Throughout the 2013 Season, select speakers at Chautauqua Institution — specifically chaplains in residence — have cast technological innovation in a pessimistic light. But it is not the criticism of smartphones and video games that is problematic. Rather, it is the sheer lack of a response to this criticism which serves as a reminder: The Institution has historically offered very little programming on technology and culture.
In the posterior of Chautauqua Institution’s Oliver Archives Center is a worn, maroon tome. Its cover, thick and self-effacing, reveals little. Inside is the inscription “Chautauqua Scrapbook, Volume I: From 1874 to 1887 Inclusive,” as prepared by a Mrs. Adelaide L. Westcott.
Therein, among a number of old records and photos beyond counting, are the writings of Theodore L. Flood.
In August 1875, Flood — who would become the first editor of The Chautauqua Assembly Herald the following year — was serving as co-founder John Heyl Vincent’s personal assistant. In an attempt to make the second New York Chautauqua Assembly greater than the first, Vincent sought to invite a high-profile guest to the grounds.
It was the summer of 1885, and Ulysses S. Grant was dying.
Penniless and ravaged with terminal throat cancer, Grant took a northbound train from his home in New York City to supporter Joseph W. Drexel’s Adirondack cottage in Wilton, N.Y. It was in an old wicker chair on Drexel’s porch that former President Grant would spend his final days, drafting his memoirs at a furious pace.