”
To prove his point, he once asked, “If you were commissioned to teach a child the nature of a circle, would you begin by stating that a circle is an area, having for its center a point, and bounded by a circumference in the nature of an endless imaginary line, which at all points is at an equal distance from the center? No! You would do nothing of the sort, but you would [show] its nature and properties [by drawing a circle] in black and white.”
Sometimes the subjects of his Chalk Talks were very simple. He told a story, for example, of how a blackboard and chalk could be used to teach a Sunday-school class of young children who had never before seen the Christian symbol of a cross inside the shape of a heart. He started by drawing the simple outline of a heart on the blackboard.
“What is this?”
“Yes, a heart. Now, I mean this to represent a particular heart—I mean it for my heart. What is it now?”
“Don’t forget that. Now, see what else I will draw.” And he drew a child’s face within the heart.
“Now what have I made?”
“A little boy!” “A little girl!” “A little child!” Variously cried the children.
“Yes, a little child; but where is the child?”
“In the heart.”
“In the heart?”
“In your heart.”
“That’s right. Now, what does it represent? When I tell you that I have a little child in my heart, what does it mean?”
“You mean you love the child.”
“Exactly. Now I will rub out the child and put a cross in the heart. What does that mean?”
“You love the cross.”
Then he went on to explain in a simple way what loving the cross meant.
He also shared an example of one of his lessons for older children and adolescents. He used this lesson to illustrate the concept of the narrow Christian path described in Matthew 7:13-14:
A young man is attracted by the appearance of beauty and the pleasure along the broad way. Timidly at first, for he is not bad and rather fears evil—but he loves play and pleasure—so he steps into it. He knows it is not the right way to take but he thinks to himself:
“After a while, after I have had a good time, I will go over to the right path and come out all right after all.”
Frank went on to explain how the young man fell in with evil companions and was drawn further away from the good path.
The young man learned to smoke and chew tobacco and read books “which mislead and give us wrong notions in life, that make heroes of scamps, thieves and liars.”
As Frank continued the lesson, he amended and enhanced his original drawing to show the progressive results of the choices the young man made in his life.
Wherever he gave his Chalk Talks, he was well received, and his reputation grew. But not everyone was a fan of using a blackboard and chalk as teaching tools in the Sunday-school. Frank shared a story about one church that decided to use a man in their congregation—they assumed he had talent because he was a sign painter by profession—to illustrate Sunday-school lessons. The man decided to illustrate the story of Samuel as a child, entering the apartment of the high priest Eli in answer to his summons. His efforts were not well received.
“Some objected to the bed-posts,” Frank said. “Some didn’t exactly know why, but the drawing didn’t conform to their idea of Samuel at all, and, more over, Eli’s nose was out of proportion.”
The man’s next attempt didn’t fare any better, when he drew Goliath about thirty-five feet high in proportion to David. In fact, the congregation didn’t like anything at all about the poor sign-painter’s efforts at the blackboard.
Isabella Alden’s book Links in Rebecca’s Life featured a character who also disliked Chalk-Talk style lectures. She was a Sunday-school teacher who hated chalk and blackboards.
“They are such horrid dusty things. You get yourself all covered with chalk, and just ruin your clothes. I can hardly wear anything decent here as it is. If I had a blackboard, I should give up in despair.”
“I should think it would be a great help in teaching children,” Rebecca said.
“Well, I don’t know. What could I do with it? I don’t know how to draw, and as for making lines and marks and dots, I am not going to make an idiot of myself. What’s the use?”
But Frank Beard believed no special talent was required for a teacher to incorporate chalkboard drawings into Sunday-school lessons.
“Many are apt to think some extraordinary genius is necessary to fit a teacher to use the blackboard,” he said. “It is a mistake. You can teach better with a pencil than without. You can learn to draw far better than you ever imagined possible.”
In 1896 Frank published a book for Sunday-school workers; in it he gave simple instructions for using the blackboard to illustrate Bible lessons.
His book included how-to’s on perspective, lettering, and using easy-to-draw symbols as illustrations. Here are some of the symbols he illustrated:
The purpose of writing the book, he said, “is to show how the blackboard can be used in the Sunday-school, and to furnish such instruction in drawing upon it” so it can be done in the most effective way.
He was quick to say that he didn’t want the blackboard to monopolize the Sunday-school or supplant other useful forms of instruction. But, if used correctly, Frank Beard proved that the blackboard—and Chalk Talks—could be the “instrument which proves effective as a means of winning souls to Christ.”
In 1895 Frank Beard gave an interview to the Washington D.C. newspaper The Evening Star. Click on this image to read the interview in which Frank tells how he invented the Chalk Talk:
Click on the book cover to learn more about Links in Rebecca’s Life.
Click on the book cover to learn more about Four Girls at Chautauqua.
At Chautauqua, opportunities for learning weren’t confined to classrooms and lecture halls. Dr. John Vincent, a Methodist minister and co-founder of the Chautauqua Institute, was a great proponent of learning in the out-of-doors. He embraced the forest setting and set out to make Chautauqua the standard for open air summer schools throughout the country and the world.
One notable example of Dr. Vincent’s vision of a fresh-air classroom was Palestine Park. He came up with the concept of making a miniature model of the Holy Land so students could get a visual sense of the settings they learned about in their Bible classes.
Palestine Park was constructed near the pier on the shore of Lake Chautauqua. The lake itself represented the Mediterranean Sea. Nearby were representations of the cities of the Philistines, Joppa and Caesarea, Tyre and Sidon.
The Mountain Region showed the famous places of Israelite history from Beersheba to Dan. The sacred mountains Olivet and Zion, Ebal and Gerizem were built. And there were also the River Jordan, the Sea of Galilee, and the Dead Sea.
Small plaques identified each place of interest and included Bible verses that mentioned the site. In 1920 Dr. Jesse Lyman Hurlbut published a guide to Chautauqua’s Palestine Park. Click on this cover image to read Dr. Hurlbut’s guide.
The model of Palestine was one of the most popular sites at Chautauqua. Theology students regularly walked the area of Palestine Park, notebooks in hands. And Sunday school teachers held classes there, sometimes on the hills around Nazareth to illustrate a lesson on the boyhood of Jesus.
Isabella Alden was very familiar with Palestine Park, and described it in Four Girls at Chautauqua. In the book, Eurie Mitchell and Flossy Shipley decide to walk to Palestine together one evening:
“Come,” Eurie said, “you have been to meetings enough, and you haven’t taken a single walk with me since we have been here, and think of the promises we made to entertain each other.”
Flossy laughed cheerfully.
“We have been entertained, without any effort on our part,” she said. Nevertheless she suffered herself to be persuaded to go for a walk, provided Eurie would go to Palestine.
“What nonsense!” Eurie said, disdainfully, when Flossy had explained to her that she had a consuming desire to wander along the banks of the Jordan, and view those ancient cities, historic now. “However, I would just as soon walk in that direction as any other.”
There was one other person who, it transpired, would as soon take a walk as do anything else just then. He joined the girls as they turned toward the Palestine road. That was Mr. Evan Roberts.
“Are you going to visit the Holy Land this morning, and may I be of your party?” he asked.
“Yes,” Flossy answered, whether to the first question, or to both in one, she did not say. Then she introduced Eurie, and the three walked on together, discussing the morning and the meetings with zest.
“Here we are, on ‘Jordan’s stormy banks,’” Mr. Roberts said, at last, halting beside the grassy bank. “I suppose there was never a more perfect geographical representation than this.”
“Do you really think it has any practical value?” Eurie asked, skeptically. Mr. Roberts looked at her curiously.
“Hasn’t it to you?” he said. “Now, to me, it is just brimful of interest and value; that is, as much value as geographical knowledge ever is. I take two views of it. If I never have an actual sight of the sacred land, by studying this miniature of it, I have as full a knowledge as it is possible to get without the actual view, and if I at some future day am permitted to travel there, why—well, you know, of course, how pleasant it is to be thoroughly posted in regard to the places of interest that you are about to visit; every European traveler understands that.”
“But do you suppose it is really an accurate outline?” Eurie said, again, quoting opinions that she had read until she fancied they were her own.
Again Mr. Roberts favored her with that peculiar look from under heavy eyebrows—a look half satirical, half amused.
“Some of the most skilled surveyors and traveled scholars have so reported,” he said, carelessly. “And when you add to that the fact that they are Christian men, who have no special reason for getting up a wholesale deception for us, and are supposed to be tolerably reliable on all other subjects, I see no reason to doubt the statement.”
On the whole, Eurie had the satisfaction of realizing that she had appeared like a simpleton.
Flossy, meantime, was wandering delightedly along the banks, stopping here and there to read the words on the little white tablets that marked the places of special interest.
“Do you see,” she said, turning eagerly, “that these are Bible references on each tablet? Wouldn’t it be interesting to know what they selected as the scene to especially mark this place?”
Mr. Roberta swung a camp-chair from his arm, planted it firmly in the ground, and drew a Bible from his pocket.
“Miss Mitchell,” he said, “suppose you sit down here in this road, leading from Jerusalem to Bethany, and tell us what is going on just now in Bethany, while Miss Shipley and I supply you with chapter and verse.”
“I am not very familiar with the text-book,” Eurie said. “If you are really in the village yourselves you might possibly inquire of the inhabitants before I could find the account.” But she took the chair and the Bible.
“Look at Matthew xxi. 17, Eurie,” Flossy said, stooping over the tablet, and Eurie read:
“‘And he left them, and went out of the city into Bethany; and he lodged there.’”
“That was Jesus, wasn’t it? Then he went this way, this very road, Eurie, where you are sitting!” It was certainly very fascinating.
“And stopped at the house on which you have your hand, perhaps,” Mr. Roberts said, smiling at her eager face.
“That might have been Simon’s house, for instance.”
“Did he live in Bethany? I don’t know anything about these things.”
“Eurie, look if you can find anything about him. The next reference is Matthew xxvi.”
And again Eurie read:
“‘Now when Jesus was in Bethany, in the house of Simon the leper.’”
“The very place!” Flossy said, again. “Oh, I want so much to know what happened then!”
Eurie, Flossy, and Mr. Roberts spent the better part of the day at Palestine Park, following the plaques from one location to the next and reading verses out of Mr. Roberts’s Bible.
Palestine Park was among the great attractions at Chautauqua and, as Isabella mentioned in her book, it received accolades from Biblical scholars of the time because of its accuracy and geographical precision.
But Palestine Park did have one major flaw, which was alluded to in the sign that marked the entrance to the model. In order to use Chautauqua Lake to represent the Mediterranean Sea, the geography of the Holy Land had to be flipped; north had to be south, and east was made the west.
Jesse Lyman Hurlbut, who regularly used the park as part of his theology lectures and children’s Sunday school classes, explained:
“Chautauqua has always been under a despotic though paternal government and its visitors easily accommodate themselves to its decrees. But the sun persists in its independence, rises over Chautauqua’s Mediterranean Sea where it should set, and continues its sunset over the mountains of Gilean, where it should rise. Dr. Vincent and Lewis Miller [the founders of the Chautauqua Institute] could bring to pass some remarkable, even seemingly impossible achievements, but they were not able to outdo Joshua and not only make the sun stand still, but set it moving in a direction opposite to its natural course.”
Over the years, Palestine Park was repaired, rebuilt and expanded to add a model of Jerusalem and its surrounding hills, as well as Bethlehem, Jericho, and other places of interest until, ultimately, it almost doubled in size.
Click on the map below to see where Palestine Park was located on the Chautauqua Institution grounds. You’ll find it on the shore of Lake Chautauqua near the steamboat landing at The Point.