My America

Hello everyone! I’m blogging this week from Bestor Plaza on the campus of the Chautauqua Institute in Chautauqua, NY. In front of me is a lovely neoclassical concrete fountain, with four friezes labeled “Religion”, “Art”, “Knowledge”, and “Music”. A little further up the plaza is the Smith Library, a charming Georgian Revival building constructed in 1931. If you were to walk a few hundred feet off the plaza, you would reach the shores of Lake Chautauqua, where the Hotel Athenaeum stands where it has for 133 years and the red brick Miller Bell Tower tolls every 15 minutes as it has since 1911. If you were to walk in the other direction, you would find the huge Chautauqua Amphitheater, where Franklin Delano Roosevelt made his famous “I Hate War” speech in 1936. Today, the podium will be occupied by Colin Campbell, the CEO of Colonial Williamsburg. But that won’t be for another hour. For now, the plaza is quiet save for the murmur of water from the fountain and the newspaper boys, in full 1920’s costume—paperboy caps, suspenders, plaid shorts, bow ties, the whole nine yards— all shouting “Chautauqua Daily! Get your daily! Only 75¢!” The scene has a sense of stasis through the ages, a throwback to an earlier time at the turn of the last century when summers were spent on the shores of a lake in upstate New York and all cares were forgotten from the time of June to September. Read More »