Saturday, March 28, 2009

Frank Lloyd Wright's Child of the Sun

I have recently returned from another quick trip to Florida. While I was there I spent a great deal of time pondering a Florida-related book manuscript that has been weighing heavily on me lo these past 16 years. As I noted in my last column, I currently find myself in a situation where one must fish or cut bait. So an unexpected return to Florida gave me an opportunity to look at this project anew resulting in a burst of energy which I hope will rekindle this project. I also figured it might be helpful if I sat down and wrote something about it . . . shuffling the coals around in the hearth hoping a new flame, a new heat might spring forth.

A little background for the uninitiated. I attended Florida Southern College as an undergraduate, receiving my BA degree in 1974. The college happens to be the largest collection of Frank Lloyd Wright-designed buildings on a single site . . . the only integrated college campus design of his long and distinguished career. While I went on to graduate school in Arizona and Maryland, my good friend and classmate Ray Fischer remained at the college where he ended up serving as Director of Public Relations. It was in this role that he began to work on a history of Wright’s long and fascinating association with the college in the latter years of his life and career. Sadly, Ray was cut down in the prime of his life, succumbing to cancer in the autumn of 1992. Attending his memorial service in the college chapel designed by Wright, I listened as the chaplain mourned the fact that the story Ray was assembling might never be told. It was then that I picked up the torch with the goal of completing this project. Now it is approaching a long awaited and, I hope, a satisfying conclusion. There is interest out there, so today I want to share some of the story with you. To look at some photographs of the Wright-designed buildings at Florida Southern College, please visit:

Located in central Florida, the city of Lakeland is almost equidistant from Tampa and Orlando. It has been known for decades as the capital of the Florida citrus industry, and since 1920 it has been the home of Florida Southern College, a small liberal arts school affiliated with the Methodist Church. As the city grew and developed during the era of real estate speculation in Florida in the 1920s, so too did Florida Southern College. Beginning with a single red brick building set among the orange groves on a hill overlooking Lake Hollingsworth, the campus expanded with the construction of an additional brick classroom building. The collapse of the real estate boom in the late 1920s, however, saw the college fall on hard times due to a declining enrollment and insufficient monies to pay its faculty. The Board of Trustee gave serious consideration to closing the college for good.

But Florida Southern College survived, thanks in large measure to the optimism and vision of its young president, Ludd M. Spivey, who came to Lakeland in 1925 and immediately set out to raise money to expand the college's enrollment and its physical plant. Spivey opposed all attempts to downsize or close the college. He managed to keep the classrooms open while everything seemed to be collapsing around him.

The future of Florida Southern College was largely guaranteed by the creation of the E. Stanley Jones Foundation in 1936. Named in honor of a world-renowned missionary to India whom Spivey had met aboard a ship returning from Europe, this foundation sought to raise one million dollars for Spivey's expansion programs. Spivey also decided that, if Florida Southern College became the institution he envisioned, its campus would have to symbolize this progress. A number of traditional brick classroom and dormitory buildings were constructed throughout the mid-1930s as enrollment slowly increased, yet Spivey was looking for something unique, something that would set Florida Southern College apart from other colleges.

In early 1938, Spivey focused his attention on Frank Lloyd Wright as the man who could translate his vision into reality. There are many stories of how Spivey came to select Wright, but once Spivey made up his mind, there was nothing that would deter him. On April 11, 1938, he sent a telegram to Wright, who at the time was working on the construction of his new winter home and studio, Taliesin West, outside of Phoenix, and requested a meeting "concerning plans for a great education temple in Florida." On April 21, 1938, Spivey arrived at Taliesin, the architect's home and studio near Spring Green, Wisconsin, and made a pledge to the architect. If Wright agreed to design a master plan for a new campus, he would find the money to pay for it. Spivey had already gained the reputation as a fundraiser par excellence, and his plans piqued Wright's curiosity.

Two weeks later, Wright traveled to Lakeland to tour the 63-acre campus where Spivey hoped to erect an "architectural center of the south." Wright told the students and faculty that it was high time that America had an architecture of its own, and promised that he could give the campus fresh form, a Florida form. Wright rarely agreed to undertake a project, especially such a large one, on little more than a handshake, but he was struck by Spivey's optimism and obvious charisma, and willingly accepted the commission. Spivey agreed to pay an initial fee of $10,000 for the master plan, including renderings of the whole plan and each separate unit, and Wright returned to Spring Green and set out to design his "Child of the Sun," a college to be constructed among an orange grove in central Florida.

Wright's 1938 master plan called for the construction of an integrated complex of 18 separate buildings, including a chapel, library, administration building, music building, an industrial arts building, a science and cosmology building, an art gallery with studio workshops, and a number of seminars and faculty houses. Each building would be unique in style and form according to its specific function, yet part of an integrated and symmetrical whole. This sense of continuity would be achieved by the use of a limited palette of materials: glass, steel and concrete - glass to break down the barriers between exterior and interior, adding light and heightening the sense of space; steel to provide strength; and concrete textile blocks, the basic fabric of construction, were manufactured on the campus using local sand and crushed coquina shell.

In the master plan, Wright moved emphatically away from the regimentation of classic and gothic architecture typically found on the American college campus. Poured concrete and the textile blocks permitted him to experiment with various geometric shapes and other design options. The master plan also called for the construction of a circular pool, or waterdome, to serve as a focal point for the new campus, as well as a network of "esplanades," or covered walkways, connecting the individual components of the plan which called for extensive landscaping in a pattern of terraces and arbors. Wright wanted the surrounding orange grove to be left undisturbed as much as possible and each new building would be surrounded with various semi-tropical plants.

As Wright prepared the master plan for the new campus, he was also designing a chapel, the first building to be constructed and the centerpiece of the entire complex. Spivey insisted that the plans for the chapel be completed as soon as possible so as to assist in the college's fund-raising activities. By November 1938, the chapel's foundation had been laid and the cornerstone dedicated, yet actual construction did not commence until the summer of 1939, and it progressed very slowly. In order to save money, students did much of the construction work under the supervision of Robert Wehr, an industrial arts instructor. In return for room, board and tuition, these student workers spent three days a week on the job and attended classes on the remaining three days. They had Sundays off. With little or no experience with Wright's construction techniques and the nature of the material being used, Wehr and his workers ran into a number of difficulties manufacturing the requisite number of blocks and achieving the correct consistency in the concrete mixture. Numerous letters and telegrams went between Lakeland and the Taliesin Fellowship solving problems so that construction could continue. William Wesley Peters, one of Wright's first and most trusted apprentices (and later a son-in-law), eventually traveled to Lakeland to lend his expertise and his knowledge of Wright’s designs to the construction of the chapel.

The progress of construction also depended upon fund-raising. Spivey sent Wright money when he had it, and the architect was often hesitant to continue without payment. Spivey replied that he could not raise more money or collect pledges unless construction continued uninterrupted. By January 1941, the chapel was nearing completion and it was finally dedicated in March 1941 and named in honor of Annie Pfeiffer, a major college benefactor. Also completed that year were three small one-story seminar buildings separated by two small narrow courtyards. Located directly north of the chapel, each of these buildings contained a classroom and two offices, including a new office for President Spivey.

Shortly after the chapel's dedication, Wright completed plans for a new library, just west of the chapel site and connected to that building by the first segment of the esplanade. The library's foundation was laid in May 1941, and Robert Wehr and his crew of 45 students hoped to complete the construction by the Spring of 1942. The United States' entry into the war, however, interrupted construction when many of the male students entered the military and construction materials, especially steel, became rather scarce. President Spivey made numerous appeals to the War Production Board, contending that the college could not operate effectively without a library. Spivey was forced by circumstances to improvise. He employed female students to work on the library which progressed slowly and only when steel and other materials were available. To make matters worse, a hurricane struck Lakeland in late 1944 destroying the chapel's tower. Once again Spivey appealed to Washington for steel to make the necessary repairs. The library was eventually dedicated in March 1945 although finishing work remained incomplete until after the war.

Wright completed the design for a new administration building in October 1946. Although some claim that the architect personally supervised its construction, this important task was assigned to Kenneth Lockhart, one of Wright's young apprentices sent from the Taliesin Fellowship. Ground was broken in December 1946 and construction was completed in late 1948 as was the adjacent Wright-designed waterdome, the circular pool located between the new administration building and the smaller seminar units and directly north of the chapel and library, that was to serve as the focal point of the new campus. A double-wide portion of the esplanade was extended from the library to the administration building.

The construction of a large industrial arts building followed, the most ambitious structure to date. Already in early 1941, before the chapel had been completed, Wright was promising the preliminary sketches for this building. He completed them the following year, and Spivey hoped the College could manage the construction of the library and the industrial arts building simultaneously. The war and the shortage of manpower, the scarcity of building materials, and the college’s inability to raise the requisite funds to pay Wright, made this impossible. The completion of the library took precedence over other construction and the available funds and materials were used for that purpose. The drawings for the industrial arts building were resurrected in 1949, following the completion of the administration building and the waterdome. Once again, Kenneth Lockhart supervised the construction which was completed in 1952. The esplanade network was extended from the seminars and the chapel to the new building.

Construction on two more buildings began prior to Wright's death in April 1959. The Science and Cosmology Building, which Spivey had hoped to construct as early as 1942, was finally started in 1953. The largest building in the Wright complex, it is over 400 feet in length and contains the only planetarium designed by Wright. While incorporating the now ubiquitous concrete blocks and reinforced concrete slabs, it was also the first building in the complex to use molded aluminum. A smaller chapel was also constructed adjacent to the main chapel, based on preliminary sketches sent to the College in 1942. Construction was postponed during the war and it was not built until 1955. Kenneth Lockhart had by this time returned to the Taliesin Fellowship, and Nils Schweizer, who was appointed Wright's representative in the Southeastern states in 1952, supervised the construction of both of these later buildings.

Wright's master plan also called for the construction of several additional buildings, none of which was constructed. Wright formulated three separate designs for a music building. The first design, dating from 1943, was followed by a second design three years later. By that time, however, all available funds and energy were directed into the completion of the administration building and the waterdome. These plans were shelved and would not be resurrected until 1957, following the completion of the industrial arts building, the science building, and the minor chapel. President Spivey, upon his retirement in June 1957, urged the College to finally construct a music building, and Wright prepared yet another design, working drawings of which were submitted in 1958. The building was never built.

In late 1948, the college was busy at work trying to raise the necessary funds to construct an Olympic-size swimming pool and a large circular amphitheater on the edge of Lake Hollingsworth, on the southern end of the new campus. Designed to seat over 5,000 people, this structure would serve to counterbalance the large circular waterdome at the north end of the complex, as well as the various other circular design elements intersperse throughout the complex. This project, despite all the enthusiasm surrounding it, never progressed beyond the planning stage.

Plans for a building that would hold an art gallery, studio workspace and small recital auditoriums met a similar fate even though Wright had prepared two separate designs. The first, requested by the college in 1942, was submitted for approval in 1944. Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney, who had studied music at FSC in the 1920s, offered to fund the construction of a new arts building on campus, but she greatly disapproved of Wright's design and demanded that substantive changes be made. Wright refused and the project was abandoned. Wright prepared new drawings in 1949 based on an earlier design dating from 1921. It included gallery and studio space as well as additional lecture halls and classrooms. Again, these projects were eventually abandoned due to a lack of funds and the college's efforts to complete the library and administration building during the lean war years.

The association between Florida Southern College and the Taliesin Fellowship
began to wane following Spivey's retirement in 1957 and Wright's subsequent death in 1959. With these two men out of the picture, there was no one left to ensure that Spivey's original vision as embodied in Wright's master plan would be brought to completion. Following the completion of the science building, plans for construction of the remaining buildings described in the master plan were abandoned. Instead, Nils Schweizer, the Wright apprentice who had left Lakeland to establish his own architectural practice in nearby Orlando, was named College Architect. He designed and supervised the construction of a number of buildings situated among those designed by Wright. He also oversaw the expansion and modification of certain of the Wright building, including the seminars and the library, to provide for their adaptive reuse as administrative offices. It was now clear that the Wright era at FSC was over.

The past three decades have not been kind to Wright's "Child of the Sun." His buildings became interesting conversation pieces over the years, and their true significance went largely unrecognized until just recently. Years of damage from the sun and moisture have also exacted a high toll, and many of the buildings are in dire need of restoration, especially those earlier ones that were built before the Taliesin Fellowship assumed direct supervision of the construction. With a renewed interest in Frank Lloyd Wright and his architecture, the Wright-designed campus at Florida Southern College is getting a closer look because of its significance as the largest concentration of his buildings anywhere in the world. The college has also started to do its part; restoration has begun and the campus will continue to offer insight into the mind and vision of America's greatest architect.

NEXT WEEK: Cherry Blossoms Mean Springtime in Washington, DC

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Entr'acte II - On a Short Springtime Hiatus

Since my last posting on March 8 - “A Visit to the Banks of Plum Creek” - I have been on an unexpected hiatus without time to consider and write about the random thoughts that continue to run through my head. Is it spring fever? I think that might be part of it. It may also be the result of the sudden realization that today I am one step closer to what William Least Heat-Moon referred to as “geezerdom.” Not quite sure how to take this, but I guess I will just grit my teeth and bear down.

There is one bright note, however. This is the first full day of spring and here in Maryland the signs of the new season are everywhere. The forsythia is in full bloom and the crocuses and daffodils are peeking out in our garden. Some of the cherry trees here and just over the border in DC are budding and they say we will be at peak blossom time around April 1 . . . a few days earlier than expected due to the recent warmer nighttime temperatures.

I am working on a piece about the American bison which I had originally planned to post last weekend before this unforeseen interruption in my routine descended on me. So stay tuned . . . that will be appearing here very soon. Things have a tendency to pile up for all of us, and sometimes the best thing to do is to step back and then either throw the Hail Mary . . . or punt. We’ll see what happens.

In the meantime, I wish all of my readers a happy and healthy spring season. Get out there and walk, ride your bike, enjoy a backyard barbeque (bison is good for you!), and hopefully I will be back in the saddle in the next couple of weeks. Here are a couple of pictures Sally Ann and I took in the backyard this week. Spring is here!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

A Visit to the Banks of Plum Creek

Here is this week’s update and another road trip discovery . . . this time on the eastern fringes of the Great Plains. After the visit to Joe, Montana (see February 21, 2009 column), my wife and I continued eastward across the badlands of North Dakota, through the watershed of both the Little Missouri and Missouri rivers, and into those of the Sheyenne River, the Boie de Sioux, and the Big Sioux River. The graven plateau gave way to the endless miles of Eastern Dakota prairie grasslands. I had traveled across North Dakota on Interstate 94 during that first big road trip in the summer of 1970 (see February 16, 2009 column), but the blue highways of this region were all new to me and it seems there was a new discovery down every road. I want to share with you just one of these, one that again supports what I have already written about the function of road trips; to travel "into the landscape in order to better understand it, and the people who call it home, those who praise or curse it for what it offers or takes away." Thanks again to Sally Ann for her good eye in taking the photographs. I hope you will read on.

I never read Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books when I was a kid. Just not my cup of tea, I guess. But my wife did, and she loved the stories of the Ingall’s family as it moved from the Big Woods of western Wisconsin to Kansas, and eventually north again to the small town of Walnut Grove, Minnesota, and De Smet, South Dakota, in the latter half of the 19th century. I really knew nothing at all about Mrs. Wilder or her stories until the television series "Little House on the Prairie," which was very loosely based on her characters, premiered in 1974. I’ll admit it; my wife and I watched it regularly. After all, she knew the characters from reading the books, and the series starred the late Michael Landon whom I idolized in his role as Little Joe on "Bonanza," a program I watched religiously as a young boy, but I did not think much about Laura Ingalls Wilder or the television series once it went off the air in 1983.

More recently, my wife and I were traveling through the Dakotas, and while studying our maps in a motel room in Watertown, South Dakota one evening, she pointed out that we were only an hour or so away from the town of De Smet, where the Ingalls family settled in 1879 after three years of failed crops in Minnesota. It was in De Smet that Laura Ingalls Wilder lived and went to school, and where she met and married Alonzo Wilder at the age of 18, in 1885. They moved to Alonzo’s farm just north of town and raised wheat, the main cash crop in those parts. De Smet became Laura’s "Little Town on the Prairie" that formed the core of many of her books, six of which are set in and around the town. Although I am not always interested in the writings of certain authors, I have always held a keen fascination for the lives of writers, any writers; where did they live and how did these places impact on how and what they chose to write about? So curiosity got the better of me as we planned to visit De Smet the following day.

The next morning we drove west out of Watertown on US 212, and then south on State Route 25, passing though wide expanses of prairie farms stretching to the horizon, where the roads ran in grid pattern to the four compass points. Each town we passed through looked pretty much like the one before and after. As we approached De Smet from the north we came upon a small historical marker informing us that the Wilder homestead, the small claim shanty where Laura and Alonzo lived after they were married, was once located in a wooded thicket to our west. It was there that their daughter Rose Wilder Lane (1886-1968), was born. Like her mother, she continued to celebrate her youthful days on the prairie although she would grow to be an accomplished journalist and novelist in her own right, and at age 78 the oldest war correspondent during the Vietnam War. The Wilders had a difficult row to hoe on that farm and they eventually pulled up stakes and left De Smet in 1890, settling in the Missouri Ozarks where they would remain for the rest of their lives. Mrs. Wilder died in February 1957, just three days after celebrating her 90th birthday. She lived in De Smet for just over a decade, but it was her years there, and those of her earlier childhood spent in Walnut Grove, Minnesota, about which she would write most fondly . . . stories that several generations of young girls would cherish into adulthood.

Upon our arrival in De Smet, we found a small park situated near the center of town which serves as the current site of the old Surveyor’s House, in which the Ingalls family first lived after moving to the Dakota territory. My wife took a tour of the house as well as a replica of an old one-room school house similar to the one that Laura and her sisters attended. Laura, at the young age of 15 and still a student herself, later worked as a teacher in such a school. While she explored these places to her heart’s content, I was satisfied to walk the quiet streets of De Smet and collect my thoughts about life in the heartland. It is not easy wresting one’s livelihood from the soil where the wind blows as long and hard as the winters are cold and the summers are hot. "No one," Mrs. Wilder wrote, "who has not pioneered can understand the fascination and the terror if it."
At the end of her tour, my wife inquired about the Ingalls family’s time on Plum Creek, near Walnut Grove, between 1874 and 1876, and whether it might be possible to visit the site. The nice lady who gave her the tour through the buildings picked up the telephone and called the owners of the farm on which the old homestead is now situated, to inquire whether it would be alright for us to drive over there that day to have a look around. So, after lunch in De Smet and a visit to the Ingalls family plot in the town cemetery on a hill south of town, and a brief visit to the site of the Ingalls farm near the Big Slough where five stately cottonwood trees planted by Pa Ingalls still grow, we set off on US Highway 14 - the Laura Ingalls Wilder Scenic Highway - for the 100 mile eastward journey to Walnut Grove.

We crossed into Minnesota and soon passed through one of the largest wind farms in the United States at Lake Benton - over 200 large wind turbines positioned along Buffalo Ridge, one of the highest areas in the state, their spinning props filling the sky in ever direction. Fifty miles beyond the border is Walnut Grove, population 599, a town very much cognizant of its important place in the life of Laura Ingalls Wilder, and her books. There is an annual pageant and several signs around town reminding one of this connection, but there is not much in this small town that was there when the Ingalls family lived nearby on the banks of Plum Creek. As we approached the town my wife read to me Laura Ingalls Wilder’s description of her family’s arrival at Plum Creek.

We followed the directions provided to us in De Smet and drove a short distance north to a well-kept farm with its stately old house and red barn and out buildings. Beyond these is a two-track through acres of what would soon be corn fields to the banks of quietly meandering Plum Creek. The plum thickets are still there and the place looks like it must have when the Ingalls family lived here. There is a depression on the hillside where the small dugout once stood, and below it flows Plum Creek. The site is bordered by a broad tableland where the family’s tilled fields and wood lot were located. We had the place all to ourselves and we wandered up and down the stream and across the fields. All you could hear was a fresh springtime breeze blowing through the tall grasses. I am sure my wife was thinking back to the stories she read as a young girl. I’m glad we came if for no other reason than that.

The trip to Walnut Grove and Plum Creek on that beautiful April day? Pure serendipity. When we awoke that morning in Watertown, South Dakota we had no plans to drive well into Minnesota. That is the wonderful thing about a road trip. You go where your personal winds blow you and sometimes you end up on an unexpected shore. In this case, the banks of Plum Creek. By late afternoon we had resumed our trip back toward Sioux Falls, our intended destination that evening. Tired and hungry we wondered what the next day would bring.

NEXT WEEK: Entr’acte II: A Grand and Noble Beast

Sunday, March 1, 2009

A Brutal Political Murder

Last summer I was invited to participate in the biennial meeting of the Nathaniel Hawthorne Society at Bowdoin College, in Brunswick, Maine. This timely gathering was aptly called "Nathaniel Hawthorne: Starting Over," as Hawthorne attended Bowdoin College for four years, graduating with the Class of 1825. A couple points of clarification, however. First off, I am not a Hawthorne scholar and would not claim to be one. Secondly, I was not invited to this meeting to talk about Hawthorne. Instead, I journeyed to Bowdoin to tell the sad tale of Jonathan Cilley, one of Hawthorne’s oldest friends and college chums, whose death in 1838 in a ravine less than a mile from my home in suburban Washington, DC led to the outlawing of dueling in the United States. And it was Cilley’s former Bowdoin classmate Hawthorne who helped spearhead the effort to ensure that others might not suffer the same fate as his old friend. So, wearing my historian’s hat this week, let me share a portion of the story I told during my visit to Hawthorne’s alma mater where I was also afforded an opportunity to see several manuscripts, correspondence, and other ephemera surrounding the Cilley-Hawthorne friendship. I am also including some photographs taken here in the Washington area, as well at Bowdoin and in Thomaston, Maine. Thankfully individuals no longer settle disputes in ways that violate “their duty to themselves, their wives and children, their immediate constituents, their country, their god, upon contemptible punctilios . . . .”

On the morning of February 24, 1838, two distinguished members of the United States House of Representatives met at Bloody Run, a small tree-shaded ravine in Bladensburg, Maryland, just over the District of Columbia boundary. To these dark and bloody grounds came Washington’s gentlemen to settle disputes by firing large caliber lead balls at one another. Jonathan Cilley, a Congressional representative from Maine, stood opposite William Graves, a colleague from Kentucky, and when it was over, Cilley lay mortally wounded. His tragic death led to a public outcry encouraging Congress, which characterized the killing as “the Washington murder” and “a brutal political murder . . . without any circumstance of extenuation,” to outlaw dueling the following year.

Jonathan Longfellow Cilley was born July 2, 1802 at Nottingham, New Hampshire, the son of Major Greenleaf Cilley and the grandson of General Joseph Cilley, a hero of the American Revolution. Young Jonathan was raised in a family with a strong political legacy; he was the nephew of Bradbury Cilley, an at-large member of the U.S. House of Representative from New Hampshire between 1813 and 1817, and his older brother Joseph, who had distinguished himself on the Canadian frontier during the War of 1812, would later serve two years as the U.S. Senator from New Hampshire.

Following his father’s death in 1808, the family’s New Hampshire holdings came to his brother Joseph, and Jonathan would have to look elsewhere to make his way in the world. After attending the prestigious Atkinson Academy and Hampton Academy, in his home state, Cilley traveled to Maine in 1821 where he attended Bowdoin College along with classmates including Franklin Pierce, the 14th President of the United States, the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Nathaniel Hawthorne.

In the same coach in which Cilley left Portland for Brunswick and Bowdoin College were Franklin Pierce and Nathaniel Hawthorne. These three young men, along with Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, of Portland, and Horatio Bridge, of Augusta, would become fast friends at school. Unlike Hawthorne and Bridge, who from time to time violated the school’s rules for acceptable decorum, Pierce, despite his poor grades, and Cilley became pillars of their class. Hawthorne would later describe his friend as a “popular leader,” a “fervid and successful advocate,” and “a young man of quick and powerful intellect, endowed with sagacity and tact.”

These four friends were not interested only in academic pursuits mixed with various adventures and innocent indiscretions. They were also young partisans in a dynamic transformation of American democracy. A case in point was the national elections of 1824, during their final year at Bowdoin. The Democratic-Republican party, which had been in its ascendency since the election of Thomas Jefferson as President, in 1801, was growing larger and more diversified as the country expanded westward. During this critical election, four candidates were vying for the Democratic-Republican nomination for the Presidency. John Quincy Adam of Massachusetts, a former independent Federalist much in the guise of his father, represented the traditional Eastern and New England interests. Henry Clay of Kentucky, the Great Compromiser of 1820 responsible for Missouri and Maine’s admission to the Union, represented the western interests while William H. Crawford of Georgia, who was supported by outgoing President James Monroe and former President Thomas Jefferson, represented the more traditional Southern views. Andrew Jackson of Tennessee, supporting the varied frontier interests, found support in all sector of the country.

Franklin Pierce, a strong supporter of Andrew Jackson, enlisted Cilley, Bridge, and Hawthorne to his cause. Bridge and Cilley were plausible converts given the fact they came from the frontier edges of New England. Hawthorne was a different story. A scion of two established Massachusetts families, he would have traditionally fallen into John Quincy Adams’ camp. Perhaps it was Hawthorne’s deep and abiding love for rural Maine, now a state with its own representation in Washington, that allowed him to take up Jackson’s cause. Indeed, Jackson won the popular and electoral vote in 1824 while failing to gain a clear majority. The election of the next President then fell to the House of Representatives which elected John Quincy Adams, the more traditional candidate to whom Henry Clay had thrown his support. Although their candidate lost, the Bowdoin classmates would become life-long Jacksonian Democrats.

One of the more interesting episodes involving Cilley and Hawthorne concerned a wager between the two men during their last year at Bowdoin. The winner of this wager - Cilley’s strong belief that Hawthorne, despite showing little interest in courting while in college, would marry within twelve years of graduation – would receive a cask of fine Madeira wine from the loser. According to Bridge, papers were drawn up on November 14, 1824, signed by the principals, and entrusted to Bridge for safe-keeping until the wager came due, in November 1836. Hawthorne and Cilley did not see each other for years after their graduation, and they seldom corresponded, but they remained friends. “I love Hawthorne; I admire him; but I do not know him,” Cilley would later confess. “He lives in a mysterious world of thought and imagination which he never permits me to enter.”

After graduation, Hawthorne returned home to Salem where he struggled to become the writer he always dreamed he would be. Franklin Pierce was destined for a career in politics, representing New Hampshire in the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate before being elected the 14th President of the United States, in 1853. Horatio Bridge went on to become a prominent naval officer, rising to the rank of commodore and serving in appointed positions in several administrations, beginning with that of his old Bowdoin classmate Pierce. Jonathan Cilley, who had nothing waiting for him back in New Hampshire, left Brunswick for Thomaston, Maine, where he studied law under John Ruggles, who had represented Thomaston in the state legislature in Augusta since 1823. Following the completion of his law studies under Ruggles, Cilley was admitted to the Lincoln County bar in 1829, the same year he married Deborah Prince, the daughter of a prominent Thomaston family with whom he resided after leaving Bowdoin. Together they would have five children - three sons and two daughters - born between October 1829 and December 1837. Cilley did not practice law right away; he served as the editor of the Thomaston Register, from 1829 to 1831.

John Quincy Adams’ tenure as President would last only one term. In the election of 1828, Andrew Jackson finally won a clear majority, carrying all sections of the country with the support of Adam’s Vice President, John C. Calhoun, of South Carolina, and Martin Van Buren, of New York. John Ruggles, a Jacksonian Democrat in a predominantly Federalist (and later, Whig) district, was not only Jonathan Cilley’s legal mentor, but his political mentor as well. When Ruggles left the state legislature in 1831 following his appointment as a judge of the Court of Common Pleas, Maine’s supreme court, he encouraged his young protégé to replace him. With Ruggles’ support Cilley won the 1831 election, taking his seat in the legislature in Augusta in January 1832.

When Ruggles subsequently ran for the United States Senate that same year, he trusted that Cilley would use his newfound influence in the state legislature to assist him. Cilley’s reluctance to do so, however, angered Ruggles, who, with his allies in Augusta tried to prevent Cilley’s reelection. Failing in the attempt, and still rankled by Cilley’s supposed treason, Ruggles also sought and obtained Cilley’s expulsion from the legislature’s Democratic caucus, in 1834. Regardless, Cilley was elected to five successive terms as Thomaston’s representative in Augusta, and was named Speaker of the House in 1835, a position his former mentor had once held.

Despite a Whig majority in Maine’s Lincoln Congressional District, and without the support of the Ruggles faction in the Democratic party, Jonathan Cilley was nominated in 1836 as that party’s candidate in the upcoming election for the United States House of Representatives. Cilley had now allied himself to Vice President Martin Van Buren’s juggernaut to succeed Jackson in the Presidency and thereby continue his Democratic legacy. Cilley, with the support of the superior organizational skills of the Democratic party facing four regional Whig candidates for President, was elected to the 25th Congress on March 4, 1837, and his longtime defense of Jackson and his policies, and his alliance with President Van Buren, would put him at odds with many powerful men in Congress, along with their supporters.

Leaving his wife and young children in Thomaston, Cilley moved to Washington where he assumed his new duties “with real heart felt & active benevolence, mutual simplicity, unaffected humility, manly strength of mind, & everlasting truth.” By all accounts, Cilley took his position in the House of Representatives very seriously and considered himself not only one of Maine’s representatives, but also duty-bound to protect New England’s honor and interests as a gallant and incorruptible public servant.

The wager into which Cilley and Nathaniel Hawthorne entered in 1824, toward the end of their collegiate tenure at Bowdoin, came due for settlement in October 1836, while Cilley was running for a Congressional seat. Horatio Bridge, then residing in Augusta and who remained curator of the records of the wager in the intervening years, notified Cilley that Hawthorne, much like himself, had not yet married and therefore Cilley owed Hawthorne the cask of Madeira as obliged by the wager. Cilley wrote to Hawthorne questioning the validity of his claim to the wine and giving the impression that he had no intention of honoring the wager. Hawthorne complained to Bridge who cautioned: “if a bet grows old it grows cold.” Cilley, ever the politician, offered an alternative resolution to the matter. They would all meet at Bowdoin College at the next commencement ceremony and share the wine with as many classmates as might gather there for the occasion. Bridge suspected Cilley’s true motive: “to pay over the balance after taking a strong pull at it.” The wager remained unresolved when Cilley left Maine in early 1837 for his new duties in Washington.

Upon the publication of Hawthorne’s Twice-told Tales in 1837, Horatio Bridge sent a copy to Representative Cilley, hoping to recruit him to an effort by Franklin Pierce, now a U.S. Senator, to secure for Hawthorne a position as chronicler and historian for a planned expedition to the South Seas. Cilley congratulated Hawthorne on the publication of his book, taking the opportunity to chide his old friend over his failure to find a bride. “What, suffer twelve years to pass away, and no wife, no children, to soothe your care, make you happy, and call you blessed.”

Hawthorne did not get the job, and he visited Bridge at his home in Augusta during the summer of 1837. They spent a great deal of time together, catching up on old times and fishing the local waters. Hawthorne continued on to Thomaston where he visited Cilley in late July, the first time they had seen each other since they graduated from Bowdoin. There is no record of any discussion of the wager, and writing in his journal on July 28th, Hawthorne referred to the visit with his old classmate and friend. “We met like old friends, and conversed almost as freely as we used to do in college days, twelve years ago and more.” Hawthorne found Cilley to be “shrewd, crafty, insinuating, with wonderful tact . . . a daring fellow as well as a sly one.” He could well understand how a man such as Cilley would be successful in politics. “There is such a quality of truth and kindliness and warm affections, that a man’s heart opens to him, in spite of himself. He deceived by truth.”

In Washington, Cilley exemplified the true Jacksonian Democrat, trying to represent his constituents who had intrusted their public interests to his care. He was also baptized in a vicious partisanship and vile journalism the likes of which he had not known at home despite his unpleasant dealings with John Ruggles, his former mentor, and his faction within the Democratic party. “A man,” Cilley confessed, “if he thinks freely and boldly, must take his life in his hand.” In his role of guardian of Northern principles and traditions, Cilley believed that other members of Congress from the North too frequently allowed their esteemed colleagues from the Southern states “to hector and lord it over them” in return for their loyalty and support on key issues. He felt it was his solemn duty, and that of his Northern compatriots, to address these attacks in kind. If they did, such arrogance would cease. It is therefore not surprising that Cilley took great offense when he read in a newspaper account that several of his Congressional colleagues were doing business with James Watson Webb, one of the North’s most virulent opponents of the Abolitionist movement and a prominent Whig editor of two influential New York City newspapers. Cilley perceived Webb to be a corrupt scoundrel and sought to expose him, reading the New Hampshire newspaper’s allegations into the Congressional Record.

William J. Graves, a Whig elected to the House of Representatives from Kentucky and a good friend of the powerful New York editor, came to Webb’s defense and offered to defend his honor by challenging Cilley to meet him at Bloody Run. At first Cilley dismissed the challenge; all he had done was quote something already on the public record. Quickly realizing that the challenge could not go unanswered, the mild-mannered Cilley, unfamiliar with the protocol of dueling and who honestly believed this matter might be satisfied without firing a shot, finally accepted the challenge for “the honor of the New England States.” His inexperience and naivete would cost him his life.

Cilley and Graves met at the secluded ravine on the appointed day. Unlike most duels of the time, which were fought using pistols at a relatively close range, the two principals stood opposite one another at a distance of 80 yards armed with more unconventional rifles. Three separate volleys were fired. Following a customary practice in duels, Cilley fired his first round into the ground only a short distance away. The seconds for both men, as well as a number of prominent Washingtonians who had gathered to witness the duel, urged the two men to call off the challenge, presuming that both men had defended their honor by showing up. Cilley agreed, but Graves demanded satisfaction and refused to abandon his challenge. The second volley also failed to find its mark and once again Graves refused to stand aside. Again the two men raised their weapons, aimed and fired. The smoke hung in the cold February morning air as the rifles’ reports echoed down the ravine. The lead ball from Graves’ rifle had struck Cilley in the upper leg severing an artery, and he fell to the ground and quickly bled to death. He was thirty-five years old.

Cilley’s state funeral was held in Washington at noon on February 27, 1838, when his body was placed in the center aisle of the House of Representatives, in the Capitol. In attendance were President Martin Van Buren, a long time Cilley ally, as well as Vice President Richard M. Johnson, another prominent Jacksonian Democrat from Kentucky. Also attending were members of the Cabinet and the Supreme Court, both houses of Congress, and many other distinguished guests filled the House galleries. The Chaplain of the Senate gave the invocation, but it was the Reverend Levi R. Reese, the Chaplain of the House of Representatives, who spoke out vigorously on the questionable morality of dueling to solve personal feuds at “a service the most painful and delicate I have ever been called upon to perform,” a funeral “fraught with solemn admonition and instruction to us all.” Reverend Reese questioned how it had become honorable to issue and accept challenges that might lead to the death of one or both men involved; “there is no righteous principle that will justify such a course . . . they fight, the ball is received, and the unhappy man falls a lifeless corpse on the earth.” He ended by challenging Cilley’s Congressional colleagues to do everything in their power “to change this wicked and ruinous state of public opinion” and put an end to “this awful relic of barbarism.”

Following the funeral service in the Capitol, the cortege and all in attendance made their way to the Washington Parish Burial Ground (the present-day Congressional Cemetery), that “grand and gloomy cemetery” on a hillside above the Eastern Branch of the Potomac (now the Anacostia) River, and there Cilley was laid to rest temporarily in the Public Vault. His body was eventually returned to his family in Thomaston where he now lies buried in the family plot in Elm Grove Cemetery. A cenotaph (literally “empty grave”) in his honor remains to this day in the Congressional Cemetery in Washington.

Condemnation of the duel and Cilley’s senseless death was swift and harsh. Several newspapers and journals ran editorials denouncing Webb and his Congressional cronies for provoking the duel, and there were a number of published satirical cartoons portraying the events surrounding Cilley’s brutal “murder.” One of the loudest voices condemning the duel was that of Nathaniel Hawthorne, who noted that such a challenge “was never given on a more shadowy pretext,” and that his friend had been “slain for an almost impalpable punctilio.”

In the September 1839 issue of Democratic Review, Hawthorne penned a glowing tribute to his old friend whose loss obliged him to “write with a blunted pen and head benumbed.” Describing his college friend as an “Active and Efficient Partisan,” he reminded the reader that Cilley had fallen victim to an unjust cause. “Alas, that over the grave of a dear friend, my sorrow for the bereavement must be mingled with another grief - that he threw away such a life in so miserable a cause! Why, as he was true to the Northern character in all things else, did he swerve from his Northern principles in this final scene?” Cilley may have been a strong voice and a man of action for his native New England, yet Hawthorne believed his loss would be felt far beyond those precincts; the entire country had “lost a man who had the heart and the ability to serve her well.”

Perhaps some good came from this senseless act. A Congressional committee, of which Senator Franklin Pierce was a member, conducted a long investigation into the circumstances surrounding Cilley’s death which resulted in a number of censures and dismissals. Subsequent inquiries eventually led to ending the practice of dueling - not just at Bloody Run - and the making or accepting of a challenge became a criminal offense throughout the United States.

Deborah Prince Cilley survived her husband by only six years, passing away in Thomaston in August 1844 at the young age of 36. Their eldest surviving son, Greenleaf Cilley, who was nine when his father was killed, later served in the Navy, rising to the rank of commander, and eventually became a prominent businessman in Thomaston. Jonathan Prince Cilley, who was only two in 1838, would grow up to follow in his father’s footsteps and attend Bowdoin College where he graduated in 1858. Commissioned an officer in the First Maine Calvary, he was wounded several times during the Civil War and rose to the rank of general in the Union Army. After the war he served in the Maine Senate. Daughter Julia, who never knew her father, grew to adulthood, married, and raised her family in Maine.

Bloody Run, in Bladensburg, Maryland, is now preserved as a county historical site situated between a strip mall and a cemetery, an almost forgotten patch of grass in a small ravine adjacent to a concrete culvert where the stream once flowed. There is a small historic marker nearby and from time to time one can see a reenactment of the famous 1820 duel between Stephen Decatur and James Barron. Nothing is said of that duel on a cold morning in February 1838 that claimed the promising life of a young politician from Maine, and forever ended legalized dueling in the United States.

Nathaniel Hawthorne, Jonathan Cilley, Horatio Bridge, and any number of fellow classmates never did convene at Bowdoin College to take strong pulls from that elusive cask of Madeira. With the publication of his glowing tribute to his old friend Jonathan Cilley, Hawthorne put that youthful chapter of his life behind him. Their 17-year friendship was based on a mutual admiration while recognizing that mysterious world that ultimately separated them.

NEXT WEEK: A Visit to the Banks of Plum Creek