New to Non-Boring History? We’re not on our usual schedule of posts and podcasts. I’m just on my way home from New England, with my tolerant spouse, He Who Shall Not Be Named On the Internets (HWSNBNOTI, pronounced Hoosen Benoti), and these are my posts from the road, with (as ever) a historical focus. You can read earlier posts from this trip and others. Go to the home page for Non-Boring History, click on the word Road in little letters near the top of the page, and there you are!
NOT In The Home Counties, Believe It Or Not
Hoosen and I are on the way home, but I still have some great Road posts to share with you, so we're all going to pretend we're still in New England for another week, K?
Meanwhile, a quick jot from Ohio where, you will be shocked to know, we swung round to visit Hoosen, Jr and extract him from the fun at Kenyon College to force him to spend time with the parental units.
Actually, Hoosen, Jr seemed very pleased to see us, which may have to do with his having finished his philosophy paper, me bringing him fancy coffee beans, and that he was desperate for a meal that wasn't from the student dining hall (it looks like the Great Hall at Hogwarts, but architecture only carries you so far in dining).
Hoosen and I had time to kill before Hoosen, Jr got out of class, and took a scenic route we hadn't traveled before. Catching sight of the church you see above, I cried “Ooh, what's that?” which Hoosen knows is code for STOP THE CAR.
It looks so English, doesn't it? Just like Kenyon College, in fact. Turns out, there's a reason.
Now known as Quarry Chapel, it was built in 1862-3, and founded as Christ Church, an American Episcopal (Anglican) church.
But the fact is that, really, it was an outpost of the Church of England, built by English and Irish stonemasons, for their own use.
When Bishop Philander Chase founded Kenyon College as an Episcopal theological college, as I wrote a couple of weeks ago, he crossed the Atlantic to fundraise among rich, titled evangelical members of the Church of England, including Lord Kenyon, who gave the Bishop enough dosh to get the place named after him.
Bishop Chase was raised a New England Congregationalist (Puritans 2.0), but he had all the zeal of a convert, including, I strongly suspect, a big heaping dose of Anglophilia.
Certainly, Kenyon College looks like it would be happier in Hampshire than on a hilltop in Ohio's Amish country.
Yes, I did say Amish. They turn up on campus in horses and buggies to sell nifty handmade wooden thingies, like bird houses, homemade but overrated (sorry, true) baked goods, and jams of varying quality (exceptionally in one case, made by an Amishwoman in surprising sunglasses, a very good raspberry jam.)
But I digress.
Okay, so Kenyon architecture, English as all get out in rural Ohio, it’s a great big bit of cultural appropriation.
Except it isn't, because it was built by English and Irish stonemasons, whom Bishop Chase imported to build his college.
They never went home. Instead, they bought farms. Owning land was an impossible dream for the vast majority in Britain and Ireland, since the aristocracy and their gentry cousins owned almost all of it.
Yet here were these stonemasons in Ohio, owning land. During the American Civil War, some of the stonemasons and their sons fought in uniform, as did many immigrants, and since they were in Ohio, a major free state, they served in the Union Army.
Meanwhile, their community wanted its own place of worship, a place where they could be Brits together. So with donated land and local stone, the same stone they were still using to build at Kenyon College, they built their own church in wartime, a place not only to worship, but to get a break from farm chores, and gather with folks like themselves. And here they are. Sorry it's a bit wobbly, but I'm writing this and taking pics in the car (don't worry, Hoosen is driving):
Inevitably, as the 19th century became the 20th, young people with no memory of Britain drifted away from the community, from soils that were soon exhausted by untutored farmers, and into the brightly-lit cities to pursue more exciting, lucrative, and entertaining lives.
Christ Church, now Quarry Chapel, is no longer consecrated, and is now only open for weddings, bar mitzvahs, parties, and what have you. But it's still there, less than two miles from Kenyon College.
Even so, Hoosen, Jr had never heard of it. So we took him to see the chapel, and when he saw it, he exclaimed, “Oh, wow!”
“ ‘Allo Mary Poppins!”
We just passed through Danville, IL, a small town whose natives turned showbiz stars include Donald O’Connor, Bobby Short, Gene Hackman, and, most famously, Dick Van Dyke.
The auditorium of Mr. Van Dyke's alma mater, Danville High School, is named for him, but since that's inside the building, which was closed anyway today, Hoosen and I (both fans) contented ourselves with the sign the school put up next to the drop-off lane: A famous saying of Mr. Van Dyke’s, with his dancing silhouette, to make a serious point.
Mr. Van Dyke has taken a keen interest in his hometown over the years.
In case he's reading. . .
You probably know this, sir, but Danville is looking a little rough, honestly, like virtually every small town Hoosen and I have encountered in America on our many travels. They range from rough to struggling to wretched. This explains a lot more than people on either side of the political chasm would care to admit.
You'll see a lot of anti-masking and pro-President Trump signs here, even as the population is much more diverse than once it was. It's a world away from the optimistic place that produced Dick Van Dyke (who's still reminding us that the New Deal mattered).
That optimism is still present in this statue (not Dick Van Dyke) right outside the High School, urging students to be a credit to school and Danville. I'm torn between loving the sentiment, and knowing that sheer will can only carry you so far, as I'm sure you would agree, Mr. Van Dyke. If you're reading. She says hopefully.
Meanwhile, learning of Dick Van Dyke Appliance World, a regional chain selling fridges, washing machines, and the like, was a surprise to Hoosen and me. Turns out that when Dick Van Dyke's lawyers investigated, they learned that there was a second Dick Van Dyke, who founded his Midwestern appliance empire in 1977. Go figure.
And the British connection? Utterly American Dick Van Dyke was an, um, imaginative choice to play chirpy Cockney chimney sweep Bert opposite Julie Andrews in Mary Poppins.
His accent was the atrocity heard around Britain with incredulity, outrage, and hysterical laughter.
Every time Mr. Van Dyke visits the UK, much as we love him, the subject comes up, shall we say. It's been nearly sixty years, but we have neither forgotten, nor forgiven.
Lord love him, he's apologized, many, many times.
Nah. This is a life sentence.
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