Accidental Wonders and Small Surprises

Yesterday, just on a whim, I trundled off to Sac City, IA to visit their famous Chautauqua Building. Josh and his Uncle Paul and I are going to be playing a little show there in a couple of weeks, and I decided I wanted to see what the place looked like. I hauled my camera along because I was looking for a photo to post to advertise the show, and I really didn’t feel like forcing anyone to look at my ugly mug as an incentive to visit the music. ;)

If you don’t know about this Chautauqua business, here’s the deal: It’s a movement started by a Methodist preacher, named for the lake in New York state at which the first meetings were held, that promoted education and entertainment for adults (and for communities more broadly) back in the late 1800s. Great speakers, great thinkers, great performers, great preachers — they all got together in tents (on a travelling circuit) and in dedicated buildings for the purpose of bringing people together and improving their minds and souls. The radio and other mass media via electronic transmission effectively killed the movement, but there are still Chautauqua buildings and sites and parks all over the country (see, for example, Boulder CO, which is still actively running major events).

Chautauqua Building, Sac City IA

The Chautauqua Building in Sac City was built in the early 1900s. It was later refurbished and rededicated — the interior window coverings are actually a series of cloth-backed murals depicting the towns of Sac County. It’s a huge, fascinating space, still in regular use in the community. Its ceiling is a lofty tribute to engineering in wood, and it somehow manages to be both homey and impressive at the same time.

Chautauqua (3)
Beams and Fans and Lights, Oh My!

When I visited on Friday, I accidentally arrived in the middle of a bustling setup process. Apparently (or so the very, very sweet ladies working there told me) there’s a charitable organization called Sac Partners for Progress* that runs an annual event called Freecycle Saturday on the first weekend of August. It’s like a massive garage sale with no price tags — people and organizations come and donate ginormous amounts of stuff, and over the course of one Saturday it all leaves again with people who need it (leftovers go to Goodwill; unusable or unsanitary stuff goes to the dumpster). It’s a huge undertaking — people donate furniture, clothing, books, appliances, tchochkes, bric-a-brac, shoes, belts, clocks, artwork — anything at all. You can’t re-sell mattresses, but apparently you can donate them, and people can take them away, free of charge. It fills the grand space of the Chautauqua Building with a kind of pleasant chaos.
Freecycle Saturday (1)
That’s a whole lotta stuff…
When I visited, volunteers were busily assembling donated and makeshift hanging racks, hauling in furniture, checking and arranging boxes of donated books, and sweating like crazy. There’s always a little worry (one volunteer told me) that no one will come, or that not enough stuff will be taken away — they’re only allowed the one day, and then everything must be cleared out ahead of another event on Sunday. It’s a different sort of use for the space, this Freecycle business — certainly not a performance or a speech or a church service — but it seems right at home under the elegant geometry of the Chautauqua Building’s rafters.

Freecycle Saturday (3)
What’s a nice bear like me doing in a place like this?

The building itself remains rustic. It’s not a tech-heavy performance space. There’s an elevated stage (complete with flags, a mobile podium, and a lovely old upright piano), but there’s no complex light rigging or evident sound system. It’s just space, dedicated and waiting and intimate in its simplicity.

Old-Time Piano (3)
Play it, Sam.

The whole park is fascinating — and so is the historical museum, which I simply didn’t have time enough to visit. I got some other shots of the building and the shelter house and grounds. Such a lovely day!

*On the donation receipt I was given, it actually says “Sac Partner’s for Progress”. I refuse to abuse the apostrophe just because they did. Grammar aside, they’re an awesome organization doing great work in their community. You should check them out!

About L. M. Bernhardt

For a good long while (15 years or so), I taught philosophy at a little private university in northwest IA, and occasionally branched out into playing music, dabbling in photography, experimenting with food, and writing nonsense on my blog. The philosophy teaching part ended in 2017 (program elimination via prioritization), but never fear! I've just finished my MLIS at San Jose State University, and I'm currently on the market looking for new adventures in either philosophy or LIS. For now, I labor at a fairly interesting administrative job in order to support my dogs in the lavish manner to which they've become accustomed.
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