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.

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.

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.

Grouseland

Grouseland is the inelegant name of a more elegant-that-expected house, supposedly named after the plentiful birds in the area, and thought to be the first brick building in Indiana — the Indiana Territory in those days. It was the home of territorial Gov. William Henry Harrison and his family in the early years of the 19th century. Long before Tippecanoe and Tyler too.

Even longer before “We Are the Mediocre Presidents,” though I’d argue that Wm. Henry Harrison was one of the great U.S. presidents. And one of the worst. He didn’t have time to be anything else.

Last Sunday we arrived in Vincennes, Indiana, hard by the Wabash River, and Grouseland was our first stop. Guess I need to add it to my vanity list of presidential sites, which I haven’t updated in more than three years. Maybe next Presidents Day.

Grouseland, Vincennes, Indiana

Patterned after the Harrison manse in Virginia, Grouseland probably would have been no great shakes in the early 19th-century Old Dominion, but out in the wilderness of Indiana, it must have been impressive. It’s still impressive in small-town Vincennes. The exterior walls were built sturdy enough to endure for more than two centuries, but most of the interior is a faithful re-creation, considering that after the Harrisons left, the property was given over the other uses, including a period as a barn.

Grouseland, Vincennes, Indiana“As governor, Harrison saw his principal task as opening lands belonging to the local Indian tribes to white settlement,” the NPS says of Grouseland’s heyday. “He negotiated a series of treaties that provided for the cession of millions of acres of land, but his success generated strong resistance.

“Tecumseh, the famous Shawnee leader, who was trying to recruit other tribes to join him in armed resistance, met with Harrison at Grouseland in 1810 and warned that his people would fight to prevent further white encroachment. Located to the left of the center hall, the ‘Council Chamber,’ is where Harrison held many meetings with Indian leaders and conducted much of his business as governor.”

We got to the house just in time for a guided tour, given by a fetching Vincennes University history major undergrad volunteering for the gig. The campus extends off in the distance from Grouseland. Until I looked it up, I knew nothing about the school except as a spot on the map. (Pretty much the same could be said for Vincennes.)

From its web site: “VU is Indiana’s first college. William Henry Harrison, the ninth U.S. President, founded VU in 1801 while serving as governor of the Indiana Territory. VU was incorporated as Vincennes University on November 29, 1806.”

So that’s another Harrison legacy. Attaboy, William Henry.

The Great American Solar Eclipse Road Trip

How long did I know about this week’s solar eclipse? I don’t know. It wasn’t because of the recent media buzz. The better part of a decade ago, probably. Sometime back then, I filed away the notion: I am going to see the solar eclipse of August 21, 2017. In the path of totality.

So I did yesterday, along with my immediate family. And some unspecified millions of other people. It was an event among events. During totality, we were in Paducah, Kentucky, which occurred there for a bit more than two minutes beginning at 1:22:15 pm CDT. All my remaining days, I will remember where I was at that moment, and what I saw, and so will the other members of my family.

I’d like to report that I overcame various trials and adversity to arrive at that place at that time, like an intrepid 19th-century scientist off to see eclipses over remote parts of the globe, but all it really took was a modest amount of planning, plus a bit of time and money. Back in October, for instance, I booked a room at a limited-service motel in Paducah for the night of August 20. I mentioned this to the clerk.

“That’s why you paid the regular rate,” she said. “People who booked this month had to pay twice as much.” Surge pricing among motels. She also claimed that nearby motels, only a bit better than the one we were staying in, charged $400 a night for some rooms. “And they’re getting it.”

We left on Saturday and drove from the northwest suburbs via Champaign-Urbana to Terre Haute, Indiana, where we spent the night of the 19th. On the way, we stopped at Shades State Park in Montgomery County, Ind.

The next day we went from Terre Haute to Paducah, spending a few hours in between in Vincennes, Indiana, on the Wabash River. We saw three things there: Grouseland, home of William Henry Harrison as governor of the Indiana Territory; the splendid Basilica of St. Francis Xavier, and the monumental yet obscure George Rogers Clark National Historical Park.

The thinking behind these stopovers was that seeing the eclipse at totality was no certain thing. Clouds don’t care about your peak-life-affirming-you-are-a-child-of-the-Universe experience, or even if you’re a scientist (or citizen scientist) looking to add to mankind’s body of total knowledge. It’s just another day to the atmosphere. So in case that happened — and the prospect kept me antsy for days — the trip wouldn’t be a total bust.

All together, the trip from our house to Paducah, using the most direct roads, is nearly 400 miles. St Louis is closer, about 300 miles, but I wanted to stay away from a large city for the event, which would mean adding crowds to crowds. Also, I’d acquainted myself with much smaller Paducah in 2009 at the same time as Metropolis, Ill. (misspelling Paducah in my posting), and found it pleasant enough.

Why see the eclipse at all? Because of the astronomy books I had as a kid that explained and illustrated the phenomenon, especially with maps of where total eclipses would be in far-off future years like 1979. Because of the eclipse of March 7, 1970, which was partial in Texas. My eight-year-old self made a pinhole box but, finding that unsatisfying — and this was before widespread eclipse glasses — I stole an instant’s look at it the thing itself in partly cloudy skies, very clearly seeing the black disk on the bright one. Because the subject came up at the planetarium I visited almost monthly in elementary school. Because men were going to the Moon at the same time. Because of the lyric in “You’re So Vain” that seems to reference the ’70 eclipse. The idea of winging off to Nova Scotia just to see an eclipse seemed (seems) impossibly intoxicating. Because of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court and “Nightfall” and other stories and movies using an eclipse as a plot point. Because I read Isaac Asimov writing about the Eclipse of Thales, and later read Herodotus on that event, which probably was on May 28, 585 BC, and if so history’s first exact date. Because I read about the eclipse of May 29, 1919, which helped confirm general relativity. Because of the annular eclipse I experienced in Nashville (as a partial) on May 30, 1984, which dimmed the sky in a strange way. Because it’s a cool thing to see not before I die, but while I’m still alive, just like the Transit of Venus. Because, to paraphrase George Mallory, it’s up there.

Mighty Stonehenge

Notes from a day’s drive in southern England. My friend Rich and I were young and doing what people — tourists — do in that part of the world, seeing very old places.
Wish we’d known about Glastonbury Tor (about 50 miles to the west of Stonehenge; nothing is really very far away in England, not to a Texan). Even so, I’m not sure we could have seen Stonehenge and Bath and Glastonbury Tor in the same day, but we could have given it the old post-college try.

August 11, 1983

Mrs. Dow drove us to Gatwick Airport, and we paid our pounds [wish I’d recorded how much] and rented a blue Ford Fiesta. The plan is to drive various places until we need to return the car at the airport on the 14th, to catch our flight home.

Driving on the left side, with the steering wheel on the right, took some getting used to. Soon we were lost on the small roads south of Gatwick, very narrow ones with a surprising amount of traffic, and confusing roundabouts (traffic circles) appearing suddenly and often.

So we were edgy for a while. Fortunately, you get used to the roads. We even got unlost. Rich drove and I navigated, and we each took to those roles before long. We listened to BBC1 as miles of English countryside rolled by. Entertaining, no commercials.

At about 1, we arrived at Stonehenge. [Ah, mighty Stonehenge.] We saw it from some distance at first, driving along the A303. Looked almost luminous from a distance. The road runs remarkably close to the ruins. Maybe an ancient road did likewise.

We parked (no charge!) and visited the ruins. You can’t get too close to the stones. Close enough, though. Impressive, and puzzling, that ancient people dragged these some distance across England, long before it was ever called that, for the purpose of building a stone circle. I won’t speculate on their motives. The center uprights and lintels were especially impressive: big and white and somber. [Not quite this crowded that day, I’m glad to remember.]

Drove on to Bath. No problems until we got snarled in traffic in Bath, a town not built for cars. We eventually parked in a garage that featured the following emphatic signs: Thieves are active in this car park. Remove your valuables or they will be stolen.

We went to the tourist-i, booked a room, and drove there: a place called Toad Hall. Very nice, £7 each. We walked into the center of town from there, visited a number of bookstores there, then the Roman baths. [No detail about that, but I remember such scenes such as this.] Ate. Wandered back to Toad Hall. Just after sunset, a beautiful scene just outside our window: a church steeple with a nearby crescent moon.

I used to have a business card I picked up at Toad Hall, but I can’t find it. I remember it featured a gentleman Toad, whom I guess would be Toad of Toad Hall. Though a children’s book, I never got around to reading The Wind in the Willows as a child, so the name didn’t resonate with me when I stayed there. Only later I appreciated the whimsy of naming a B&B that.

I checked, and it’s still there. I also checked the rates: a double in August is (gasp) £95. (We paid the current equivalent of £42 between the two of us.)

Covenant Presbyterian Church, Bucktown

In Bucktown on Sunday I visited two churches during my late-morning walk. The first was Covenant Presbyterian Church.

Covenant Presbyterian Church, ChicagoThis is no ordinary large church. It has quite a back story, because the church building used to be the Cathedral of All Saints of the Polish National Catholic Church in Chicago. I’ve visited that organization’s cemetery, out near O’Hare.

So not precisely Catholic, but pretty close. I am informed that the Polish National Catholic Church is not in full communion with Rome, and hasn’t been since it was formed in the late 19th century. Neither is the separate but similar-sounding Polish Catholic Church, but that church is a member of the Old Catholic Union of Utrecht. The Polish National Catholic Church used to be communion with Utrecht, but isn’t any more — that happened only in the last 10 years or so. Rather, it’s with the Union of Scranton, which also counts the Nordic Catholic Church as a member. Need a scorecard to keep up with the schisms.

Now that that’s cleared up, the following is about what’s now Covenant Presbyterian Church, located at 2012 W. Dickens Ave. The text  is from an interesting blog, which I’ll take as solid enough information. The story starts in 1890s Polish Chicago.

“Overwhelmed by the numbers of new immigrants pouring into Bucktown, the Polish-American pastor of St. Hedwig’s brought in Fr. Anthony Kozlowski, a fiery, European-educated young Polish priest to help minister to the parishioners, few of whom spoke English. St. Hedwig’s was under the administration of the Resurrectionists, an order of priests of mostly Polish extraction. …

“Many of the younger immigrants were suspicious of the order, thinking that it was being pressured by the Irish hierarchy that otherwise ran the American church, and the Chicago church in particular.

“Details are thin, but in early 1895, Kozlowski led a revolt against the Resurrectionist pastor, Thaddeus Barzynski, and his brother Joseph Barzynski, that eventually resulted in two-thirds of the St. Hedwig’s congregation quitting the church and following Kozlowski away from governance by the Pope. [They objected to much of Vatican I, it seems.]

“The revolt went critical on February 7, 1895. Kozlowski’s hotheads broke into the St. Hedwig’s rectory, where the Barzynskis had barricaded themselves, and assaulted the priests. The police were called, and found a crowd of 3,000 immigrants milling around the church. When the officers attempted to disperse the crowd, several protesters threw powdered red pepper in their faces. Dozens were injured in the ensuing brawl, and Chicago’s (Irish) Roman Catholic archbishop shut down St. Hedwig’s for several months.

“By that time, the 1,000 or so immigrants who objected to Papal rule had bought land a few blocks away and began built their own church, All Saints Cathedral.”

It took quite a while. Eventually, the congregation tapped John G. Steinbach to design the church. Its cornerstone was laid in 1931, and the church served the breakaway parish for the next 62 years, until the building became too expensive to maintain and was sold to Covenant Presbyterian Church.

“Covenant Presbyterian’s white imitation cement stone and neo-Gothic features distinguish it from other Polish Cathedral-style churches designed by Steinbach and his partner, Henry Worthmann,” writes Amy Korte in Chicago Architecture.

“A carving above the main entrance depicts a book, the sun, a cross, and a palm. Together, these images comprise the emblem of the Polish National Catholic Church, the denomination with which All Saints had affiliated itself. Below these symbols lies the Polish inscription ‘Prawda, Praca, Walka,’ an abbreviation of the denomination’s motto, ‘With truth, work and struggle, we will succeed.’ ”

I noticed that feature, but eager to get out of the sun, I didn’t take any pictures. The inscriptions are here.

Covenant Presbyterian Church, Bucktown

I sat at the back of the church for a short spell, taking my seat just as a pair of baptisms were taking place — two baby girls. A delightful thing to chance across, even if you don’t know the families.