Airbnb, Back in 1853

“The room was fourteen feet square, with battens of split boards tacked on between the broader openings of the logs. Above, it was open to the rafters, and in many places the sky could be seen between the shingles of the roof. A rough board box, three feet square. . . held the store of meal, coffee, sugar, and salt. . . We all sat with hats and overcoats on, and the woman cooked in bonnet and shawl.”

Ybarbo Ranch house, Nacogdoches.

Ybarbo Ranch house, Nacogdoches.

So wrote Frederick Law Olmsted of one stop on his journey southwest in 1853, on horseback from Nacogdoches, Texas to Crockett. He continued:

“A pallet of quilts and blankets was spread for us in the lean-to, just between the two doors. We slept in all our clothes, including overcoats, hats, and boots, and covered entirely with blankets. At seven in the morning, when we threw them off, the mercury in the thermometer in our saddle-bags, which we had used for a pillow, stood at 25º Farenheit.

Frederick Law Olmsted.

Frederick Law Olmsted.

We contrived to make cloaks and hoods from our blankets, and after going through with the fry, coffee and pone again, and paying one dollar each for the entertainment of ourselves and horses, we continued our journey.”

Four years later he and new business partner Calvert Vaux would win the contest to design Central Park in New York City. But for now he was traveling through the deep South and the new state of Texas, reporting back to the New-York Times [as the paper styled itself then] about the every day living conditions in this part of the country.

From Crockett, Olmsted and his two companions continued southwest to Caldwell, Texas, about 45 miles northeast of Austin.

The Excelsior Hotel in Austin, TX, in continuous operation since the 1850s. Poor Olmsted didn't stay anyplace this ritzy.

The Excelsior Hotel in Austin, TX, in continuous operation since the 1850s. Poor Olmsted didn’t stay anyplace this ritzy.

“The “hotel” was an unusually large and fine one; the principal room had glass windows. Several panes of these were, however, broken, and the outside door could not be closed from without; and when closed, was generally pried open with a pocket-knife by those who wished to go out. A great part of the time it was left open. Supper was served in another room, in which there was no fire, and the outside door was left open for the convenience of the servants in passing to and from the kitchen, which, as usual here at large houses, was in a detached building. Supper was, however, eaten with such rapidity that nothing had time to freeze on the table.

We slept in a large upper room, in a company of five, with a broken window at the head of our bed, and another at our side, offering a short cut to the norther [“Chiefly Texas and Oklahoma. A cold gale from the north, formed during the winter by a vigorous outbreak of continental polar air behind a cold front.”] across our heads.

New Braunfels, 1874.

New Braunfels, 1874.

We were greatly amused to see one of our bed-room companions gravely spit in the candle before jumping into bed, explaining to some one who made a remark, that he always did so, it gave him time to see what he was about before it went out.”

Sometimes, they just camped out, as they did in the Trinity River bottom lands, north of Houston. In order to be safe from their “dirty persecutors, the hogs”, they “pitched their tent within a large hog-yard, putting up the bars to exclude them. The trees within had been sparingly cut, and we easily found tent-poles and fuel at hand.” The plantation they were squatting on had been sold recently, for two dollars an acre.

A Texas-style camp, March 1861, three months before the start of the Civil War.

A Texas-style camp, March 1861, three months before the start of the Civil War.

And so it went. Feeding themselves and their horses wasn’t any easier or pleasanter than their lodgings. But, of course, there weren’t any alternatives, and if you wanted to travel, this is how it was done.

Somehow in the midst of all this Olmsted managed to take detailed notes and get his dispatches back to the Times. The Yankee readership was fascinated by Olmsted’s narrative. Later, he collected all of these essays and published them as The Cotton Kingdom, in 1861. Olmsted’s articles  provide a truly remarkable first-person sociological study of the South before the Civil War. And we can only imagine what Olmsted would have written about thesse less-than-4-star lodgings if only he’d had access to the internet and a blog!

Public domain images from Library of Congress.

Copyright Barbara Geiger. All rights reserved.

Women, Preservation, & Landscapes

We’re just on the verge of electing the first female president of the United States. And about time. But women have been working in public service endeavors without waiting for anyone’s approval for a long, long time.

Lucretia Mott, one of the motive forces behind the Seneca Falls convention.

Lucretia Mott, one of the motive forces behind the Seneca Falls convention.

For example, the first women’s rights convention was held in Seneca Falls, NY in 1848. The meeting was convened by Quaker women and other progressive New Englanders. Frederick Douglass, one of the notable male and black speakers, encouraged the attendees who shied away from pushing for women’s voting rights to instead make that a central tenet. The conference was a turning point in history, opening the way, eventually, for the abolition of slavery and for women’s suffrage.

Then a few years later, in 1853, a woman from a very different background formed the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association of the Union. A southern “spinster” named Ann Pamela Cunningham was appalled that George Washington’s beloved home was in decrepit condition and believed that the country owed its father better treatment. So she formed the Association, and within five years, had managed to privately raise $200,000 (approximately $6,250,000 in today’s money) to purchase the house and 200 acres of the estate.

Mount Vernon in 1859.

Mount Vernon in 1859.

The Association was the first concerted, formal preservation organization in the U.S. Its original mandate included the preservation of the gardens and farms equally with that of the house and contents. So historic American preservation was born to include the landscape.

The same year that Mt. Vernon’s situation came to awareness, Frances (Wood) Shimer and Cindarella Gregory came from Ballston Spa, NY to northwestern Illinois to run Mount Carroll Seminary, the very first school in the area. They were quite successful, and despite ups and downs throughout its history, Shimer College, as it became known in 1950, is still in business today—now on the campus of the Illinois Institute of Technology, and soon to move to North Central College in Naperville.

Frances Wood Shimer and Cindarella Gregory in 1869.

Frances Wood Shimer and Cindarella Gregory in 1869.

The school left its Mount Carroll campus to move to Waukegan in 1978 (after being there for 125 years!) because its enrollment had shrunk so much that to stay in business, it needed to downsize its facilities. Citizens of tiny Mount Carroll (pop. 1,717 in 2010) were concerned about the impact this would have on the town and banded together to raise the necessary funds to purchase the campus (shades of Mt. Vernon). By 1980 they figured out a unique and valuable reuse for the property—a specialized historic preservation and conservation college.

The Restoration College Association became the Campbell Center for Historic Preservation Studies several years later, and just this summer, changed its name to the International Preservation Studies Center, reflecting the healthy growth and expansion over the past decades.

campbellSo in the spirit of the ladies of the Mount Vernon Association who recognized right out of the gate that a historic site meant buildings AND landscape, I’m excited to offer the very first landscape preservation course at the IPSC/Campbell Center this fall—a three-day intensive introduction to garden and landscape restoration. We’ll discover that historic landscapes are key components in the character of a place and containers of its history, just as significant as structures but more of a moving target. Course description and registration information can be found here.

Public domain images from Library of Congress and International Preservation Studies Center.

Copyright Barbara Geiger. All rights reserved.

Intoxication at $1 a Stem

Polianthes tuberosa by Pierre-Joseph Redoute, 1806

Polianthes tuberosa by Pierre-Joseph Redoute, 1806

There are some people in this world who do not like chocolate, and there are some people who do not care for the scent of the tuberose. They would not be me.

This is the time of the summer season when the flower growers from St. Anne and Momence bring their tuberose harvest to Chicago farmers’ markets and sell these heavenly flowers for $1 a stem. (How do tuber and bulb flower farmers make any money—it’s one stem to a bulb.) Tuberoses are lovely in the daytime, but as the sun starts to set—POW!—the fragrance suddenly releases and you understand at once the legends about romance and flowers.

Polianthes tuberosa is a night-blooming flower, which is amazing enough while the flowers are still attached to the plant. But how do these gorgeous cut “pearl tuberose” blossoms in a vase on my table know when the light is fading and it’s show time? And then as the sun rises, time to close up shop again?

 tuberosaTuberosa is native to Central America, as is cacao. Europeans must have been bowled over by the fabulous produce they discovered there. Somebody took tubers shipboard back to Spain and Languedoc within 20 years of Columbus’s last voyage. The plant was quickly exported to Persia, where those rose lovers would have been enchanted, and to India.

For today’s perfume market the chief source of “usual tuberose” is Morocco. Its oil is a favorite ingredient, but in its pure form is overpowering. It takes a master nose to concoct a perfume in which this isn’t dominant, but still speaks strongly enough to be intoxicating.

In the Bey's Garden by John Frederick Lewis, 1865

In the Bey’s Garden by John Frederick Lewis, 1865

In a delightful interview with perfumer Pierre Bénard, perfume writer (tough job, but someone’s got to do it?) Sergey Borisov covers the flower’s history, legends, and even includes a compound for making your own scent. Alas, the ingredient list is more reminiscent of “better living through chemistry” than a stroll through the lilies  In the Bey’s Garden. The real blossoms are the best bet by far, and they don’t have too many weeks left this season .




Copyright Barbara Geiger 2016. All rights reserved

Images retrieved from public domain at Wikimedia Commons.


Shiver Me Timbers!

750px-Flag_of_Edward_England.svgAhoy, there, matey! Tired of coming up with all the wrong numbers on your lottery tickets? Discouraged trying to make enough to pay the bills by working a job? Why not try doing what the post-Puritan Yankees did–dig for pirate gold (or Spanish silver or native loot)!

Somehow, just as the American Revolution was wrapping up, the notion that there was treasure buried in their rocky fields caught on with these stern and upright folks. Maybe Captain Kidd, who had stashed a little booty on Long Island, had come inland to hide chests of gold. Unearthing something like that would be so much more exciting and rewarding than just hoeing your potatoes.

However it might have gotten there, farmers in Connecticut, Maine, Vermont, New York, and New Hampshire wanted to find the booty. But without treasure maps, you know, “X marks the spot”, where do you start looking?

Pyle_pirates_burying2These credulous souls believed that the landscape’s secrets could be brought to light by self-proclaimed psychics through occult rituals and special divining tools. By consulting their “seer stones” they could divine–for a fee–where and how to unearth the treasures for those who wanted to actually go out and dig.

Now, when you dug was critically important. Summertime was best, according to Joseph Smith, Sr. of Palmyra, NY, because “the heat of the sun caused the chests of money to rise near the top of the ground,” while digging in the middle of the night was generally recommended as the most successful time.

Smith’s son, Joseph Jr., became an in-demand seer in the Palmyra area in the early 1820s. The first seer stone he found wasn’t quite the right one, but it was good enough to help him find his own ordained stone. Like other clairvoyants, he put it inside a hat, put his face up against the brim, and looked into the stone in the dark until it showed him….where….the….treasure…was. X marked the spot!

the hill cumorah by cca christensenSmith Jr. also relied on dreams—usually in sets of three. During one of these dream triads the angel Moroni showed him where to look in the woods outside of Palmyra; that is how Smith claimed to have found his “Golden Bible”, the golden plates that he later translated as the “Book of Mormon.” He was led to these treasures and allowed to access them because, Smith maintained, unlike other seekers, he put the valuables back in the ground, not removing them for his own personal gain.

Another problem often encountered was that as a digging party was just about to lay its hands on one of these hidden chests, the chest moved. It sank deeper into the earth or it moved laterally at great speed. This was attributed to the diggers making noise, which awakened a guardian spirit who then leapt into action to save the treasure.

John_Quidor_-_The_Headless_Horseman_Pursuing_Ichabod_Crane_-_Google_Art_ProjectSometimes crews would be frightened out of their minds by what they all thought was a monster or a ghost with evil intentions, and they’d run shrieking down the hill. Digging all night can make you see things. Or just being a nervous wreck like Ichabod Crane in Washington Irving’s classic 1820 story The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. And mysteriously the loot would have vanished when someone got up enough courage to go back and check.

But Smith seems to have gone out by himself, quietly, conveniently. Shortly after finding and replacing his golden treasure, he founded a new religion, attracted a sizeable following, and headed west in 1831.

And right about then the craze for treasure hunting subsided. It was no more lucrative than buying a lottery ticket, just a lot more work. Yet hard-headed, business-shrewd Yankees continued to believe in buried gold, guardian spirits, seer stones, and divination. These were, after all, Irving’s readers and the forebears of H.P. Lovecraft. Pirate booty fits right in. Shiver me timbers, indeed.

Images retrieved from public domain.

Copyright Barbara Geiger 2016. All rights reserved.

Downton Redux

638px-Highclere_CastleDownton Abbey ended just in the nick of time. Not just because the story line had gone missing, but because it was 1925 and the Earl of Grantham was still alive. Parliament passed the Law of Property Act that year and that changed things.

When we first met the Crawley family way back when, it was April 1912. The Titanic had sunk in the north Atlantic, and everyone at Downton was in a tizzy. It turned out that James and Patrick—the heirs to the Downton estate, to the title of Earl of Grantham, and to the family fortune—were on the ship and had gone down with it.

It wasn’t that the Crawleys were so devoted to them (even though daughter Mary was sort of engaged to Patrick, her distant cousin). It was that the Downton estate was entailed, and if there were no more males in the direct line of descent of the original earl, the title could go extinct and the property perhaps revert to the Crown. Blimey, the whole thing could be lost!

What a great plot driver, the entail (think Jane Austen). An entail was an encumbrance on the property deed, defined as “an estate of inheritance in real property that cannot be sold, devised by will, or otherwise alienated by the owner.” Robert Crawley, the reigning Earl of Grantham, owned the property and was responsible for it—and yet he didn’t own it in the sense of being able to sell it, sell parts of it, or leave it in his will. It was all out of Robert’s hands. In the ancient primogeniture tradition, the property would go to the eldest surviving son. Period. End of discussion.

But of course Robert and Cora had no sons, just three daughters. Hence, Robert’s cousin James had been the next in line, and after him, his son Patrick. What now since they both went down with the ship? Family and servants alike at Downton Abbey realized their future was at stake and out of their hands.

Luckily, the family lawyers found Matthew, a distant male relation the Crawleys had never even heard of before but who turned out to be the next successor. After several episodes of ups and downs and other romantic entanglements, Mary and Matthew married. But then, oh no, the Crawley fortune was wiped out when the Canadian railroad in which all their money was invested went bankrupt.

Robert seemed to have no choice—he would have to sell the beloved ancestral family estate! But wait! It’s entailed….”cannot sell, devise by will, or otherwise….” So just how was Robert going to manage that?

We’ll ever know because, luckily, another just in the nick-of-time occurred. Matthew’s dead first fiancé’s father died, leaving his whole fortune to Matthew, who, of course, used it to save Downton. And in gratitude Robert put his name on the title as co-owner. But wait! The estate is entailed, you can’t just put someone’s name on the title.

Well, on it goes. Apparently the writers realized they had backed themselves into a corner with the entail, with no way out. So they just sort of dropped it, as if it had never been. But the next lucky stroke would have come with the Law of Property Act of 1925….

Where does it all go, and how did it get there? Join me at the Harold Washington Library on Saturday, August 6, 2016, at 2 pm for my 125th presentation of “Downton Abbey: Centuries in the Making,” and we’ll get this all sorted out. Maybe.

Copyright Barbara Geiger 2016. All rights reserved.

Photo credit: By JB + UK_Planet – originally posted to Flickr as Highclere Castle 1, CC BY 2.0,

How to Plagiarize

With intellectual property law being such a big deal these days you would think that nobody’d be plagiarizing. But just the opposite. On June 29 the New York Times reported that “Trump Institute Offered Get-Rich Schemes with Plagiarized Lessons.” Just this week one of the opening speeches at the Republican National Convention had several sentences lifted from—irony of ironies—a speech of Michelle Obama’s eight years ago. And then there are ‘borrowings’ that Biden and Obama didn’t apologize for either.

We might just shrug it off as being the antics of modern politicians. Surely we’d find a higher standard of ethics among 19th century religious leaders—or would we?

Phineas_Parkhurst_QuimbyTake, for example, the case of a middle-aged woman in 1860s New England named Mary Baker Glover. She suffered from myriad physical and nervous disorders and visited any number of healers seeking relief. Finally the treatments of mesmerist Phineas Parkhurst Quimby helped. In fact she felt so much better that she wrote long and effusive letters to the local papers praising Quimby’s genius and near-miraculous healing abilities, through a form of laying on of hands and see the person as healthy.

Glover became Quimby’s most ardent student, sitting in on patient sessions and laboriously copying by hand all that the “doctor” had written of his theory and approach. Then suddenly Quimby died in 1866 at the age of 64 (having more luck with his patients than with himself). Glover tried to convince another healer to take over Quimby’s practice, but he refused. So she took up the task herself. Her intentions were honorable.

Mary_Baker_EddyBut it wasn’t long before the tables were turned—now it was Quimby who had studied under Glover and the manuscripts were from her pen, as indeed they were because she had made the copies. She read and re-wrote for a few years, and then launched her own version, adding religion to the more secular healing practices. Soon, this combination would be called Christian Science.

Glover seems never to have really set up her own healing practice, though. Instead, she figured out pretty quickly that there was more money to be made in teaching, and a lot less liability. So she opened a school. Oh, there were spoilsports who claimed that she had plagiarized Quimby’s writings, but she managed to outwit nearly all of them. Eventually his son George published everything he could, but by then Glover was Mary Baker Eddy (having remarried), and had established her version of the writings as coming directly from God. (Devoted defenders today still explain how it is that Eddy’s methods and her main publication, Science and Health, have no connection whatsoever to Quimby’s work.)

Eddy then established her Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston. Through her take-no-prisoners approach—for example, no one was allowed to quote so much as a sentence from her works without bracketing it with “by Mary Baker Eddy, discoverer and founder of Christian Science”–over the years she attracted a sizeable following and built a major edifice. She claimed that what she wrote and copyrighted was not hers, but  God’s, despite her invariable insistence that she be cited as the author.

Eddy wrote sternly about the unethical practice of plagiarizing, as a warning to former students who took her materials and set up shop on their own. Any debt owed Quimby was lost in the mists. In fact, when Eddy published her autobiography, called Retrospection and Introspection, in 1891, she stated specifically that the details of a personal life (hers) mattered not at all; it was the spiritual interpretation that was everything. Funny how there are facts and then there are facts.

Eddy died in 1910, leaving behind a hefty organization managing her stringently copyrighted materials. Her followers remained as circumspect about her as ever. People devoted their entire lives to Christian Science, practicing it, well, religiously. While the church officially denounced any worship of Eddy, it seems to have been a common practice. She herself, while sometimes sharply rebuking her devoteés for putting her on par with Jesus, wrote that in the course of Christianity Jesus had his own unique role to play, Mary had hers, and so did the discoverer and founder of Christian Science. This was heady stuff for those who bought into the belief.

And so Annie C. Bill, a fully vested Christian Scientist from London, was shocked when a researcher who was formerly part of the church’s inside circle revealed that several articles authored by Eddy in Christian Science publications were, in fact, plagiarized, some in toto. A sermon from the 1890s, a poem from a schoolbook in the 1820s, other paragraphs from here and there. Bill was so discouraged that she quite the church and set up her own version of Christian Science in the 1920s; her long-held belief that she was called to be the new leader of the church could only have helped her make this decision.

The liberal borrowing of material by Eddy didn’t seem to bother the regular believers too much. The church administrators sort of ignored the accusations as if they didn’t matter. The rather soggy explanation (one that was being used earlier this week by a certain campaign staff) given out was that of course over the years Mary Baker Eddy had read widely, had assimilated many ideas, and it was only natural that they would appear in her writings without her recalling where they had come from.

But one very devout family, the Gilbert Carpenters, Sr. and Jr., wanted a more final elucidation. While to mortal mind it did indeed look as though Eddy had lifted from other writers, they said, in fact it was the other way around! Something published in, say, 1823, and then written up in, say, 1890, was actually cribbed by the 1823 author. How? The Carpenters reminded Scientists that Eddy never claimed that anything she wrote was from her own mind; rather that it was always given her by God. Therefore God was the real author. Now, the 1823 author had not ascribed the essay or poem to God, but claimed authorship for himself. So that would be plagiarism. Since, then, as Eddy had ascribed ownership of her writings to the rightful author, God (except for the copyright….), obviously it was the earlier writer in the wrong; Eddy was just setting the record straight.

This did not go down well. The church administrators quickly disavowed the Carpenter’s explanations and quashed the publication as quickly as possible, and removed them from church membership. So there’s one way of covering your tracks when lifting someone else’s words—blaming the original writer for stealing from you—but maybe not terribly effective. You can always just speak your own words and hope for the best.

Copyright Barbara Geiger 2016. All rights reserved.

Images retrieved from online public domain sources.

Uber-super Rockstar Alexander Hamilton in Chicago!!!

Since this is an internet tour, and we’ve been strolling amongst the greats of imaginary literature in Lincoln Park, let’s live it up and fly in our imaginations to our next visit. Flying fits in perfectly with this fantasy version of Herr Goethe. The 1910 Goethe monument committee wanted something less literal than the other statues in the park (you have to wonder if Goethe’s buddy Schiller would be envious or snickering behind his hands). So the competition instructions told sculptors they should be free “from the trammels of costume and conventionality,” and “to give free flight to their imagination and enthusiasm.” And they did.

Goethe and eagleWe’re landing on the lawn just south of Diversey, on the east side of Cannon Drive. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, whom you might not readily recognize in this incarnation, was sculpted by Herman Hahn and unveiled to great ceremony on June 13, 1914. Just in the nick of time before the Great War broke out in Europe on July 28, 1914 and suddenly you couldn’t even have a German surname any more (think of how the Battenburgs metamorphosed into the Mountbattens). Hahn’s sculpture is said to capture the ‘spirit of Goethe’ rather than resemble him physically. And unless he and the pet eagle had spent inordinate amounts of time at the gym and the tanning bed, that explains it.

The statue is enormous, and sort of like the apotheosis of Goethe in sculptural form. Maybe that’s all very well for George Washington, whose real estate interests we noted last week. Well, no, that’s pretty darn strange for Washington, too. But maybe in DC where politicians are always aggrandizing themselves it blends in better. Let’s face it. Chicago is not the kind of town where people go around apotheosizing.

Goethe plinthAnd so there were criticisms of the statue. According to the park district website, “After its completion, the critics lampooned the Monument to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in the Chicago Tribune for several weeks.” The closest thing I’ve been able to find to a criticism is the caption under a photo of the statue being lowered into place, which reads, “The huge bronze statue, on a granite base . . . is of heroic dimensions. . . The monument represents the almost nude figure of Goethe, standing with his foot on a rock.” Not too scathing.

It’s just as well that the semi-nude statue doesn’t actually resemble Goethe himself, who died in 1832. No doubt there were Germans in Chicago in 1914 whose grandparents—whose parents—had actually seen the man in life. It’s one thing to have an idealized statue of someone in the buff from a  mythological age two thousand years ago; quite another of someone your father sipped coffee with.

Regardless, it’s an amazing piece of art, and worth a visit. Staying firmly on the ground, let’s carefully cross Cannon Drive and walk half a block south to visit Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804), the reigning star of Broadway right now. The sculpture was cast and placed in 1952, so  I was going to write something to the effect that that just goes to show how avant-garde and trend-setting we are here in Chicago, or at least Kate Buckingham, the donor was. But lo and behold, the statue has been removed—what awfully poor timing on the City’s part! Hamilton’s been taken off to have his gold skin re-gilded, so maybe his not being here is perfectly appropriate. To see an air-brushed, telegenic version of his face, look at any $10 bill—it will have to do for now. Or of course you can spend $8,000 for a ticket to the musical.

Hamilton plinthHard to say if Hamilton, who is fully clothed, would approve of the Goethe statue, but when he’s on his pedestal, he faces the other direction.

Crossing Cannon Drive back east again we come to John Peter Altgeld, another German, and fully clothed, too. Altgeld was governor of Illinois from January 1893 (just in time for the opening of the World’s Columbian Exposition that May) until January 1897. Altgeld was a progressive, pro-labor Democrat. During his four-year tenure as governor he pardoned the three surviving Haymarket Riot (1886) prisoners and refused to agree to the use of Federal troops to dispel the Pullman Rail Strikers in 1894.

Altgeld frontAltgeld was just 54 when he died in 1902, while at work in the offices of Clarence Darrow. He was buried in Graceland Cemetery. It is a good thing that generally dead people are very peaceful.  After the Haymarket affair the Commercial Club funded the development of Ft. Sheridan, up in Highwood, as a means of having army troops at the ready to quell any other complaints the working class might care to voice. Several of the Graceland trustees were involved. And then Altgeld’s grave is very near to that of George M. Pullman’s, and the two could not have been on friendly terms!

Eventually more Chicagoans, including such influential reformers as Jane Addams, saw to it that Altgeld’s genuine humanitarianism was recognized officially, and sculptor Gutzon Borglum (famous for Mt. Rushmore many years later) was hired to create a fitting monument. Erected in 1915, it’s about a third the size of the massive Goethe statue, honoring a man who in life never sought to aggrandize himself, but fought for the rights and the good of his constituency. What a concept.

Borglum signatureBorglum later created the statue of General Philip Henry Sheridan that stands at the intersection of Belmont and Sheridan Road, a site as busy and jammed with traffic as Altgeld’s spot is green and peaceful.

Let’s do a little more imaginary flying, straight east across Lake Shore Drive, to the Emmanuel Swedenborg monument, just south of the Diversey Harbor inlet. He’s a normal, life-size kind of guy, but just a bust, rather than complete figure, and he faces west into the continual stream of traffic on the Drive. He’s another of our Lincoln Park statue crowd that never set foot in the United States. Who was Swedenborg and why is he here, anyway?

Emanuel_SwedenborgEmmanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772) was 67 when Hamilton was born. He was the son of a prominent Swedish Lutheran bishop, and an important mining engineer who, rather than buying a red sports car during his mid-life crisis, became a mystic, channeling Biblical interpretations from angels and reinterpreting Christianity. Bright, lively, and fully involved in the Enlightenment activities of mid-18th century London, Swedenborg influenced the thinking of William Blake and other post-enlightenment Romantics.

His writings were inspiring enough that he developed quite a following, and some of his devotees eventually formed the Church of the New Jerusalem (still functioning today; there’s a branch in Glenview), while others took his writings more philosophically than religiously. Chicago architect Daniel Burnham and his family were among the second group.

Burnham’s family moved to Chicago in 1855, when he was nine years old. They came in hopes of better business opportunities and were apparently well-rewarded. Who encouraged them to do this? The Swedenborgian community that had formed in Chicago as early as 1836 (!) when Jonathan Young Scammon’s family had settled here. You know the Scammon name—he was an early advocate for education, founded Oakwoods Cemetery in 1860, started the city’s first newspaper, opened a bank, and has an elementary school named in his honor. So there were some early Swedenborgian movers and shakers in Chicago.

The bust of Swedenborg was originally installed in 1924, was stolen at some point, and then recast and replaced 2012. And then, because we can’t actually fly across LSD to take a photo of this monument, you can just click here and see the Park District version.

This probably all sounds dry as dust—but Swedenborg was anything but. For a little lively reading, I refer to you Why Mrs. Blake Cried: William Blake and the Sexual Basis of Spiritual Vision by Marsha Keith Schuchard, at least partly available online here.

And that was some decades before Joseph Smith introduced polygamy to Mormonism in the 1830s, although another book could be written, swapping Smith’s original wife Emma for Mrs. Blake in the title. (Swedenborg, who never married, did not advocate plural wives, nor did any version of Swedenborgianism practice this.) Blake apparently arrived at the multiple-partner idea straightforwardly, thanks to his hearty libido. Smith, however,  claimed to be following Old Testament precedent after being threatened with destruction by angels  if he did NOT practice it—God made him do it. (Angels again. They were busy in the 18th and 19th centuries, it seems.)

WCE buildingsAnyway, Swedenborg also dwelt much on the Book of Revelation, especially the sections describing the New Jerusalem in physical detail. It’s not hard to see that image manifested in the design of the World’s Columbian Exposition, or in Burnham’s later city planning efforts. It’s amazing to learn the actual provenance of ideas!

Oh, and by the way, lest you think we slighted George Washington, Father of Our Country, in the statue department last week with the 4th of July post—there is no Washington statue in Lincoln Park–but there IS a marvelous equestrian statue of the general at 51st Street and Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive. Created by Daniel Chester French and Edward C. Potter, and installed in 1904, it conveys a sense of dignity, power, and movement—and you can almost hear Washington crying, “Hi-yo, Silver! Away!!” or something like that.

Images by the author or retrieved from public domain.

Copyright Barbara Geiger. All rights reserved