Monday, November 22, 2010

A Troubadour Tramps Through the Mountains - 14

I liked the concept of Chautauqua as soon as I heard about it many years ago. What’s not to like about a festival of the arts, sciences, philosophy and public affairs…from low-brow to high-brow and everything in between? President Theodore Roosevelt called Chautauqua "the most American thing in America."

The original summer assembly of adult education and recreation began in the little town of Chautauqua, New York in 1874. In 1904, traveling “Circuit Chautauquas” spun off from the assembly format, featuring many of the same lecturers and orators. Chautauqua, both itinerant and at fixed locations, remained popular for several decades.

Vachel Lindsay crossed paths with one Chautauqua lecturer during his brief time in Asheville:

I looked up a scholar from Yale, Yutaka Minakuchi, friend of old friends, student of philosophy, in which he instructed me much, first lending me a collar. He became my host in Asheville. It needs no words of mine to enhance the fame of Japanese hospitality. . . .

Three years earlier, the Cincinnati Post reported on Minakuchi’s wedding to a Kentucky socialite:

As the bride of Yutaka Minakuchi, one of Kentucky’s belles will be borne away across the blue Pacific to the tea gardens and rice fields of quaint Japan. An American girl of wealth, rare beauty and accomplishments, will bid adieu to a reign among Blue Grass belles and beaux to go far across the water, where jinricksha men, sandaled and straw-clad, replace the fast lythe trotter, and where tea gardens and Buddhist temples line the roads instead of tobacco barns and little red brick churches.

But this does not mean that Miss Olivia Buckner is going to live in a new religion, as well as a new environment, for her husband-to-be is a minister of the gospel, although he is a wealthy Japanese of partly royal blood. Yataka Minakuchi needs only the title of Ph. D. to make him satisfied with his studies in America, and he is going to get that at Harvard after his honeymoon trip. Then he and his fair-skinned bride are going to visit Japan and give the Oriental girls something to gossip about behind their fans, just as the young bloods around Lexington and Paris, Ky., are now discussing the success of their Japanese rival.

He has traveled extensively and before coming to this country to enter college he spent two years at St. Petersburg with his uncle, who was a Japanese minister to Russia. He speaks fluently in five languages, but most effectively, it seems, the language of love.

Journalism ain't what it used to be, eh?

Yutaka and Olivia resided at 77 Montford while he served a congregation in Asheville and maintained a busy schedule as a traveling lecturer. One evangelist endorsed Minakuchi as a stirring orator and philosopher:

He is a clean, strong, magnetic young chap of great intellectual power, and a speaker of tremendous ability. He captures the people wherever he goes. Though a Japanese, he has spent most of his life in America. If you want a “hummer,” get the American Jap. He is in a class all by himself.

One of Minakuchi's popular lectures was “The Border Land,” in which he discussed:

...certain contributions which the eastern and western civilizations have made toward world progress. An effort will be made to find the “border land” – the place of reconciliation between these two seemingly opposed civilizations.

Minakuchi’s career came crashing to an end during World War II. On March 24, 1942, the Associated Press reported:

Held for investigation to determine whether, as an enemy alien, he was "dangerous to the peace and security of the United States," the Rev. Yutaka Minakuchi, 63-year-old Congregational minister and former Chautauqua lecturer, was accused today of being in the pay of the Japanese Consulate.

A recent radio program on wartime internments of Japanese residents mentioned Minakuchi:

The fact that he was getting a stipend from Japan and had been ever since he had left his job in Peacham as the minister where he had been for ten years - people really latched onto that as proof that he must be a spy. And there had been a lot of talk that he was sending coded messages from a radio and there was an antenna up in back of their home in Glover. And it was true that there was a radio, but they searched for the antenna and never found anything like that.

After the war Minakuchi found work in New York and Pennsylvania as a butler, with [his second wife] Nellie as housekeeper. When it was finally legal for him to do so, he became a naturalized citizen. After Nellie's death, he returned to Vermont, where he died one year before President Gerald Ford apologized and rescinded Franklin Roosevelt's Executive Order 9066, calling for wartime internments.


Much more on the life of Yutaka Minakuchi and his experiences during World War II:


Anonymous said...

I've been rereading Richard Hofstadter's brilliant book - The Age of Reform - recently and was amused to find that Professor Hofstadter quoted none other than Vachel Lindsay. It was in the context of an example of hyperbolic verse and commentary associated with the Agrarian Myth.
So thanks Gulahiyi for uncovering these wonderful chestnuts and serving them up for our amusement and edification.

GULAHIYI said...

"Hyperbolic" is about right. After I read some of his verse, I was ready to rather cynically dismiss him, but I've grown much fonder of him as I've followed his travels and gotten a taste of his humor. For all the acclaim he once received as a poet, Vachel Lindsay might have missed his true calling. I'm not sure what that true calling was, but it must have been something other than poetry!