Iowa Avenue Bronzes

Near the intersection of Iowa Ave. and Linn St. in Iowa City, you’ll see this bronze fellow, forever waving his hat to passersby.

Irving B. Weber, Iowa CityIt’s Irving B. Weber (1900-97). You might ask, Who? I know I did. “Irving B. Weber is remembered for many things,” says the Iowa City Public Library. “He was the University of Iowa’s first All-American [sic] swimmer. He was a founder of Quality Chekd Dairies and served as its president until his retirement in 1966. Irving was an active member of the Iowa City Host Noon Lions Club and was the local school board president in 1952-53. In 1994 Irving B. Weber Elementary School was named in his honor.

“Irving B. Weber may be most remembered for the over 800 articles he wrote for the Iowa City Press-Citizen beginning in 1973. Irving’s view of history was not one of a dull retelling of facts and names. He told what it was like to grow up in Iowa City, the best places to buy penny candy, the joys of cooling off in Melrose Lake in the summer, and of sledding parties on closed-off streets.”

Mr. Iowa City, you might call him. Honored with a bronze by two Iowa artists, Stephen Maxon and Doris Park. Irving was easy to spot. Pretty soon, though, I started to notice bronze plaques mounted in the sidewalk along Iowa Ave. We’d chanced on the Iowa City Literary Walk. The variety was remarkable, and I saw only a dozen or so plaques.

Such as these, which contain quotes from James [Alan] McPherson, W.P. Kinsella, and Ethan Canin, respectively.

Iowa City Literary WalkIowa City Literary WalkIowa City Literary WalkAccording to the City of Iowa City, “The Literary Walk, conceptualized by the Iowa City Public Art Advisory Committee in 1999, celebrates works by 49 writers who have ties to Iowa. [A good many specifically to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, I suspect.] The Literary Walk is comprised of a series of bronze relief panels that feature authors’ words as well as attribution. The panels are visually connected by a series of general quotations about books and writing stamped into the concrete sidewalk. All artwork, by Gregg LeFevre, is set in the pavement along both sides of Iowa Avenue from Clinton Street to Gilbert Street.”

The Old Capitol, Iowa City

I’m glad to report that the Old Capitol in Iowa City, now part of the University of Iowa but formerly the territorial capitol and then the first Iowa state capitol, has recovered from the fire of 2001. It’s in fine shape these days.
Old Capitol, Iowa City, March 27, 2015When we visited town that year, before the fire, the building was closed for renovations. A workman accidentally set its dome on fire that November, and so the building was closed much longer than planned, until 2006. As a fan of capitols, both former and present (an example of each: Florida and Louisiana), I was happy to get a look inside this time around, in the old House and Senate chambers, the Iowa Supreme Court’s former chamber, the old state library, the spiral central stairs, and more. All well-appointed with period artifacts.

Old Capitol interiorAs usual with this kind of museum, I wondered, where’s the clutter? Pictured above is a tidy, nearly empty desk. An actual desk of an actual 19th-century government official would have had more papers and other debris. Maybe all kinds of clutter — documents, newspapers, books, a half-eaten lunch, the works. The quill pens wouldn’t be arrayed upright, ready to write. They’d be scattered around the desk, or maybe left in other parts of the room, leading the user to scrounge around and mutter, “Where in the blazes is that pen?”

Which leads to another question: weren’t quills old hat by the 1840s and ’50s, when this was a government building? I know nub pens were being manufactured in quantity by then, but maybe they were still scarce in the Iowa Territory.

In the lower level of the Old Capitol is the what’s left of the old bell, a victim of the 2001 fire.
Old Capitol BellThe sign next to the ruined bell tells us, “Housed inside the tower was Old Capitol’s third bell, which fell when its wooden yoke burned. The bell broke around the neck and landed on its side in the tower debris.

“The mass of mangled metal shown here is all that remains of the 1864 bell — the only casualty from more than 750 artifacts. Twists and turns in the metal reveal nails, pieces of copper and gold leaf from the building’s original construction.”

The university managed to acquire a replacement bell much like this one, only in better shape. The sign continues: “During the tower reconstruction, Old Capitol staff located a similar antique bell from the Verdin Bell Company in Cincinnati… this bell was cast by the same foundry as the burned bell, is approximately the same age, and, at 1500 pounds and 42 inches in diameter, is slightly heavier and wider than the 1864 bell.”

Quad Cities-Iowa City ’15

Or, back to visit Herbert Hoover. Not that President Hoover’s a particular favorite, but we were out that way. It started late Thursday afternoon, when all of us got in the car and headed westward, eventually putting up for the night in Moline, Illinois, one of the Quad Cities, our first of two nights there.

On Friday morning, we made our way to Iowa City — not following the most direct route, exactly, but getting there in the early afternoon for a look-see around the University of Iowa. It’s among the places Lilly is considering for her continued education. Late March being unpredictable, the air wasn’t very warm, but the sun was out and it wasn’t cold enough to discourage a walkabout on campus, or the nearby college-town business district, or a visit to the former state capitol. A re-visit for most of us, though it’s been quite a few years.

On our way back to Moline that afternoon, we stopped in West Branch, Iowa, birthplace and burial site of the 31st President of the United States. This time I insisted that everyone get out of the car and take a look. Lilly took my picture, so now I have a Manus Hand-style photo with a dead president. It’s the only one of that kind that I have.

Hoover gravesite March 27, 2015On Saturday morning, I was up earlier than the rest of my family, taking the opportunity to visit the Rock Island National Cemetery, along with the nearby Confederate Cemetery, burial ground for CSA POWs on Rock Island. On the way back, I toyed with the idea of wandering through the John Deere Pavilion, but left it for another time.

In the late morning, we visited the Figge Art Museum in Davenport, Iowa, the successor entity to the Davenport Museum of Art that’s been open about 10 years. Interesting collection, not overwhelmingly large, and including something I’d never seen before: a section devoted to Haitian art.

That was it for this 48-hour quickie. Except for a few minutes’ drive through Le Claire, Iowa, where we stopped for gas. Notable as the birthplace of Buffalo Bill Cody, and home to a museum devoted to the showman. We left that for another time as well.

Thursday Olio

A recent sunset. Still pre-leaf.

Torches Light the Western Sky March 2015Not long ago I overheard two young women ahead of me in line. A bit of their talk went like this, more or less.

The One: Don’t end up being the stupid girl with the stupid tattoo.

The Other: Only one friend of mine has a tattoo, Sonya, and she’s the stupidest person I know.

One: Why are you friends with her?

Other: Well, our great-grandparents were in a displaced persons camp together, and our families have been friends ever since.

DogThe other day I wondered what dogs would come up with as their traditional measuring system. Or at least some dogs — say, the dogs of the British Isles, which they later took to many parts of the world. Provided, of course, dogs could do that kind of abstract reasoning. Assume they can for a moment.

Let’s stick with units of length. The paw would be the basic unit. Four paws to a snout, eight paws to a tail (four is important to dogs; in fact, they use Base 4 for counting). A dog mile — I don’t have a word for that yet — would be 800 tails. What would these be in human measurement? I don’t feel the need to work that out just now.

In modern usage, the snout’s mostly obsolete. And the rest of the traditional measurements are in danger of disappearing. During the revolution, Jacobin dogs in France came up with lengths supposedly based on 1/4,000,000 of the distance from the equator to the North Pole, but I’ll leave that for another time.

The Blue Beetle

After Saturday’s small comic con event (see yesterday), and completely by coincidence, I was listening to WDCB’s old-time show radio, Those Were the Days, and learned about the The Blue Beetle. The name made me laugh.

The theme of this particular Those Were the Days edition was successful radio and programs and their imitators. The Blue Beetle was paired with the The Green Hornet, which it clearly imitated.

Later, I looked up this oddball imitator. Apparently the character, especially as a comic book hero, was more successful than it had any right to be, and he’s still kicking around. One of these days, maybe he’ll get the big-screen CGI treatment. Not that I would pay money to see it, or even watch it for free. But I like the idea. Lesser-known characters (e.g., Captain Canuck) should get their 15 minutes.

Along the same comic-book hero lines, this is a good use of YouTube: The Complete 14 Batman Window Cameos.

Comic Book Characters at the Library

On Saturday, Ann asked to go to our local library’s Comic Con, an event held in its main lobby and various rooms, so I took her. I’d never thought of it before, but it seems that “comic con” is generic. I’m a little surprised that it isn’t anyone’s trademark, such as the organizers of big event in San Diego, but I guess it’s too late for that.

I took a look at some of the displays. One fellow had a nice collection of 1950s and ’60s comics, professionally graded according to a number system, which speaks to the fetish for mint-condition collectibles. I also took a few pictures. Such as this display.

TardisAnd of costumed characters wandering around, posing for pictures. I didn’t recognize some of them, but the storm troopers were easy to pick out.

Schaumburg Township Libary March 21, 2015The right line for that fellow would have been, “Aren’t you a little short to be a storm trooper?”

Schaumburg Township Library, March 21, 2015Ann and her friend, with a storm trooper. I don’t know who the ones in red and orange are supposed to be. The girls enjoyed the event, spending about two hours there. After about 10 minutes, I couldn’t muster any further interest in the goings-on, but we were in a library, so I found much else to do, looking at various books and reading.

Back at Mallard Lake

Last week was distinctly cool, in the winter direction of the seasonal seesaw of March. By Saturday, things were tolerable warm, but then Sunday was cold — and today, we received a few inches of snow. It won’t last, but for a while it looks like January again.

Before all that, on Saturday, we took a walk on some of the trails at Mallard Lake, a 942-acre unit of the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County. This wasn’t our first visit. Except when it’s covered by short-lived snow, the landscape is still browns and grays against sky blue, unless it’s cloudy.

Mallard Lake, March 21, 2015Along with deadwood, no doubt providing nutrients for future trees, or at least the grass.

Mallard Lake, March 21, 2015Only a handful of fishermen were around.

Mallard Lake, March 21, 2015Hard to believe it’ll be lush green in a couple of months.

Mallard Lake, March 21, 2015We saw a few bugs, including a sluggish bee, a small beetle, and maybe a gnat. Insect pioneers of the spring of ’15, coming out for their what — 400 millionth season as creatures that crawl the Earth? They’re not worried about climate change, assuming worry is an insect concept. They’ve seen it all before.

The Very Early ’70s

Of the five group photos of my elementary school classes, I only put the exact date of the picture on one of them — the third grade shot. Why I did that, I can’t remember. But there it is: March 17, 1970. Forty-five years ago.

March17.1970Not the first time I dated an image from that grade, either. I also wrote everyone’s name, though I did that every year. Glad I did. Among other things, it preserves a sample of mid-century children’s names, most of them common, but not all. I always had the least common name.

Top row: Lester, Dees, David, Jerry, David, Ellen.

Next row down: Susan, Jack, Karen, Tom, Cole.

Next row down: Marie, Ruth Ann, Gary, Luis, Renee, Leslie.

Bottom row: Shirley, Mariann, Art, Maura, Steven, David.

Few surprises there. For example, according to the Social Security Administration, David was the no. 2 popular boys’ name for the 1960s. Everyone in the picture except for Mrs. Bigelow would have been born in 1960 or ’61.

The Yeomen of the Guard

The Gilbert & Sullivan Opera Co. drew a solid crowd for the matinee of The Yeomen of the Guard on Sunday afternoon. Not a full house, but a decent turnout, including a small busload of seniors from somewhere or other. But unlike at some events, I wasn’t one of the younger members of the crowd. There was a good mix of ages.

Yeomen of the Guard 2015Mandel Hall was the venue. A handsome place on the University of Chicago campus — I’d like to see it in this light — and almost as old as Yeomen, since it was originally designed in 1903 by Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge. Not the Savoy, but what is?

Though done at a college, the show wasn’t collegiate. The highly accomplished company goes back to 1960, and, according to the program notes, “has a policy of alternating the signature operas with the obscure, taking into consideration anniversary years and programming by other local companies.” This was its seventh production of Yeomen, with HMS Pinafore, The Mikado, and The Gondoliers also done that many times over the years. (At the other end of the spectrum, Utopia, Limited and The Grand Duke have been done once each in 55 years.)

Good fun, as G&S should be, but also not quite as much levity as you’d expect in a romantic romp of switched identities, instant attractions, and lines like this: “These allusions to my professional duties are in doubtful taste. I didn’t become a head-jailer because I like head-jailing. I didn’t become an assistant-tormentor because I like assistant-tormenting. We can’t all be sorcerers, you know.”

Spoken by Wilfred, the head jailer and assistant tormentor of the Tower, portrayed by Brad Jungwirth, a bald slab of a baritone, whose voice and character I enjoyed the most. The rest of the cast turned in fine performances as well, in as much as I’m qualified to judge, as did the University of Chicago Chamber Orchestra.

Maybe there should be more romantic comedies in which love doesn’t quite conquer all, as in Yeomen. After all, it ends with three couples paired up, two of which involve less-than-enthusiastic participants, and one of which leaves a sympathetic character (the merryman Jack Point) as the odd man out, much to his anguish. Then again, I guess a movie that ended that way wouldn’t test very well among focus groups.

The New Seminary Coop Bookstore

Last year, I noticed that the Seminary Coop Bookstore isn’t where it used to be, in the basement of the Chicago Theological Seminary at 5757 S. University Ave in Hyde Park. Over the years, I’d popped in now and then to enjoy that cave of books. And I bought a few things there, such as The Greeks and the Irrational (E.R. Dodds, 1951) and Daily Life in Ancient Rome (Jérôme Carcopino, 1940). How could the floor-to-ceiling shelves laden with books on a wild array of subjects, and the twists and turns and nooks, be the same above ground?

Last year, I wrote: “It didn’t seem right. At the basement location, there was no room for anything but books and more books…. the new location still has a ‘maze aspect’ and Stanley Tigerman did the design (himself or Tigerman McCurry Architects staff?), which I guess counts for something.”

On Sunday, we went into the new store and looked around. The new iteration isn’t bad. In fact, it’s a fine store, stocked with the same wild array of subjects. But it also doesn’t have the je ne sais quoi of the old location. The new design is formed by shelves at various angles to each other, so it isn’t a standard bookstore with parallel shelving. Even so, it seems more like an homage to the cramped old shelves than anything else, a little maze-like but also a little too orderly.

I guess they had their reasons for moving. Maybe the store lost its lease, or maybe patrons had a way of wandering into the further reaches of the book cave and were never heard from again.