Saturday, October 29, 2011

Stone Relief of Book and Reader

If Walls Could Talk...or Read

I've driven by this many times in Hudson, NY--a relief of a person reading, on the side of a wall, which I believe used to be a school. I finally took a photo of it last week.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Forgotten Seminaries (Part II): The Jesuits and the "CIA"

A Hidden Mystic

Last month I was at a meeting of theological librarians in NYC, and somehow in conversation one of my colleagues from Fordham University commented that the famed Jesuit anthropologist and writer Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was buried in the Hudson Valley at what is now the Culinary Institute of America. I was both shocked and puzzled by this, but it soon became clear why Father Teilhard had his final resting place at perhaps one of the most famous cooking schools in the United States. At the turn of the 20th century, a Jesuit named Father Purbrick purchased land in the area of Hyde Park, NY--which happens to be in the same area as the Roosevelt family, and FDR's own estate to the north. In 1903, the plan for a Jesuit seminary and novitiate with imposing, yet beautiful structures, came to fruition, and a group of Jesuits from Frederick, MD left their locale behind and went north. The seminary was to become one of the major Jesuit centers in the northeast for more than half a century. Yet by the end of the 1960s, it had
dwindled and the school closed in 1969, selling its property to the Culinary Institute of America (CIA). The CIA itself now has an impressive food and hospitality library, which was named for Conrad Hilton (see images). But returning to Teilhard: the famed and often controversial Jesuit, who traveled to the far ends of the earth, and who has influenced generations of both the religious and non-religious was buried among his colleagues and co-religionists here, as the school was still an active Jesuit institution. I'd first heard of Teilhard de Chardin about 18 years ago, in college. I had to do a paper on him, but I had no idea how to find his works, because I didn't know how to spell his name! A professor simply said to me "why don't you write about so-and-so." In my college library, the Jewish Studies librarian knew exactly what I was looking for, and pointed me in the right direction. I ended up writing a paper about the mystical elements of Teilhard's writings around omega point and the evolution of spirituality. Though, I haven't revisited much of Teilhardian thought in the subsequent years since that paper, his curious and provocative writings still intrigue. So when my colleague in NYC brought this to my attention about his burial site, I had to check it out. When I went to the Culinary Institute of America, I discovered the cemetery was hidden in a wood behind a parking lot. I had to speak with campus security, who swapped my photo ID for a set of keys to the locked gates of the cemetery. There I went in and in the solitude of the woods, with statues of the Blessed Virgin Mary upon a knoll looking down, I saw Teilhard's grave, from 1955. And still, more than a half century later, there were flowers that had been left recently, on his grave.

So even if this is no more a great Jesuit seminary, but instead a great culinary school, there is still that vestige of an almost forgotten theological institution here...and in the quiet woods behind it.

Forgotten Seminaries (Part 1): Hartwick Lutheran Seminary

Another Curious History

The histories of American seminaries are often forgotten, yet when we dig slightly deeper into these histories, we often find the interesting, curious, and even oddest of stories. Our tale today begins with one John Christopher Hartwick (1714-1796), who came from Germany to the North American continent in the 1740s to serve German congregations in the Hudson Valley. He worked in the town of Rhinebeck for a spell, but his overtly zealous pietism seemed to get him in trouble with his parishioners and ministerial colleagues. Soon he could not keep a job in any congregation, because of his strict preaching and practice. He eventually was able to procure a large piece of land in the area south of what is now Cooperstown, NY with the hopes of creating a utopian society, his "New Jerusalem." He did move to the region, but such dreams of utopianism didn't really come to fruition. When he died in 1797, he left his money to be used to found a seminary. But in an odd twist, the estate of Hartwick was left to one "Jesus Christ." Because of this, the seminary didn't open for nearly two decades after his death. For over a hundred years, this first of American Lutheran seminaries served a population of Lutheran pastors, pastors-to-be, and their flocks, before being closed and then folded into what is now Hartwick College. On a recent trip to Cooperstown this fall, I had a chance to drive by the actual site of the seminary, and stopped in the cool autumn rain to take a few photos. Though the seminary is no longer in existence, this faint reminder shows the partial vibrancy of churches and seminaries during the 19th century. And even if John Christopher Hartwick was unable to create his own "New Jerusalem" utopia, it may be considered by some that there is a bit of a different type of utopia in this valley that boasts the headwaters of the Susquehanna, in the form of Cooperstown and its bountiful environs. For it is a region complete with beautiful lakes, vineyards and wineries, breweries and cider presses, museums, antique shops and barns, and even a seasonal opera house. So even if you don't stop in the hamlet now called "Hartwick Seminary," its neighbors and its landscape are still impressive and inviting.

Books and Bacon in Frederick, MD

Books and Food

Perhaps two of my favorite things--books and food--I found in and around the city of Frederick, MD. The city itself is very well organized when it comes to history and promotion of its past. There are several interesting places to visit, and many of them have book shops. The first place we see here is the local public library, which is situated right near a canal that runs through town. The other places of interest are the Frederick Historical Society, the Comic Store (if you like comics), and the National Museum of Civil War Medicine.

There's a nice statue outside of the public library of kids reading. As for food: there are plenty of choices, though I'd recommend taking a drive out of town for some pork belly. Now this is not one of my usual food choices, but if you've never tried them... you're in for a treat. My sole confession here is that I didn't actually get this pork sandwich in Frederick, but a few miles north.
No matter--the whole region is a good place to visit, and I think if you have the time and you're in DC, you should swing by...for books or bacon.