Thursday, August 25, 2005

The Closet Over the Stairs

So move your fam’ly westward,
Good health you will enjoy,
And rise to wealth and honor
In the state of Elanoy.

-Folk Song, "Elanoy"

No wealth and honor so far, but I’ve found a place to stay in Illinois—a little efficiency apartment near downtown Bloomington. I’ve been rereading the Harry Potter books—actually listening to them on tape on the long weekly drive between Bloomington and Elkhart. At the beginning of the first book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s [Sorcerer’s] Stone, the ten-year-old Harry is living "in the closet under the stairs" at his aunt and uncle’s house on Privet Drive in Little Whinging, Surrey. My apartment, on the top floor of a 1900-era house, is small enough to be called "the closet over the stairs."

It appears the house was converted into apartments sometime in the 1920s, given the "Pullman kitchen" complete with the original gas stove (no pilot light, but the landlord provides a lighter). I have a new refrigerator, as the original one isn’t working.

My neighborhood, the "old east side," appears to be fairly stable, in spite of fact that most of the houses on East Locust have been made into apartments. One block to the north is the Franklin Park Historic District, which includes the onetime home of the first Adlai E. Stevenson, vice president during Grover Cleveland’s second term. A sign in front of the Italianate brick house reads that Stevenson was born in Kentucky in 1835, and attended Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington, practiced law in nearby Metamora, then moved back to Bloomington, and was elected to Congress in 1874 and 1878.

Having served two nonconsecutive terms in the House, it was appropriate that he serve in the administrations of the only president elected to two nonconsecutive terms—as first assistant postmaster general from 1885 to 1889, and as vice president from 1893 to 1897.

Another sign honors Letitia Green Stevenson, who was president general of the Daughters of the American Revolution during the years her husband was vice president. That was before the DAR began its successful crusade to alter the Pledge of Allegiance (changing "my flag" to "the flag of the United States of America" to prevent immigrants from pledging to the old country’s flag) or preventing Marian Anderson from singing at their hall. That’s not to suggest that the DAR wasn’t an elitist organization in the 1890s. Any group that requires a pedigree isn’t exactly living up to (lower-case r) republican principles.

Just up the block from Stevenson’s house, another sign marks the residence of Joseph W. Fifer, Republican governor of Illinois from 1889 to 1893. Like Stevenson, he attended Illinois Wesleyan. Perhaps the most fascinating house is across the park from Fifer’s—a red sandstone castle built in the Richardson Romanesque style. The evening I passed it, a tortoiseshell cat was sitting on a low wall, blending into the background.

Another curiosity in the old East Side is the former Moses Montefiore Temple. (Montefiore, in spite of his name, was a British philanthropist.) Its architecture is Moorish, with elements of Greek and Gothic. So we have a former synagogue built in an Islamic style, which later functioned as a Christian church. It's now a private residence. The present temple is out in the subdivisions.

Until last week, I was living out of motels while learning the arcane rules and Byzantine accounting procedures of an Amtrak ticket agent. I remembered that I hated the accounting end of the job, but had forgotten how hellish it was for a mathematically challenged person. I hope I'll get used to it.

The best news I've had is that Classic Trains wants to buy "Magic Summer," an account of my trainriding experiences during the summer of 1967. I recieved an e-mail from Robert McGonigal, the magazine's editor. My wife has decided that he's a distant cousin of Professor Minerva McGonigall of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.


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Peter said...

Congratulations on your move, and on the impending publication of your book, which I will buy as soon as I can!

Your place and your town seem like they're out of a storybook. May this prove to be the beginning of a another successful seven-volume series.

(They kept the old non-working fridge?)

Susan said...

Well, I'm wondering how the move has gone in the last couple of weeks, and congrats on the publication. WOW.