The Daily Record: Roosevelt lauds Chautauqua as ‘typical of America at its best’

In his book The Story of Chautauqua, Jesse Hurlbut wrote, “The notable event in the Assembly of 1905 was the fourth visit of Theodore Roosevelt. He was the President of the United States, not now by succession, but by direct vote of the people, for his first term, after the death of Mr. McKinley.”

Arthur Bestor would be new to Chautauqua and “acting this season as assistant to Mr. Brown, the General Director of Chautauqua Institution,” the July 3 Assembly Herald reported. Bestor would also give a series of lectures on American diplomacy, including one on the Monroe Doctrine.

There would be a new commercial building, officially named The Colonnade.

“This building is one of the greatest improvements of Chautauqua in recent years, and it is hoped that it can be occupied by July 7th, the anniversary of the fire which destroyed the old commercial center,” the Herald reported.

The fire in 1904 brought about a complete revolution in the shape of the grounds, “the old site having been turned into a park, laid out with gravel walks, and planted with flowers.” Kellogg Hall had been moved, certain cottages purchased and removed.

The Colonnade would be the centerpiece of “a business block that should be as nearly fire proof as possible, and large enough to accommodate all lines of business that would naturally associate together in a business block,” the Herald reported.

So formidable had been the structural change, a new map was engraved and the directory of cottage owners revised. The Herald printed the map and directory on July 3 in a form that could “readily be cut from the files of the Herald, and placed on the bulletin boards or walls of the cottages, for ready reference.”

The Assembly Herald would become a morning paper in 1905.

“The change from an afternoon daily was made because of the belief, enforced by several years’ experience, that the paper can better minister to the needs of Chautauqua if it is in the hands of its readers before breakfast each morning,” the paper reported on itself.

The Chautauqua grounds would become its own health community, “exempt from the jurisdiction of the local board of health,” although they would still have to submit to the State Board of Health. The July 5 Assembly Herald reported that “Chautauqua is one of the best regulated communities in this respect to be found anywhere. The record of 1904 was a very gratifying one, there not being a single case of typhoid fever on the grounds during the entire summer.”

On July 13, the newspaper ran an editorial titled “Taking Chautauqua’s Name in Vain.” Co-founders John H. Vincent and Lewis Miller foresaw that one word, “ ‘Chautauqua’ would have a definite meaning, that it would sum up briefly and would symbolize a great movement.”

In 1905 the word stood for “popular education, for democracy based upon intelligence and loyalty to ideals.”

However, the name was used in vain.

“Commercial enterprises of many kinds have coupled the name with articles widely exploited for sale,” the Herald lamented.

Although some of these enterprises did honor to the name, too many were “merely commercial enterprises fostered by merchants to increase their trade, or subsidized by trolley lines to swell their receipts. No means are too sensational, no speakers too vulgar or irresponsible for these ‘pious vaudevilles’ and ‘expurgated street fairs.’ ”

While no legal action could be taken, the Institution wanted to assure its friends the clarity of its moral vision and its further commitment to resist crass commercialization. Indeed, the Herald reported that, in considering “the mechanical side of the Institution … we do not lose sight of the spirit which is behind it all,” the spirit expressed by Bishop Vincent in his remarks opening the season: “That [spirit] in Chautauqua which makes everyone willing and anxious to work for the interest of the whole, with no view of selfish return.”

And, yes, there was President Roosevelt’s 1905 visit. The reception would be Chautauqua informal. There would be breakfast, planned as much as possible “to avoid the conventional achievements of the city florist and caterer.” There had been a large number of applications for reservations of seats at the Amphitheater; but in their wisdom, the officers of the Institution had not dealt out special privileges.

“Inconvenient as it may be for some, it will be necessary for the Chautauqua public to take their chances in the body of the Amphitheater,” the Herald reported.

Roosevelt arrived on Friday, Aug. 11, in a steady downpour. Even with the rain, “It was the largest assemblage at Chautauqua in many years, probably the largest in the history of the Institution.” Roosevelt and Bishop Vincent appeared upon the Amp platform at 10:45 a.m., the Herald reported.

The gathering sang “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Vincent asked that “Dixie” be sung, and “joined heartily,” the paper said. Bishop Vincent then presented the President and called for the Chautauqua Salute, which was given with great enthusiasm.

“The President laughed and was extremely pleased with this salutation,” according to the Herald.

Roosevelt said it was a peculiar pleasure to come before a Chautauqua audience. He appreciated the privilege.

“All men in public life are necessarily brought into contact with much that is base and that is sordid, and it is a source of positive strength and refreshment of mind and body to come to meet a typical American gathering like this — a gathering that is typically American in that it is typical of America at its best,” Roosevelt said. “For every nation has typical virtues and typical faults. We have got enough of the latter, and I am mighty glad to see the embodiment of a number of the former.”

President Roosevelt followed this encomium with a one-hour address on two topics: one international (the Monroe Doctrine) and one domestic (regulatory control over all great corporations doing interstate business).

“I give you fair warning that the subject is dry, and it is rather a comfort to me to feel that you must be indeed fond of what is wet if you go away to avoid it,” Roosevelt said.