Week one in Chautauqua

Looking out the window of the tour, I thought to myself, "Where am I? What is this place?" That was last Tuesday afternoon, June 16th. Today, I'm still asking that same question to myself - if only to a smaller extent.

I am spending the summer as a design editor at the Chautauqua Institution's daily newspaper, the Chautauquan Daily. I'll be here at this utopia-like place until the end of August. That may answer the first question I asked myself, but there's still the second...

Trying to describe the Institution is very hard. Over dinner Tuesday night, Institution president Tom Becker gave us a better idea of the place. It's like chocolate in that it's incomparable to anything else, he said.

For me, Chautauqua is like many things: a resort, a summer home or lake house, a small college town, Disney World and, in a sense, Monaco.

On Monday, resident archivist and historian Jon Schmitz stopped by the newsroom and helped describe the Institution anecdotally. If you were to describe an elephant to someone, you might say its trunk is like a snake or its leg is like a tree trunk, he said. Everyone who comes to Chautauqua experiences a different aspect and defines the place intrinsically by that experience.

In future weeks, I hope to to show and describe what I'm doing here as a way to indirectly describe this place to you.

Now, I will recap my first week here in Chautauqua, New York - a quick drive north of Jamestown, New York, and an hour east of Erie, Pa.

The drive
I left Tuesday morning, June 16th with my friend and colleague at the paper, Gail. It took us approximately four hours to get to the Institution. The drive was not too long and, thankfully, not as boring as driving from Toledo to Chicago. (Cleveland helped break up what could have been a monotonous road trip.)

The Cottage
After arriving, Gail and I split and went off to our separate cottages before the staff meeting in the afternoon. My living quarters for the summer is Aqua Casa #2, a quaint little house on Hidden Valley Road. I share a bedroom - freshman year dorm style - with Kent student Justin. My other cottage-mates include Tony, a summer tennis instructor for the Institution, and Jordan, the assistant editor for the Chautauquan Daily.

The cottage next to ours houses four females interns from the paper. It's nice to be close to more interns and hang out together after work. In the one week we've been here, our two cottages have hosted a party, had puzzle nights (something for which I am responsible and the reason why I'm known as the "puzzle master") and have thrown a frisbee around in our big yard before the bats came out to play. A cool tidbit: bats are the unofficial mascots of the area.

One amenity our cottages do not provide: Internet. Also, for the time being, our cable is not on. It has been rough for us city people, but we have adapted.

View Chautauqua, New York in a larger map

The Institution
Chautauqua comes alive during the summer, having a density higher than Manhattan - something we learned on our tour last Tuesday. The season begins this Saturday and I should see an antithetic change once people begin arriving. What is the semi-empty campus now should be a bustling, much-to-do Institution this weekend. Beaucoup events keep our reporters very busy. But more on the newspaper to come.

Each season, there are approximately 2,100 events and 150,000 visitors, according to the fact sheet I was given in the newsroom. This summertime mecca was founded in 1874 by Lewis Miller (an Akron, Ohio, inventor and manufacturer) and John Heyl Vincent (a Methodist minister and later bishop) as a training camp for Sunday school teachers.

Since then, the program has expanded not just on the grounds but around the world with the movement itself. The term "chautauqua" can be found in the dictionary to mean: "any similar assembly, esp. one of a number meeting in a circuit of communities" (source).

There are four pillars to the Institution's summer program: arts, education, religion and recreation. This can be seen through the schedule of events, called "the grid."

The events I am looking forward to are as follows (hopefully I can attend them!):
Sesame Street Live
• Lecture by Gary Knell, president and CEO of Sesame Workshop
• Lecture by Kobie Boykins, NASA engineer of the Mars Expedition Rovers Programs
• Play: "The Glass Menagerie"
• Lecture by Elie Wiesel, Nobel Peace Prize winner, author of "Night" and Holocaust survivor
Jason Alexander, who played George Costanza on "Seinfeld"
• An Evening with Ken Burns

There are many, many more events. These are a few. At the beginning of each week, I will highlight the events to watch.

The Daily
First published on Thursday, June 15, 1876, the daily newspaper of the Chautauqua Institution is the official record for everything that happens. Initially called the Chautauqua Assembly Daily Herald, its now the Chautauquan Daily (a title which evolved in the first 30 years of the paper). The Chautauquan Daily title emerged in 1906 to provide uniformity among other publications, according to research by the Daily's own archive reporter George Cooper.

"The newsroom has been a newswriting and reporting training camp for well-known journalists such as investigative reporter Ida Tarbell and current Time magazine editor-at-large Nancy Gibbs," according to the Daily official Web site.

This season, there are approximately 24 interns (that I can count) that are in college or that have, like me, recently graduated. It is very neat to have such a young and new staff making up a majority of the paper. There are also returners from the area; one is returning for her 16th season.

I am part of a four-member design team. On Thursday, we'll start designing and laying out our first issue, which comes out on Saturday. The paper is a daily broadsheet. The Saturday and Sunday issues are combined into a weekend edition, which is published on Saturday mornings.

It's now time to get to work. We have a paper coming out on Saturday!

More info and photos to come throughout the summer. Follow my journey here and on Twitter.


  1. If you meet Jason Alexander, I IMPLORE you to get an autograph for me, or at least tell him about me and how on my second day in NYC I went out on a hunt for old Seinfeld locations!

    I lived without Internet in Mexico - only had it at school so I had to make that daily 1+ mile trip, too. It sucks. I'm happy you're enjoying yourself tho, keep at it puzzle mastah

  2. I'm completely jealous of the Sesame Street things you get to experience there. Remember, I want a picture of Cookie Monster, if you can. :)

    This place sounds really awesome, I wish I could come visit. Be sure to keep updating the blog so we know what's going on and whatnot. And be sure to show off some of the awesome designing you'll be doing.


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