RGI Museum Newsletter 2001

2001 Conference
Probes Mormon Origins

The Robert Green Ingersoll Memorial Committee’s biennial conference for 2001 will focus on one of the other famous births (besides Ingersoll’s!) to occur in New York’s Finger Lakes region during the early 19th century. Treasure seeker-turned-prophet Joseph Smith published the Book of Mormon in Palmyra, New York, in 1830, giving metaphorical birth to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, better known as Mormons. Perhaps no church’s origins have been subjected to more thorough historical scrutiny — but despite the debunking of its origin myths, Mormonism is well on its way to becoming America’s first world religion.

“Mormon Origins in Ingersoll Land” will be held Friday through Sunday, July 6-8, 2001, at the Ramada Inn Lakefront in Geneva, New York, 11 miles north of the Museum. Speakers and performers will include Paul Kurtz, feminist historian Sally Roesch Wagner, independent Mormon publisher George D. Smith, RGI committee chair Roger Greeley, Council for Secular Humanism director Ed Buckner, independent Mormon editors Neal and Rebecca Chandler, humanist activist Jan Loeb Eisler, religion scholar Robert M. Price, and many others. Wagner will perform her one-woman show as atheist feminist Matilda Joslyn Gage, capping an elegant Friday night banquet at beautiful Anthony Road Vineyards less than a mile from the Museum site.

Saturday morning, attendees will receive a crash course in early Mormon history, then travel by motorcoach to Palmyra, where much of that history took place. We’ll tour the lavishly-restored printers’ shop where the first edition of the Book of Mormon was produced, and visit Hill Cumorah, where Joseph Smith claimed to have dug up the golden plates from which he supposedly translated the Book of Mormon. Saturday night we’ll join a crowd of (literally) thousands for Mormonism’s outdoor summer spectacle, the Hill Cumorah Pageant. More than a thousand costumed volunteers re-enact scenes from the Book of Mormon backed by bold music and world-class special effects. (What should we make of the fact that the current Pageant was scripted by a world-renowned science fiction author, Orson Scott Card?)

On Sunday, Paul Kurtz will lead a wide-randing discussion of humanism’s future. How can Ingersoll’s legacy be preserved and reinterpreted for the 21st century? A Sunday brunch on the hotel’s lakeside verandah (weather permitting) will follow.

Ingersoll conference always emphasize American history, freethinking fellowship, and the scenic beauty of New York’s Finger Lakes. This so-called “burned-over district,” in which Robert G. Ingersoll was born, gave rise to many of the 19th century’s most important religious and reform movements.

Please join us this year as we delve deeply into one of the most colorful of them all. Registration is just $149 plus optional meals. You must reserve your sleeping room direct with the Ramada Lakefront Geneva; rooms are available at an attractive conference discount rate of $99.00 per night. A conference registration form can be found here, or you can register by phone at (800) 458-1366.

Virtual Museum Soon to Appear on Net

Debuting in 2001 will be the Ingersoll Museum on the World Wide Web. This “virtual tour” will feature over 100 digital photographs of the Museum and its principal holdings, plus hundreds of pages of interpretation drawn from the Museum’s signage. There will even be a few full-motion video clips!

When the Virtual Tour debuts, there’ll be one place online where Net surfers can go to see and learn about key Museum artifacts, see rare period photos of Ingersoll in action, and even download Thomas Edison recordings of Ingersoll’s voice.

Keep watching www.secularhumanism.org/ingersoll for an announcement when the Virtual Tour will go online.

Join the Wall of Fame

Two elegant plaques adorn the Wall of Fame in the front hallway of the Ingersoll Birthplace, listing “Out-standing Supporters” – contributors who’ve donated $500 or more for the rehabilitation or support of the Museum. These major donors are literally our lifeblood, for the Museum depends almost totally on gifts for the $12,000 to $15,000 it needs to operate each year. (Gate and gift shop receipts cover just a fraction of Museum operating costs.)

You can add your name to the Outstanding Supporters plaque by making a gift of $500 or more.

For a gift of $10,000 or more, we’ll record your name on a special plaque and recognize you as the Official Sponsor of Museum Operations for the Year 2001. (Should gifts exceed operating expenses in any given year, the surplus is placed into the Museum’s endowment fund.) To support the Museum, please send your check payable to Council for Secular Humanism/Ingersoll to P.O. Box 664, Amherst NY 14226. You can make a gift using your MasterCard or Visa by calling toll-free 1-800-458-1366.

Names of the Outstanding Supporters
Sally Ames
Mohammad Amin
John Bailey
James Barri
Blair Bates
Thomas Boal
Marsha C. Botzer
Morris Bradkin
Robert E. Brown
Frances Burford
Tim Chambers
Frank Conner
Arthur G. & Ruth C. Cromwell
Robert & Margaret Cunningham
Sergio Docal
Dorothy Drummond
Fred M. Ernsberger
Emmett Fields
George Fischbeck
Mrs. Lawton Fleishhacker
Thomas Flynn
Freedom From Religion Foundation
Jack Frishman
William Fulmer
Susan J. Gibbons
Virginia Gibbs
James R. Gordon Trust
 Roger Greeley
George Griggs
Fred Harmon
Dillard & Marilyn Henderson
David & Nancy Henley
Richard Hermsen
William A. Higgins
Herbert Hilbig
William P. Holcombe
Dr. & Mrs. Alan S. Horwitz
Jeff Ingersoll
James Hervey Johnson Trust
Ruth Jokinen
Margaret Gaughan Klitzke
Millard Kreinheder
Paul Kurtz
Carroll Minor Mage
Jay Martin
April Masche
Philip Mass
J. V. McCurdy
Jim McCurdie
Robert Merritt
Richard Mole
Nestor Montalvo
Rosemary Eleanor Morgan
Francis P. Murphy, Jr. 
Ray Nelson
Sandra Parker
Lucile D. Penn
Prometheus Books Inc.
Douglas Randolph
Albert Rathert
Rex Rew
Ralph C. Reynolds
George Ries
Francis J. Rigney, M.D.
Vee Weaver Roebuck
Bernie Schatz
Louis Schuerholz
Helen Peterson Sheffield
Dorothy G. Cannon Sherman
Steven J. Shimits
Floyd Smith
Dr. David Summers
John & Doris Sutter
James Thorne
Vance Vigrass
Edwin & Virginia Waldmire
James Watson
Mary F. Musser Wright
Jean & Matthew Zak
William Zitter

2001 Hours

The Robert Green Ingersoll Birthplace Museum will be open from 12 non to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays from Memorial Day weekend through Hallowe’en (May 26 to October 28, 2001). Admission is only $1.00!

Greeley Saves Face

Long-Lost Ingersoll Bust from Michigan To Go On Display in 2001

Long-Lost Ingersoll Bust On Display in 2001 A long-lost red sandstone bust of Robert Green Ingersoll weighing more than 450 pounds will go on display in the Robert Green Ingersoll Birthplace Museum during the 2001 season. The bust was the center-piece of a large sandstone “medallion” of Ingersoll, one of numerous medallions of freethinkers, feminists, and other reformers that decorated the Beckwith Theater in Dowagiac, Michigan. Built in 1893 as a memorial to freethinking woodstove baron Philo Beckwith, the theater was far and away the most lavish in any small Midwestern town. When the theater was razed in 1966, the Ingersoll medallion fell to the ground and was thought destroyed. The truth came out last year, thanks to Roger Greeley, chair of the Ingersoll Memorial Committee and author of The Best of Robert G. Ingersoll. (That book includes a chapter on the Beckwith Theater.) Following decades-old leads, Greeley found that the Ingersoll medallion hadn’t been completely destroyed. The bust at its center was almost intact and had been displayed in a local freethinker’s backyard! Greeley arranged for a stonemason to restore the bust, and it will be placed on display inside the Museum early in the 2001 season. Greeley and Ingersoll family descendant Jeff Ingersoll, a principal Museum benefactor, will dedicate the bust at the Museum on Friday, July 6, 2001, at 5:00 p.m. This ceremony will kick off the biennial summer Ingersoll conference, “Mormon Origins in Ingersoll Land” (see related story in this issue).

Before restoration, the Ingersoll bust had a broken nose and other flaws, now repaired.

On Display at the Ingersoll Museum

Little Journeys to the Homes of Great Americans: Robert Ingersoll, “written by Elbert Hubbard and done into a Book by the Roycrofters at the Shop, which is in East Aurora, New York, A.D. 1903.” This wonderful little volume, clad in gilt and suede with ragged-edged, delightfully thick pages bearing astoundingly rich watermarks, tells a gaily-distorted tale of Ingersoll’s birth and life with the romanticized exaggeration that only turn-of-the-last century writers could manage with a straight face. Hubbard, patriarch of the Arts and Crafts movement and a shaper of early 20th-century opinion, built an empire selling handcrafted furniture and books, many of them volumes of his own famous wit, from a world-famous crafts colony south of Buffalo, New York. Among his best-sellers were the Little Journeys books, fanciful biographies of renowned public figures. For all its floridity, this Little Journeys book is a heartfelt paean to Ingersoll. A liberal religionist, Hubbard felt Ingersoll had made an irreversible contribution by rooting the “unworthy” out of religion. “The earth is a better place,” said Hubbard, “and life and liberty are safer because Robert G. Ingersoll lived.” The Museum has two copies of this volume, one in leather and one in regular hardcover with a lavishly printed and embossed dust jacket.

(click to enlarge)
Little Journeys to the Homes of Great Americans: Little Journey to the Home of Robert Ingersoll The Museum has two copies of this volume, one dated 1903 in leather and a 1930 reprint in regular hardcover with a lavishly printed and embossed dust jacket.

Ingersoll Waterbury Pocket Watch 
(click to enlarge) The Timex of the 19th century. Huge numbers of these timepieces were sold at $1.00 each. Robert Green Ingersoll had no connection with the company that produced these.

“Religions don’t have to be true to work, and Mormonism’s the proof!” – from Galactic Rapture, a science fiction novel by Museum director Tom Flynn