Friday, June 23, 2017

Heavenly Pipes

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: A revivalist spirit came to Litchfield along with its first pipe organ during the pastorate of its third minister, Daniel Huntington, between 1798 and 1809. Huntington, like Beecher who would follow him, was a student of Timothy Dwight. The organ was brought by ship from New York City to New Haven, and carried in three ox carts up over the hills to the Litchfield Green where the previous church then stood.  It was a sign of the town’s new wealth and prestige.

It was still there behind Beecher’s pulpit and must have been in the ears of Beecher’s daughter, Harriet, though unmentioned, when she wrote, 

“,,,the glory of our meeting house was its singers seat, that empyrean of those who rejoiced in the mysterious art of fa-sol-la-ing. There they sat in the gallery that lines three sides of the house, treble, counter, tenor and base, each with its appropriate leader and supporters. They were generally seated the bloom of our young people, sparkling, modest and blushing girls on one side, with their ribbons and finery, making the place as blooming and lively as a flower garden, and fiery, forward confident young men on the other.”

In 1856 Dr. Leonard Wolsey Bacon became the ninth minister of the congregation. By then the new and current church had been built, and the organ had been carted across the street and installed behind the high pulpit in the new meeting house. Bacon was “a vigorous preacher,” and “a liberal - one of the first to accept the new revolutionary theories of Darwin.” He was reputed to have been a man of strong passions who spoke his mind and made strong friends and, perhaps, too many enemies in his four years in Litchfield. 

Music was one of his passions, and the old organ must have been wheezing in his ear, as one of his first efforts was raising funds to replace it. When the new organ arrived he had both organ and choir moved from behind the pulpit to a gallery at the rear of the meeting house where he might better enjoy them, and where its invisibility may have made it more etherial. Pastor Bacon also re-tuned congregants voices to a new hymnal, and later in life he published a book of the hymns of Luther. Before he left Litchfield, he also purchased land on which to build a church horse shed so members might have their horses properly sheltered during the day-long sermons; a minister’s concerns had to be both spiritual and practical.

The current organ was installed in 1971 by the Reuter Organ Company of Lawrence, KS. The organist tells me it is a two-manual, 21 rank (21 timbres) organ with chimes, but it’s the array of pipes that makes the picture.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

From Lyman Beecher's High Pulpit

"We boast of our liberties.... But our foundations rest on the heaving sides of a burning mountain, through which, in thousands of places, the fire has burst out, and is blazing around us. If they cannot be extinguished, we are undone. Our sun is fast setting, and darkness of an endless night is closing in upon us.”
-Lyman Beecher

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: Lyman Beecher forecast doom from a high pulpit similar to this one in a similar building just across the street on the Litchfield Green. It was the 1820s, the church had been disestablished, and the Second Great Awakening was peaking in Litchfield and elsewhere. The cause of impending peril in Beecher’s sermon was intemperance; the abstinence he preached was absolute.  

Beecher’s sermons were popular, Litchfield was a cultural center, and by the time he left Litchfield in 1826, the flock of the Church had swelled so much that they needed a new building. Lyman Beecher went to Boston where his "Six Sermons against Intemperance" were published and brought him fame, and the current church was built with a pulpit similar to and as high as Lyman Beecher’s. 

Beecher’s first three sermons describe “The Nature and Occasions of...” “The Signs of…” and finally “The Evils of Intemperance.” He concludes with three sermons of remedy. In summing up the evils Beecher blamed “an aristocracy of bad influence,” but the doom he feared was:

“The great body of the laboring classes of the community, the bones and sinews of the nation will be contaminated; and when this is accomplished the right of suffrage becomes the engine of self-destruction. For the laboring classes constitute and immense majority, and when these are perverted by intemperence, ambition needs no better implement with which to dig the grave of our liberties, and entomb our glory.”

The restored high altar which exists today is named in his honor. Throughout his life Lyman Beecher also preached against Catholics, Unitarians, and slavery, and he promoted missionary activities throughout the world. He raised a large family of important children, loved fishing and played the violin.

Friday, June 9, 2017

In the Cake

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: The climb to the bell of Litchfield's Congregational Church began with a tall ladder from a room above the vestibule. April led the way, I followed, and Ray went last. We squeezed sideways through an opening in the main pediment behind the portico, grabbing hold of a structural bar to pull ourselves up into a large room in the base of the tower and somewhere in front of the sanctuary dome. My backpack only fit through the opening after it was off my back. I slid it backward and Ray passed it up to me, and I decided to continue the climb with just camera and tripod. 

As we came through the opening, the Seth Thomas tower-clock mechanism was directly over us, but as I try now to figure where we were, I have to guess the clock face was higher up. The old, wooden columns and beams of the box tower were above - below - around us, but the tower had been reinforced by a framework of steel beams in a manner that left the old structure unscarred. We continued up a steep, wooden stair around the tower’s perimeter to a second aluminum ladder which slid as we climbed through a trap door above to the railed space at the top of the square tower and stood in a wedding cake homage to Christopher Wren and English style. 

As much as I was eager to see the bell, I was immediately distracted in discovering that the floor was not level, as I expected, but pitched to throw off rain, and the railing was neither as high nor as strong as I had imagined. However, I was struck by how dark the bell was and, apparently, weatherbeaten. As Ray was still climbing out of the hatch, I turned to the view from the tower, mostly tree-tops now, and began taking pictures and forgot all the questions I had wanted to ask.

April invited me to ring the bell which I did too cautiously, but it chimed once, solidly. As the picture shows, there is no headstock to set the bell swinging, no clapper to swing and strike it, no swing at all - a pivot hammer. My ears are no longer reliable, but after my moderate strike I heard a clear note; a baritone knell prolonged and bounded with an edge as crisp as the most finely focused photograph. The bell, though not original, is venerable. It was cast by Paul Revere and came from a church in Goshen that was demolished.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Toward the High Altar, Litchfield Congregational Church

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: From 1873 until 1930 the building treasured today as the Litchfield Congregational Church was moved away from the green to a spot on the Torrington Road where its uses and name changed with the times. It was a place of recreation where young people danced and played basketball, put on plays and, in later years, watched silent movies. The steeple was gone and a floor was built between side galleries to provide space for more functions. Imagine how fine old carpentry must have been butchered in a half-century of adaptation and patching. The building that the people of Litchfield moved back by the Green in 1929 was far from the building people remembered from the decade after the Civil War.

Richard Dana was hired to make plans and elevations based on the surviving hall and whatever might be learned from surviving drawings and good memories. An old door from one of the pews allowed Dana to conjecture the size and shape and treatment of the rest. Four of the columns supporting the gallery had to be remade to match existing originals. paint colors were carefully matched to existing samples. A steeple was constructed to match the old pictures and a search party was formed to find the old weathervane, but it was the curator of the historical society who eventually found it in the museum basement.

The greatest challenge was the reconstruction of the high pulpit. Parts of the original existed and drawings were made from memory. The carpenters who finally recreated its grandeur were instructed to use whatever parts and fragments remained from the original. The lamps on either side of the pulpit, also found in the basement of the historical society, are the originals.

Is there a difference between spirit that builds in a style because it is fresh and vibrant and expresses truths felt deeply from the shelter of belief, and spirit which seeks to revive something mourned as almost lost?