Friday, May 27, 2016

a lonely chapel on the hillside

I recently attended my Nephew's wedding, which was held in a quaint chapel built in 1863 next to a cemetery overlooking a low, wetland marsh. The architecture seemed to define the term modest, in stark contrast to the nearby Taliesin, one time home of Frank Lloyd Wright. Only 40 or so guests were present, and for May, the Wisconsin weather was warmer and more humid than expected. In keeping with the austerity of the chapel, and the lack of cellular telephone service, electric lights, air conditioning, and running water, the music was provided on violins by the bride's sister and another musician. To help set the mood, clicking on the following sentence will open a web page with a YouTube video featuring the song. CLICK HERE for that video. Go start the video and come back to this tab. It will make the read much more entertaining. If there's a Geico commercial, let it play out, then come back here.

Are you back? Great! On with my story.

The music and the setting was perfect imagination fodder for me and my son, Jim, who in the fall will begin studying film making at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. Soon, we whispered in each others ears as the ceremony continued.
Varga Wedding, May 25, 2016

"Hey dad, know what this music sounds like?"

"No Jim, what?"

"It's a Ken Burns Documentary soundtrack for a film about a steamer on the great lakes that capsized and bodies are just being recovered from the shore."

"Really? I think it sounds like the fretful hours passing while waiting for news about a mine-shaft collapse in the mountains of West Virginia."

"Come on, dad... Using blankets and whatever poles could be found to create makeshift gurneys, bodies were slowly carried through the narrow streets and deposited in modest parlors and drawing rooms to which they belonged."

"No, I think it goes like... Preachers oversaw the outpouring of humanity as Mothers and Fathers waited by the mine shaft entrance in the rain, standing by children who clung to their mothers, fearful they would be counted as widows by the end of the day."

Jim envisioned a letter from the time. 

"At first, the items we found on the sand made it look like a millinery had washed out into the lake. All sorts of clothing rolled in the gentle waves that churned the sand of the shore but it was the hats that floated best. Then I saw it, a sight that makes my heart beat run shallow, even as I think of it now. A hand, lily white and swollen, fingers moving with the current, as if beckoning me to retrieve its body from the water." - Andrew Connor, 1882

I told him what the actual letter was. 

"I would have thought a body no longer burdened with a soul would have become somehow lighter, easier to carry than one that still possessed God's divine gift. Such was not the case as one by one we accompanied our fallen comrades in the narrow space of the ore elevator. There was not much room and to keep the body from falling through the shaft timbers, I had to hold him in a strong embrace. I wondered if this is what angels feel like when they bring someone forth to heaven, or if I was experiencing the devil's pleasure of collecting another disbeliever's body." - Horace Zimmerman, 1874

Say what you will about the benefits of the world in which we live today, filled with comfort and convenience, but remember always, our imaginations are much better served by the worlds that humanity left behind.

More information about the chapel can be found at