The Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception and the Cathedral of St. John in the Wilderness

There are two large churches in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Denver within walking distance of each other. The Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, on Colfax Ave., whose French Gothic facade must be impressive,  but which is undergoing restoration work, so I didn’t see much of it.

The Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, DenverImmaculate Conception is the the cathedral of the Catholic Archdiocese of Denver, built in the early 20th century. Its design, by one Leon Coquard of Detroit, was reportedly influenced by the Saint Nicholas Collegiate church of Munster in Moselle. Bishop Nicholas Chrysostom Matz, who had the basilica built, was from there.

The altar, statuary, and bishop’s chair are all made of Carrara marble, while other elements feature stone from Marble, Colo. A wedding party had the run of the basilica while I was there, getting ready for the ceremony, I think.
The Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, DenverAccording to the basilica’s web site, its stained glass windows — all 75 of them — were crafted by F.X. Zettler Co. in Munich at the Royal Bavarian Art Institute, who did a lot of windows for American churches. “The firm and its secret for stained glass were destroyed during World War II,” the site also says, so presumably there won’t be any more made for anywhere else.

A few blocks away, deeper in the Capitol Hill neighborhood — where parking is tough — is Saint John’s Cathedral. Or in full, the Cathedral of St. John in the Wilderness, a wonderful name. It’s the seat of the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Colorado.

It too is Gothic, dating from the early years of the 20th century, as a replacement for an earlier structure that burned down. The front was in shadow, so I captured an image of the church hemmed in my tall trees from another angle. Wilderness all right.
Cathedral of St. John in the WildernessApparently the structure wasn’t quite built as planned, because of cost (what else?). According to the cathedral’s web site: “The two transepts, choir and great tower were never built. Only the nave was completed of limestone with a temporary’ brick chancel.”

Ah, well. It’s only been a century and change. Maybe these things will be built in the fullness of time.

Cathedral of St. John in the WildernessCathedral of St. John in the WildernessA nice, cool space on a hot day. I sat for a while and listened to an organist practice.

I saw one more church in the neighborhood, something unexpected: the Denver Community Church at 1595 Pearl St.

Denver Community Church at 1595 Pearl StObviously not originally a Christian church. In fact, the building used to be Temple Emanuel, built in the last years of the 19th century. A Baptist group bought the building in 1957, and a Pentacostal church did in 1977, so it hasn’t been a synagogue in a long time.

Denver Community Church, an independent evangelical group, acquired it in 2013. Wish the building had been open. Looks like an interesting space inside.

A Walk Around the Colorado State Capitol

Carved on the riser of one of the front steps of the Colorado State Capitol is a well- known phrase: One Mile Above Sea Level. I’ve read that the measurement has been resurveyed a couple of times, and that step isn’t actually at a mile, a lower one is. Never mind. This is the tourist mile-high line.

Mile High Line Colorado State CapitolAs part of the city’s identity, that metric is well known. I saw a group of Korean tourists (I’m pretty sure that’s what they were speaking) snapping away at the mile-high step just like I did.
Colorado State Capitol Mile High LineCurious. No doubt they only had a vague notion of a mile as a measurement, since presumably they’d be more familiar with the metric system and the traditional Korean units like the ri, which is about a quarter of a mile, a unit descended from the Chinese li.

Then again, that’s the spirit of tourism for you. If I found a carving in East Asia asserting that the spot was One Li Above Sea Level, I might want to pose with it too.

Whatever the elevation, the capitol dome is impressive.
Colorado State CapitolCopper panels gilded with gold leaf from a Colorado mine. Fittingly, since the state owes its origin to a gold rush. The capitol itself dates, as many capitols do, from the late 19th century, designed by Elijah E. Myers, who also did design work on the Texas and Michigan state capitols. He was the only person to work on three, it seems. Now that’s a Jeopardy question to stump the best of ’em.

A further-away exterior shot.

Colorado State CapitolNot visible is the fact that the building is “the first state capitol in the country to be cooled by geothermal power, completed in 2013,” notes the State of Colorado’s web site. “An energy performance contract issued in June 2012 by the Colorado Department of Personnel & Administration and Chevron Energy Solutions allowed the upgrade of the Capitol’s HVAC system and installation of a geothermal well that heats and cools the House and Senate Chambers.”

As mentioned, the capitol was closed on Saturday. I got a good look around the grounds instead. The area isn’t heavy on memorials, not like some states, but there are a few. Such as this Colorado Union soldier.
The memorial mentions the Colorado Volunteers’ 22 battles and the names of the 279 who died. You’d think that would be OK, but it turns out that only most of those battles were for the Union. A few were against Indians, including the notorious Sand Creek Massacre, so there’s been some grumbling about the memorial.

An effort is under way to built a permanent memorial on the capital grounds to the victims of Sand Creek. If there’s a temporary memorial there now, I missed it. Adding that, I think, would be better than tearing down Billy Yank.

I did notice, on the other side of the capitol, a much less dramatic memorial.
There are two plaques on the structure, and two other spots seemingly made for plaques, but which are empty. One plaque honors Colorado Gov. Ralph Carr, who objected publicly to the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII, unlike all the other Western governors.

The plaque quotes him: “When it is suggested that American citizens be thrown into concentration camps, where they lose all privileges of citizenship under the Constitution, then the principles of that great document are violated and lost… we are disregarding the very principles for which this war is being waged against the Axis nations…”

His stance probably cost him a seat in the U.S. Senate in the 1942 election. He has a number of other memorials in the state in our time, however. The other plaque on the memorial is about the Amache detention camp (Granada War Relocation Center) in eastern Colorado.

Den-Tex ’17

Before my most recent visit to Texas, which ended today, I spent a few days in Denver. It was like a first visit, because the last time was in June 1980. I had a layover of six — eight? — hours as part of a bus odyssey from Texas to Utah that summer, and took the opportunity to kick around downtown Denver, including a visit to the state capitol and the U.S. Mint.

Though I only remember Denver faintly from that visit, this time around I still felt that there’s a lot more Denver than there used to be. Of course, as a matter of objective fact that’s pretty easy to check. The metro population in 1980 was about 1.3 million. Now the Census Bureau puts the metro population at 2.8 million, though it seems that the definition of the statistical area has expanded over the last three decades-plus.

So it’s a big place. I can see why people want to move there. There’s lots to recommend greater Denver, except for the traffic and some dodgy areas, but every big city has those.

My trip focused on metro Denver. I didn’t climb cathedral mountains, or see silver clouds below. Saturday before last, I started with a walkabout in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, which included a look at two major churches, the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception (Catholic) and St. John’s Cathedral (Episcopal).

I also had a late breakfast or early lunch — I can’t call it brunch, it just didn’t have that atmosphere — at a joint on E. Colfax Ave. called Tom’s Diner.

Tom's Diner, DenverDecorative stone walls, avocado and orange tiles, big windows, yellow-surfaced booth tabletops, a counter to sit at while facing the kitchen: it was like stepping into 1973.

Later, I headed over to the Denver Art Museum and spent time wandering through the galleries. Just outside the museum, the Friendship Powwow and American Indian Cultural Celebration was going on that day, so I got to see some of that too.

I visited the Colorado State Capitol again, though just the grounds, since it was closed for the weekend. From there, I caught the no-charge bus that plies 16th Street through downtown, making my way to two urban spaces that I’ve written about a number of times, and which I very much wanted to see: Denver Union Station and Larimer Square. Both are superb examples of redevelopment.

I couldn’t visit urban Denver without riding the RTD, the city’s relatively new light rail system. I’ve written about it, too. I caught a train not far from Union Station.
RTD Denver Union StationA sleek, new system: it was everything it needed to be, depositing me near the Denver Convention Center. It wasn’t long before I found myself looking at “I See What You Mean.”
"I See What You Mean" DenverA 40-foot blue bear statue, the work of Lawrence Argent, installed in 2005. A lot of tourists reportedly take pictures of it. Why should I be any different?

After Saturday, I had less time for tooling around metro Denver, but I did squeeze in a few other places, such as Golden, Colo. Guess it counts as outer suburban Denver now, but in any case the town has some exceedingly pleasant public spaces, especially along Clear Creek (which is a river).

In Morrison, not far from Golden, I visited the extraordinary Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre. I didn’t see a concert there, but I can see the appeal to both the musicians and the audience. It’s an uplifting, masterpiece of space design.

At Red Rocks — which is owned by the City and County of Denver — I took note of the flag of Denver (on the right).
Flags: Colorado, US, DenverI don’t remember seeing it before. Like the Colorado flag, it’s a fine design. (Number three on the American City Flags Survey of 2004.)

I wanted to visit two historic Denver cemeteries, but I only had time for one: Fairmount Cemetery. It’s a well-tended property, unlike Riverside, which is on the South Platte and supposedly has the virtue of being unkempt.

The Texas section of the trip was mostly devoted to work and family matters. But I did get out for a few hours one day to visit the King William District just south of downtown San Antonio. The last time I was there was ca. 1976. I mentioned that to a person even older than I am, and he said, “Yeah, I remember it then. It was a slum.”

Not any more. For example, the house at 425 King William St., according to Zillow at least, is for sale for $2.7 million.

September Pause

Back to posting again around September 17. Constitution Day. Maybe I’ll have finished the Federalist Papers by then.

It might also be warm again. A distinct October-like coolness has settled on northern Illinois since Labor Day.

Saw a cherry picker in the neighborhood recently. The man atop the equipment was repairing a street lamp that had gone a little funny. Not out, just flickering from time to time.

cherry picker

Why a cherry picker? Why not apples or lemons? And why do careless or unscrupulous researchers cherry pick their data? Why not grape harvest it?

Speaking of fruit, completely by chance down an Internet rabbit hole recently I came across the Citronaut — the first mascot of Florida Technical University, which eventually became the University of Central Florida. He’s an anthropomorphic orange wearing a space helmet, dating from 1968.

Florida produces citrus and shoots men into space, so it must have seemed like a bright idea. For a very short time. Says Wiki: “After one year, students petitioned the Student Government to establish a new mascot for the university.” Poor old goofy Citronaut was ignominiously dumped. You’d think he could have gone on to shill Tang or something.

The thought of Tang led me to another Internet rabbit hole. Eventually I came across the Tang Pakistan page. Is Tang popular in Pakistan? Could be. At least it seems more advertised there than its country of origin.

The About Tang page is in English, and includes such sentences as: “Being the king of flavours, its fruity and refreshing taste wins millions of hearts every day. Be it family gatherings, group studies, play days or summer struck – Tang is the Neverland for everyone to indulge, lift their moods and bond together to share good times.”

Not a peep about astronauts.

Over the Labor Day weekend, I watched The General on DVD. I’d only ever seen clips of it. It’s one of the most kinetic movies I’ve ever seen. Fittingly, with locomotives chasing each other and Buster Keaton all over the place, doing his own stunts. Funny stuff. I’m glad a movie more than 90 years old can still be so amusing.

Some scenes were flat-out amazing. Best known, probably, is when a locomotive causes a trestle to collapse, precipitating the engine into the river below. As I looked at that, I thought, that looks awfully real, not like a model. Turns out it was a real locomotive shot falling into a river (like the train fall in Bridge On the River Kwai).

Sean Axmaker writes in Silentfilm.org: “For the scene in which Johnnie sets fire to a bridge to prevent the North’s engine from crossing the river, Keaton had [set designer Fred] Gabourie construct a stunt trestle designed to collapse under the train’s weight. It was the only sequence that did not use existing track and it has been called the most expensive single shot in silent film history (Keaton biographies put the cost at $42,000).

“It is certainly the most expensive that Keaton ever executed. He had only one shot at the scene and ran six cameras to capture the spectacle. The engine that plunged into the river was one of the doubles used to stand in for the working engines and it rested there in the water, rusting away for 15 years until it was hauled out for salvage in the scrap drives of World War II.”

Later I looked up the female lead in the movie, Marion Mack, a one-time Sennett Bathing Beauty. She got tired of being in movies around the time talkies started, and lived a long time after, until 1989, including a career as an Orange County real estate broker. As for Glen Cavender, an original Keystone Cop who played antagonist Capt. Anderson, he lived until 1962. He seems to be an example of one of those actors that didn’t transition well to talkies, though he kept working.

The actual leader of the 1862 Great Locomotive Chase was James J. Andrews, a civilian scout for the Union Army. Things didn’t turn out well for him, since the Confederates hanged him. He lost out posthumously, too. This from Wiki: “Some of the raiders were the first to be awarded the Medal of Honor by the US Congress for their actions. As a civilian, Andrews was not eligible.”

You’d think Andrews should get something, even now, such as the Presidential Medal of Freedom or the Congressional Gold Medal, which go to civilians.

One more thing about a movie. Recently I happened across this video on You Tube.

It’s a remarkable bit of editing to go along with Elmer Berstein’s justly famous, magnificent Magnificent Seven main theme, right down to Steve McQueen’s smile in the last frame. The video featuring the theme from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly is also worth a watch.

Harvey and Irma

Harvey and Irma sound like an elderly couple living next to your grandparents 50 years ago. Actually, Irma was a woman living in the house next to my grandparents in Alamo Heights back in the mid-century. I have no idea whether she was a widow or, as my grandma would have put it without being remotely judgmental, an old maid.

When I visited my grandma as a young boy, Irma was kind enough to let me play in her yard and even on her front porch, and I think gave me snacks sometimes. I’m certain Irma is long gone, like grandma, but when I walked by her old house last year, it looked a lot like it used to, unlike my hard-to-recognize grandparents’ house.

Out of curiosity, and because I was busy today and so had the urge to spend time profitlessly, I checked the list of hurricane names at the National Hurricane Center, which is maintained by an international committee of the World Meteorological Organization. Tropical cyclone names have a six-year repeating pattern, alternating between female and male names in alphabetical order, except names beginning with Q, U, X, Y or Z, which are skipped all together. I remember when men’s names joined the list in 1979; it sounded odd at first, but normal pretty soon after.

So how many names on the Atlantic hurricane list are as old-fashioned as Irma? A few. Hazel, Beulah, Edna, Agnes, and Eloise have been retired, but Ida and Bertha are still on the list. Arguably names like Florence and Karen and Joyce are on their way out, but not yet. At least the WMO hasn’t picked up the likes of Brooklyn, Madison or Nevaeh. I’d go along with Moon Unit, though.

If Irma’s as fierce as it seems to be, the name will probably be retired, along with Harvey. That would leave an I name and an H name open. Alas, Igor is out — there was a storm of that name in 2010. Hortense is out as well, after a 1996 storm of that name.

A Bit of the Chicago Fringe Festival

The Edinburgh Fringe Festival was pretty much out of the question this year — and it’s probably a logistics hassle of the first order, even of you’re already in the UK — so I went to the Chicago Fringe Festival for a few hours on Sunday afternoon. Though not a trans-Atlantic proposition, it did involve driving into the city, which has its own small hassles.

Fringe1Naturally I left home later than I wanted to, so I caught only two performances, more-or-less picked at random: With the Weight of Her Fate on Her Shoulders and Jeff Fort and Fred Hampton: A Revolutionary Love Story. Per Fringe rules, each ran for an hour or less, with the latter taking nearly the whole 60 minutes, the former not quite so much.

The festival, now in its eighth year, is in the Jefferson Park neighborhood of the Northwest Side. One of the selling points of the festival is that all of the venues were within easy walking distance of each other, and they were. Despite all the years I’ve lived in northern Illinois, it was yet another unfamiliar neighborhood, so I spent some time walking around between the shows as well.

Jefferson Park is a pleasant strolling neighborhood, even in the fairly high heat of late summer, with its residential and commercial thoroughfares (Milwaukee and Lawrence) very much in the Chicago pattern: leafy small streets lined with small apartments, plus blocks of shops along the larger streets. In our time, Jefferson Park is heavily Polish. So Polish, in fact, that the Copernicus Center is there, at 5216 W. Lawrence Ave.

The center includes the Mitchell P. Kobelinski Theater — formerly Gateway Theatre, the first movie palace in Chicago for talkies. That by itself would be worth seeing, but over Labor Day weekend, the center holds its Taste of Polonia festival, which was in full swing Sunday afternoon. So the place was jumping, having attracted more people than the Fringe could ever dream of, and making a lot more noise. As I passed, a band was playing “Come on Eileen,” sounding like the Save Ferris version.

I wasn’t in the mood for a festival, but I did walk by the entrance and took a look at the outside of the building, including the sweeping tower atop the building. That was added in the 1980s and is said to resemble the tower of the Royal Castle in Warsaw, or at least its post-WWII reconstruction.

The Fringe venues were more modest, but I was surprised to learn that three of them were actual theater spaces: the Gift Theatre, Jefferson Park Playhouse and Windy City Music Theatre Blackbox Studio. Jefferson Park, in other words, has a theater scene. Other performances were held in spaces provided by the Congregational Church of Jefferson Park.

With the Weight of Her Fate on Her Shoulders was at Gift Theatre, a 50-seat slice of space with three rows of seats, black walls and a small performance area under a modicum of lights. You can’t get any more basic than that for a theater space, so everything depends on the strength of the writing and the skill of the actors.

Weight wasn’t bad, but not that good. The three young actors certainly had some acting chops. The tight space of the theater fit the setting of a cramped refuge from unseen but definitely heard urban combat going on outside. It also fit what the play seemed to be about: war is hell, it will drive you mad, and then probably kill you. Also, words are weapons. What? One of the characters seemed to talk — verbally harass — another into a violent death. Or was that supposed to be a stray bullet coming into the room?

As earnest as it all was, the short play was something of a muddle. I couldn’t quite bring myself to care whether the characters survived, because I wasn’t quite sure what kind of danger they faced. At times I felt like dozing off, but forced myself to stay awake, like you do during a hard patch of long-distance driving. There’s no risk of causing a traffic accident sitting in a theater, but snoring during a live show would be embarrassing.

I had no such problems with Jeff Fort and Fred Hampton: A Revolutionary Love Story, a fine work of historic fiction, done in the Congregational church’s meeting hall. The thing was engaging. I wanted it to last longer than its hour. The acting was strong, especially the two leads, and while it would have been easy for the playwright — Steven Long — to stray into the tendentious, he avoided that trap, portraying the leads as human beings rather than talking points.

The story was straightforward, depicting meetings between Black Panther leader Fred Hampton, during the year before the authorities murdered him, and Jeff Fort, a major gang leader in Chicago at the time. Hampton spent considerable energy trying to persuade Fort to give up his criminal enterprise and join him in revolution, which he believed would be along Marxist, not racial, lines. Fort was less impressed by the idea of revolution.

As depicted, the two were in a kind of courtship: Hampton doing his best to persuade Fort, who resisted his pleas, along with spells of mutual admiration, quarrels that almost turned violent, and a sense of foreboding. Aptly so, since both men were doomed in their own ways. A short life for Hampton and a long one for Fort. Even now, the real Jeff Fort, aged 70, is at the federal supermax prison in Florence, Colo., where he will surely be until he dies.

After the play, Steven Long came out and asked the audience, about 25 of us in all, to mention it on social media. That’s the first time I’ve ever heard that, but probably not the last. For my part, I’m mentioning it and the festival here.

My attendance at the Fringe this year was as much an exploratory run as anything else, to see whether it might be worth committing more time and energy to in future years. I’d say yes.

The Great American Traffic Jam

Back to posting on September 5. If you can’t take Labor Day off, when can you?

One more thing about the Great American Solar Eclipse. It was followed by the Great American Traffic Jam. Or, to hark back to an increasingly distant bit of history, the Mother of All Traffic Jams.

We left Paducah, Kentucky, at about 2 p.m. on August 21. It took us about 12 hours to get home. Twice as long as under normal conditions.

Since not a lot of people jammed into Paducah to see the eclipse, I-24 north from the town wasn’t bad at all. Even I-57 wasn’t too crowded at first, until around Marion, Illinois. Then traffic stopped dead.

So much so that I could take a picture of the road ahead, at my leisure, while in the driver’s seat. No one was moving.
Traffic Jam August 21, 2017A lot of people had gone to Carbondale, west of Marion, to see the eclipse. The road from Carbondale, Illinois 13, meets I-57 at Marion. Google Traffic showed red and worse for miles and miles north of there.

After a long time of not moving at all, punctuated by exciting periods of slowly crawling along, we were able to get off I-57 and take to smaller roads, such as Illinois 1 and 130 and others. We should have done that from the get-go, but I mistakenly thought traffic would only be heavy on I-57, not molasses.

The alternate routes didn’t entirely get us away from traffic, and at times we encountered slowdowns, such as when hit by a lot of rain. That was the weather system that clouded over the partial eclipse in the Chicago area, and which would have obscured totality for us had it arrived further south a day earlier. Sometimes you, and thousands of others, get lucky.

Our onboard navigation system wasn’t a lot of use. No matter where you were, or what the traffic conditions were, its suggestions to get home amounted to get on the nearest Interstate. If it were programmed to nag, it would have said, “Why aren’t you on the Interstate? You know that’s the best way to go. Get on the Interstate!” Robert Moses isn’t dead.

My old friend Tom was in Madisonville, Tenn., for the eclipse, reporting flawless weather for the event, as seen from Kefauver Park (as in, Estes). He also said getting back to Atlanta involved sticky traffic and a succession of small roads.

Enough about the traffic. It was merely an unpleasant coda to an otherwise remarkable experience. When we finally got home, exhausted, I asked a rhetorical question: Was it worth it? Was it ever.

More Vincennes

At Grouseland in Vincennes, during the tour, our guide pointed out a sizable crack in the wall of one of the upstairs bedrooms. She said that was the only damage to the interior walls that the long-time modern owners of the property, the Daughters of the American Revolution, decided not to repair. That’s because the 1811-12 New Madrid earthquakes make the crack. That crack might be the only visible relic anywhere of that long-ago event. Historic damage preservation, you might call it.

Outside of the Harrison mansion are a few memorials, one of which is homely indeed.
Two blocks south of this marker on March 6, 1814, was born Sarah Knox Taylor, daughter of Capt. and Mrs. Zachary Taylor.

Miss Taylor married Lieut. Jefferson Davis at Louisville, Kentucky on July 17, 1835 and died in West Feliciana Parish, Louisiana, on September 15 of that same year.

Zachary Taylor subsequently became the twelfth President of the United States, and Jefferson Davis the first and only President of the Confederate States of America.

Erected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy 1964

A Confederate memorial, sort of, but somehow I doubt that memorial revisionists are going to be flustered by it.

Grouseland has a small gift shop. You can buy William Henry Harrison Pez dispensers there. I did.

William Henry Harrison PezWHH Pez is now going to keep company with my Franklin Pierce bobblehead.

At the George Rogers Clark National Historical Park gift shop, you can buy a flag I’ve never seen anywhere else: the George Rogers Clark Flag. I got one of those, too.
George Rogers Clark FlagThe Clark flag is now going to keep company with my Come And Take It flag that flies on our deck during the warm months.

Apparently Clark’s men didn’t carry the flag at the Battle of Vincennes, but it was around — a previous American commander at Sackville, before the British took the fort, might have used it. Clark got his name attached to it anyway. Also, it isn’t clear why red and green were its colors. Never mind, all that mystery adds interest. It’s distinctive, and you can find it displayed with more conventional flags at the National Historical Park.
George Rogers Clark Memorial flagsVisible from the George Rogers Clark National Historical Park is the Lincoln Memorial Bridge across the Wabash (US 50), the border at that place between Indiana and Illinois. An elegant bridge.
Lincoln Memorial Bridge, Vincennes, IndianaThis was where a young Abraham Lincoln (age 21) and his family is thought to have crossed into Illinois for the first time in 1830. On the Illinois side of the river, that event is marked with a memorial.
Lincoln at 21 memorial, entering IllinoisProbably the Lincolns crossed the river on a ferry. Crossed the river, checked out the memorial, and then when on their way. I admit, that sounds like a scene from a Mel Brooks movie, but it’s something I thought of while looking at the memorial.

Lincoln crossing into Illinois memorial

Officially, it’s the Lincoln Trail State Memorial, designed by Nellie Verne Walker and erected in 1938.

One more thing in Vincennes: a small museum to a native son. Anyone younger than me (roughly) might have a hard time identifying him.
Red Skelton mural, VincennesThe museum was closed on Sunday, and we didn’t have time for it anyway, but I did tell the girls that Red Skelton was an old vaudevillian, long before my time. I remember him on television, which was essentially televised vaudeville in his case. Who in our time would do comedy that included “The Silent Spot”?

George Rogers Clark National Historical Park

There’s probably no way to measure this, but I believe that the George Rogers Clark Memorial, which looks very much like it belongs on the National Mall or somewhere equally prominent, is the most obscure large memorial in the country. Who’s ever heard of it, especially outside Indiana? But at more than 80 feet high and 90 feet across at the base, with walls two feet thick, it cries out to be acknowledged as Founding Father-class memorial.George Rogers Clark MemorialThe structure is the centerpiece of the George Rogers Clark National Historical Park, which is near the Wabash River in Vincennes, Indiana, just across from Illinois. In early 1779, when Indiana and Illinois were unrealized political entities contingent on a Patriot victory in the Revolution, Fort Sackville stood on the site — more or less. It was around the area somewhere, and occupied by a British garrison.

Above the memorial’s 16 Doric columns, the inscription says: The Conquest of the West – George Rogers Clark and The Frontiersmen of the American Revolution.
George Rogers Clark MemorialIn a tour de force, days-long maneuver in the dead of a Midwestern winter, George Rogers Clark led the forces that assaulted Fort Sackville and took it from the British. But that was just the climax of his efforts.

“Clark began his campaign of attempting to weaken the British position by influencing the French settlers in the area to support the American cause,” the NPS says. “Through these efforts, Clark was able to capture the Illinois Country posts of Kaskaskia, Prairie du Rocher, and Cahokia. Soon after, this French influence was extended over 150 miles to the settlers in Vincennes, and they also declared themselves allies to the Americans.

“… George Rogers Clark in the late summer of 1778 [was] in Cahokia, at a council he called with local Indian tribes in an effort to negotiate peace. By convincing [British Lt. Gov. Henry] Hamilton’s Indian allies to switch sides, Clark could further diminish the resources available to the British.

“Although Clark’s forces at this council were far outnumbered by the Indians in attendance, he impressed the warriors with his bold manner. Many of the leaders of these tribes were convinced to accept the white belt of peace rather than the red belt of war. While this council certainly strengthened Clark’s efforts, there were still many tribes who chose to continue their alliances with the British.”

In older histories, at least, Clark is thus credited with allowing the United States to acquire the Northwest Territory under the terms of the Treaty of Paris in 1783. Of course, more recent historians disagree about how important Clark’s campaign was in influencing that outcome, as historians do.

Probably the Crown considered that part of North America lost anyway, since newly independent Americans would surely pour into the territory. On the other hand, who knows? Had there been a British garrison in Indiana, and more British-aligned Indians, they might have tried to hang on to the area, as they did Canada.

Also, just in passing, Clark established a settlement in Kentucky that would become Louisville. Finally, he’s William Clark’s elder brother; he of Lewis & Clark fame, whom everyone has heard of. So why is George Rogers Clark so obscure? (Well, not completely to Hoosiers.)

Such is the ebb and flow of historic reputation. Still, Clark got himself a spiffy monument eventually, at the insistence of the people of Vincennes and probably a fair number of Indiana politicians in Washington, around the time of the 150th anniversary of the battle.

New York architect Frederic Charles Hirons designed the memorial, and it was considered important enough for President Roosevelt himself to come dedicate it in 1936 (though the Coolidge administration got the process started).

Inside — air conditioned in our time, a good thing — is a bronze of Clark. On the floor is Clark’s statement to the Virginia Council in 1775, requesting aid for Kentucky: If a country is not worth protecting, it is not worth claiming.

George Rogers Clark statue, Vincennes

Hermon Atkins MacNeil did the sculpture. I’d heard of him already — he also designed the aesthetic Standing Liberty Quarter, which I’d argue we should go back to, once Washington’s been on the quarter 100 years (coming up in 2032).

The murals depicting the campaign are by Ezra Winter. Some details:

George Rogers Clark Memorial

George Rogers Clark Memorial - muralAfter I wrote about Geo. Rogers Clark and his NHP, I mulled over how many National Historical Parks there are, and how many I’ve been to. Fifty-one all together — not the same as National Historical Sites, of which there are 78. I remember visiting 13 such NHPs, two of which were only this year, though I might have forgotten a few. As for sites, only 11. I need to get out more.

The Basilica of St. Francis Xavier, Vincennes

Ah, woe is Houston. It could have easily been my hometown. Even though it isn’t, I hate to see it underwater.

Vincennes, Indiana, has a handsome downtown, or at least a well-appointed main street. We drove on that street on August 20, but didn’t stop because the 90-plus temps that day discouraged walking around. Elsewhere in the town, I noticed the grass as it should be in August: brown, indicating sustained heat and not a lot of rain recently.

A few blocks away from downtown Vincennes is the Greek Revival-style Basilica of St. Francis Xavier, dating from 1826 and built on the site of two previous churches, the first going back to Frenchmen building a log structure ca. 1732. A plaque near the entrance calls it The Old Cathedral.

Center of the Catholic faith and scene of the great events of early American history in the old Northwest Territory. This historic and stately cathedral was raised to the rank of a basilica by His Holiness, Pope Paul VI, March 14, 1970.The Basilica of St. Francis Xavier, VincennesThe Basilica of St. Francis Xavier, VincennesThe interior sports large wooden Doric columns dividing the nave from aisles, a painted ceiling, murals and some fine stained glass. Stately indeed.
The Basilica of St. Francis Xavier, VincennesI told Ann how stained glass was used to tell Biblical stories to people back when most were illiterate, and that the tradition continued after that. Or sometimes they illustrate general principals, such as Jesus being Jesus.
The Basilica of St. Francis Xavier, VincennesOne you don’t see too often, or at least I don’t think so: the Lord as a 12-year-old at the Temple.
The Basilica of St. Francis Xavier, VincennesI’m just guessing, but the mural to the left of the altar (its own left) seems to be St. Francis Xavier in the Spice Islands (Malikus). Here’s a detail.

St. Francis Xavier Basilica, Vincennes

Toward the back is a fine-looking organ. I can’t say a thing about it, except I wouldn’t have minded hearing its pipes blow.
St. Francis Xavier Basilica, VincennesOut in front of the basilica, there’s a statue that’s unlikely to rise the ire of any would-be memorial revisionists: Father Pierre Gibault (1737-1802). Sculpted by Albin Polasek, much of whose work is visible in Florida.
St. Francis Xavier Basilica, VincennesI had to look him up. He was a Jesuit missionary and priest in the Northwest Territory, and when war came, he provided vital help to George Rogers Clark in his effort to capture Vincennes from the British in February 1779. Perhaps that was his way of paying back the British, whom he witnessed conquer New France in the Seven Years’ War.