Sunday, May 29, 2011

Our trip has started

Today we are in the fifth day of a trip which will probably last almost sixty days. It began last Wednesday after a full - dare I say hectic? - morning of packing to get ready. We had a few little errands to perform before we truly "hit the road," but were on our way south to Swarthmore, PA, by 1:00pm or so. Our route was the Massachusetts Turnpike west to the Taconic Parkway, south to the Tappen Zee Bridge, then the Garden State Parkway and New Jersey Turnpike to the Pennsylvania Turnpike, and then down I-476 to Swarthmore. We arrived by a little after 7:30pm, in time to go to Swarthmore Pizza with our hostess, Wallace Ayers - their Mediterranean Pizza is yummy. There was much for Ellen and Wallace to catch up on, so we were up pretty late visiting. But we got off to a fairly good start the next morning.

DAY TWO Our route was determined, as it often is, by a Roadfood destination, the Dutch Kitchen in Frackville, PA, which is near the intersection of I-80 and I-81, about 100 miles NW of Swarthmore. This is in Schuylkill County, the heart of Pennsylvania coal country. The Dutch Kitchen proved to be a good diner, but not exceptional. Ellen enjoyed her pirogies very much. We expected to see economically depressed cities and towns, since coal and steel have long since fled the area, but actually things looked fairly bustling, so maybe the tourist industry has helped revive the area.

Frackville was only a few miles from Danville, PA, a place where I spent the summer of 1955 engaged in Clinical Pastoral Training at the Danville State Mental Hospital. Ellen had never seen Danville, so we went there. The summer of 1955 was before Shirley and I were married at the end of August. My dad, who had himself done Clinical Training in the late 1940's, very much wanted me to have this experience. I wanted to be as close to Staten Island as possible, because that's where Shirley was, living at home with her parents, and that is where we were to be married. Danville was the closest I could get - a 7-hour bus trip one way. So I spent the weekdays at the hospital and every weekend took the bus to NYC (and the ferry to Staten Island) to be with Shirley. It was a momentous summer in many ways. The Clinical Training experience was interesting, but it was also something of a disillusionment for me, due largely to the nature of the group experience with my four fellow trainees and our leader, Chaplain George Young. It contributed to my decision to change my concentration at Chicago Theological Seminary from Religion and Personality to New Testament, a decision I have never regretted. It probably wasn't exactly what my father intended.

The State Hospital still exists at Danville, and the main building looks pretty much the same. Built in 1869, it is a fine example of the famous Kirkbride Plan, developed in the mid-19th century by reformers as an architectural plan designed to support more humane treatment of the mentally ill. (A virtually identical building was built four years later at Independence, Iowa, where I worked as an attendant in the summer of 1952).


In 1955, Danville State Hospital had over 2000 patients. Today it has about 150. Apart from the main building, I could find nothing familiar. The dormitory where I lived seemed to be gone, though a similar building was there, empty and boarded up after a fire had gutted it. The grounds are now dominated by two large Adolescant Correctional Facilities, one for males and one for females. A building where I had interviewed patients was now surrounded by a high barbed-wire fence.

Danville was only a short distance from Lewisburg, PA, home of Bucknell University, where Ellen's son Paul went, and where Ellen had visited several times. I had never seen Bucknell, and I always like to see a new campus if I have the chance. So we drove over to Lewisburg (very attractive), and drove through Bucknell (a beautiful campus with Georgian brick buildings, sweeping lawns and many flowering shrubs and trees - a "campus movie set" as Ellen described it).

From there we went on to I-80 and just hightailed it west, arriving in Kent, OH by about 11:00pm where we found a Super 8 Motel. Along the way, I read aloud, alternately, from Paul Tillich's Love, Power and Justice, Arthur Ransome's Swallowdale and John Aldrich Christie's Thoreau As World Traveler. More on our reading later.

DAY THREE We were on our way by 10:00am or so after a continental breakfast in the motel, and went across Ohio on US Route 244, and then up to US Route 6, a very nice route that took us by two UCC-related colleges: Heidelberg College in Tiffin, OH, and Defiance College in Defiance, OH. We stopped to drive through both campuses. Heidelberg has a handsome campus of stone buildings. Defiance is more modern, and perhaps a less distinguised campus architecturally (though it is attractive), but its academic program is very intriguing, focusing as it does on developing Chistian leaders for service to the community and the world. It is well worth a visit.

We scurried on from Defiance and were at our destination in Bartlett, IL by 7:30pm. We are now at the home of Jerry and Gretchen Hochberger, visiting my brother Stewart and his family, who are gathering as I write for a Sunday evening supper. More later.

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