A Magical Place

by Kathleen Franks for Porch Stories™ Summer Tour 2007, Hudson, Ohio

~

It’s been said many times by the old-timers around here, that Hudson is a magical place. Those of us who have not been here for fifty years or so, might think that these old Hudsonites are stretching it a bit. Sure, Hudson is a pretty little town, and there are many reasons why people choose to live here, like the excellent school system, great quality of life and a true sense of community, but magical?

One of my neighbors is an old-timer, Jim Bailey. I asked him about this mysterious magic that supposedly swirls around this town. You’re not going to believe the story he told me, but I’ll tell you anyway and you can judge for yourselves.

Jim’s great-grandfather was a friend of James W. Ellsworth, who played an important role in the development of our town. Mr. Ellsworth’s great generosity and ingenuity made Hudson into one of the most beautiful towns in America at the time and, as many of you know, Hudson still garners awards to that effect. With his own money, Ellsworth hired the best of engineers to design a community that was way ahead of its time. Hudson was one of the first communities in America to have electric lights for the village with the utility lines buried. Ellsworth paid for hundreds of elm trees to be planted all over town. The most prominent gift is the clocktower which anchors one corner of our village green. He also personally paid villagers to upgrade their homes and beautify their landscaping. He told the town leaders, “I not only want to make Hudson a model town, but the most beautiful spot in Ohio in which to live. If you cooperate with me, I will make this village a modern Utopia.”

Below is a picture of the clocktower.

There is one treasure, however, that Mr. Ellsworth brought to Hudson that very few know about.

How many of you have ever been in the Chapel at the Academy? Have you ever taken a good look at the simple six-foot cross in the sanctuary? Did you know that this cross came from the Santa Maria de la Rabida monastery in Spain? It is this very cross that Christopher Columbus bowed before Queen Isabella when asking for her blessing on his maiden voyage to America in 1492. What? You can’t see how that could be true? How could such a significant piece of American history be domiciled in our humble village?


The Chapel at Western Reserve Academy, Hudson, Ohio

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The story begins in 1893 at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, named in honor of the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus discovering America. Mr. Ellsworth had spent his formative years in Hudson, however, in 1869, he moved to Chicago to pursue his fortunes in coal. With his gift of leadership coupled with a desire to improve his community, he soon became involved in city organizations. Because of his love for all things beautiful, he joined the South Parks Board and quickly rose to become president. From that association, Mr. Ellsworth set his sights on Chicago hosting the World’s Fair in 1893. He presented his dream to Frederick Olmstead, noted landscape architect of Central Park in New York City. It was later said that it was James Ellsworth’s vision and determination that brought the World’s Fair to Chicago. In fact, Ellsworth put his money where his mouth was and became the main funder for the project which amounted to no small piece of change. He had said that he would “personally see that the cost was met.” The 600 acres that were set aside for the event and the ensuing development into waterways, lagoons, buildings and gardens totaled over $15,000,000 in early project estimates.

As you can imagine, exhibitors were held to high standards. Spain went all out by building an exact replica of the Santa Maria de la Rabida monastery. This monastery had been a place of refuge for Columbus on several occasions when he was destitute, during the years when he was trying to find funding for his expedition to the new world. Columbus developed a relationship with the prior, Juan Perez de Marchena, formerly a confessor to Queen Isabella. The prior’s personal passion and knowledge of geography gave motivation to show an interest in Columbus and his venture and played a role in securing support from the Queen.

At either end of the monastery in Spain were two six-foot iron crosses. It was before these very crosses that Christopher Columbus had bowed before Queen Isabella to get her blessing for his voyage. Having such historical significance, the Spanish government decided that both crosses should go to America and be placed in the replica. Here’s a picture of what the replica of the monastery looked like in Chicago at the time of the exposition:

Photo courtesy of Saints John’s Abbey, by Father Peter Engel at the Exposition in 1893

The Columbian Exposition of 1893 turned out to be quite a success. Mr. Ellsworth made good on his investment and then some. On the last night of the fair, many celebrations were going on all over the city. Ellsworth was invited to several. Long after midnight, having attended the last one on his list, he decided to stop for a nightcap in the bar across from his hotel. Still crowded with revelers from the fair, Ellsworth made his way to a quiet corner. In a few minutes, however, his peace was disrupted by a loud confrontation on the other side of the room. The manager of the establishment was standing over a table of men demanding that they pay their bill immediately and leave. Ellsworth tried to ascertain what the commotion was about, but before he could make sense of it, one of the men from the table in question caught his eye. It was one of the Spaniards from the La Rabida exhibit. Suddenly, a great deal of gesturing began and soon all the men from the Spaniard’s table got up and made their way through the crowd to Ellsworth’s table, with the manager not far behind.

Speaking rapidly in combination of English and Spanish, the men presented their problem to Ellsworth. Fast chatter ensued as they gave an explanation as to why they were flat broke and unable to pay their tab. Miguel thought that Francisco had funds left from the trip’s budget. Francisco thought that Mario had a stash of cash given to him by his wife in case of an emergency and Mario thought that Miguel had a line of credit from the government of Spain. Individually, each one had spent his cash on gifts for friends and family back home. More gesturing and fervent Spanish words flew as they continued talking to one another, apparently hashing out the details. Ellsworth cleared his throat to get their attention. Miguel soon realized that they had been speaking in Spanish and had left Ellsworth out of the conversation!  The Spaniards had a proposal: If Ellsworth would pick up their tab, they would give him  anything from their exhibit that he desired. Without hesitation, Ellsworth asked for one of the large iron crosses. The men then excitedly relayed to Ellsworth that he had chosen wisely, for they would see to it that he got the very one that Columbus had kissed and that Queen Isabella had blessed for his safe journey and successful return.

Ellsworth asked, “But of the two crosses, how do you  know which one was blessed?”

“Ah, my dear friend, we know, for it is the one with the Queen’s insignia carved at the bottom,” replied Miguel with great assurance, “Wherever this cross goes, good fortune will follow for those who believe in its cosmic energies and magical powers ensconced by the Queen’s own touch.”

The cross was installed in the Chapel at Western Reserve Academy in Hudson, Ohio in 1936 on the 100th anniversary of the chapel’s construction and the 500th anniversary of the birth of Christopher Columbus. At the service, these words were read:

“The cross is placed here as a symbol of Faith in Ideals in the hope that it may give assurance and courage to anyone struggling to realize a dream; and that those going from this school, may take with them the blessing of LaRabida.”

And that is why Hudson is a magical place.

Postscript:

And you, dear reader, might you be wondering what happened to the other cross? At the end of the exposition, the Spanish government gave it to a Chicago historical museum.

And the replica of the monastery itself? The Spanish Consul donated the building to be used as a fresh air sanitarium for sick children. A group of volunteer women in Chicago took up the project, raising the funds for equipment and staff. Interestingly, they were successful at recruiting volunteer physicians. These enterprising women set out to provide a “medical refuge for sick children” and relief for “tired and weary mothers” as stated in their original mission statement. Through the years the hospital has continued to serve the needs of women and children. Below is a current photo of the hospital:


La Rabida Children’s Hospital, Jackson Harbor, Chicago

http://www.larabida.org/

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About Kathleen Franks

Kathleen Franks is a writer, artist, storyteller, and community volunteer based in Berkeley, CA
This entry was posted in Small Towns, Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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