Writing the “Women Behind the Memorials” column this season, I relearned that history is not tidy. It is sprawling, unexpected, and a singular incident bumped into me in an almost — dare I say it — ghostly way.
There are three observations, among many, gleaned from reading The Chautauquan Daily reporting of Eleanor Roosevelt’s eight visits to Chautauqua from 1927-1937. First: how farsighted her concerns and comments were, particularly in the July 7, 1930, and the July 25, 1933, speeches. Second: the reporting, which inadvertently describes the contrast in the freedom of movement Roosevelt enjoyed to the impenetrable gauze of security which wraps national political figures today. Third: how vivid and observant the reporting was, especially Elizabeth Hall’s July 26, 1933, Daily “Ground Wires” column.
Geraldine Gebbie Bellinger bought Chautauqua’s Amphitheater in 1935. Well, to be precise, she joined her daughter, Janet, and sister, Marion Bertram Gebbie, and made a $5,000 sentimental purchase of the Amp. It was a donation to the “Save Chautauqua Fund” and was one of the larger single contributions to the three-year effort to rescue the Institution from its creditors.
Anna J. Hardwicke Pennybacker signed her 1936 letter to John D. Rockefeller Jr., “I am, most faithfully yours, Anna J. H. Pennybacker.”
Memorials do work. In 1966, Nina Terrill Wensley gave the Windsor Boarding House to the Institution to be used as a guest cottage.
Of the many sources of uplift, satisfaction and peace at Chautauqua Institution are the denominational houses, which were started as home bases for identity groups and affordable lodging for people coming to Chautauqua for a short period of time.
What goes up must come down, so goes the saying. But in matters as complex as human life or, say, Chautauqua Institution, it may be better described as rising and declining. In talking about the Institution, Jon Schmitz, Chautauqua archivist and historian, will add resurgence to his 3:30 p.m. lecture today in the Hall of Christ.
It has become something of a tradition, the Oliver Archives’ presentation of “Five More Giants of Chautauqua” at 3:30 p.m. today in the Hall of Christ. To be asked to select a giant, a person has to “get it,” said Jon Schmitz, Institution historian and archivist, referring to the panel of people who chose figures of Chautauqua history to honor.
Of course, there are many, many significant figures who have contributed to the founding, success and longevity of Chautauqua Institution — figures such as Arthur Bestor, Sam Hazlett, Ida Tarbell, Dan Bratton and more. This year, there will be five giants more.
It might be Ronald Reagan demanding the Soviets “Tear down this wall.” Or Martin Luther King Jr. proclaiming, “I have a dream.” Or Franklin Delano Roosevelt saying, “Yesterday, December 7, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy — the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.” In these cases, as in many more, Robert Bullock, of the New York State Archives Partnership Trust, admires the power of words.
It is a re-creation of sacred space, Joan Branham said. At the same time it is, somewhat paradoxically, a recreation of sacred space. Branham is professor of art history at Providence College and a specialist on sacred space in ancient Jewish and Christian art and architecture.