Faith Works 10-11-14
Sacred Shapes, Sizes, and Spaces
When I was growing up in Chicagoland, down in the northwest Indiana end of the metro area, there were two public spaces that dominated my imagination.
One was in our town, part of the Valparaiso University campus: the Chapel of the Resurrection.
Built just before I was born, in 1959, the VU Chapel was our community cathedral of a sort, where our high school baccalaureate service was held, where various public events took place, where prospective brides imagined walking down a seemingly endless center aisle to the vibrant chancel surround of modernistic stained glass windows.
In fact, the nave is 200 feet long and the chancel is almost 100 feet high, so it really is a vast interior space, some say the largest or second largest college chapel in the world.
Either way, it was the largest space I could imagine hearing a concert in, or for attending a funeral. Big, beautiful, it was a sacred space with layers of meaning that went beyond the simple reasons of a set of donors and the need for a place to hold commencement exercises.
But I also knew an even larger building as a kid, sprawling over some 14 acres. Yes, I mean ACRES of space.
It had been the Palace of Fine Arts for a World's Fair in 1893, and as the only surviving building into another World's Fair in 1933 for Chicago, it was transformed into the Museum of Science and Industry. Modeled on a science and technology museum in Munich seen by the chief executive of Sears, Roebuck from Chicago, Julius Rosenwald, it became the largest public science museum anywhere, with thousands of exhibits in nearly a hundred separate display areas.
The outside was an attraction in its own right, with caryatids holding up porches and carvings along the tops of walls and framing panels all adapted from the Parthenon in Athens, even as the central rotunda from the outside evoked the Pantheon in Rome. My great-aunts would walk me around, pointing out the centaurs and nymphs and ancient heroes, telling me stories I now only remember in fragments, coming around to where (then) the German submarine U-505, spoils of war, sat outside overlooking Lake Michigan (it now has an underground enclosed hall of its own).
In years to come, I would visit not only for the Museum of Science and Industry itself, but to attend children's book fairs, Christmas Around the World programs, and finally to take my own child to see the Foucault Pendulum and the Coal Mine for himself.
Both were major public structures with primary functions that co-existed with multiple uses through the year, or years. They are "tent poles" of memory as I look back, and places I can still visit to re-remember those events and stories.
Sunday afternoon, as I get to do each October for the last decade, the Octagon Earthworks are open for public tours. At the corner of Newark's 33rd St. and Parkview Ave. off of 30th St., Octagon State Memorial is also, on a long-term lease, Moundbuilders Country Club, but from dawn to dusk on Oct. 12, the 55 acres or so of the octagonal enclosure, or the twenty acres of the attached Observatory Circle, and even the fourteen foot tall Observatory Mound itself on the southwest corner, can be walked without worry over golf balls.
Purchased by vote of the public through a property tax levy in the early 1890's, there's been golf played on the site since 1901 and the country club has had a lease since 1910, but the leases all allow for public access. Tomorrow is one of those opportunities to see what your great-grandparents had the foresight to preserve, and what the long-ago occupants of the landscape built some two thousand years ago.
We'll offer tours from noon to 4:00 pm and a bit after, and tell the stories we know and about the science we can infer. What were these vast structures, at the Octagon and across town at the Great Circle (the museum there will be open Sunday afternoon as well; the grounds always open there from dawn to dusk), built for in millennia past?
Like the Valparaiso University Chapel, or the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, they were places that served many purposes: but I suspect a key function was for them to be a place where the generations came again and again to renew their collective memories, and to make new ones.
You can be the next.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he's looking forward to meeting some of you Sunday afternoon! Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.