One of my favorite comedians is Bob Newhart, same age as my father. Both will turn 90 next month. In Newhart's routines and shows, he was usually the serious and straight guy in scenes filled with odd and off-beat personalities.
In the 1970s, he played the role of psychologist "Bob Hartley" in the
Bob Newhart Show
. And in the 1980s he was "Dick Loudin," a Vermont innkeeper in the show
All the while Newhart was playing a psychologist, I was studying psychology for my undergraduate degree...then going on to get a degree from seminary in order to be a pastor. Bob Hartley (Newhart's character) was one of my role models: a gentle man who stammered his way through a world of strange and weird people. And since
is at least little strange, I watched Newhart closely to see how to cope with the constant eccentricities of people. (In case you are wondering, my pastoral role models have been Jesus, Moses, Jeremiah, Paul, my dad, my grandfather, Bob Newhart, and Andy Griffith.)
It seemed a natural transition when Newhart put down the role of Bob Hartley and became Dick Loudin in his 1980s show. In that series he played the part of an innkeeper/writer, trying to stay sane amidst an assortment of quirky Vermonters.
This past Monday it struck me: if Bob Hartley taught me how to be a pastor, perhaps Dick Loudin could be my role model when I finally decide to retire. After all, I already know that I want to take up writing when I retire. And while I'm not against keeping an inn, I just haven't thought much about it
...until this past week.
Jie and I decided to visit Galena, Illinois. We were there on a Monday, and since everything in Galena closes up at 5 p.m. on Mondays, we drove about 20 minutes and spent the evening strolling the streets of Dubuque, Iowa. Not much was happening there either, but we did come across a huge, Victorian Era, red-sandstone building with ornate Romanesque features. The sign on the outside said it was a 15-room hotel: a bed and breakfast. There was a light on inside. And so we cautiously approached the door, opened it, and crept in. We heard piped music... and saw the breakfast area and the parlor, but no people, anywhere. After about 10 minutes of nosing around, a Chinese man appeared from the back room, asked me who I was, and where did I "get the Chinese woman from."
It turns out that he was the innkeeper, the owner of the Redstone Inn, the place where we were standing. He generously gave us a tour of the inn and then invited us into the parlor for a long conversation about the history of the building. He also did his best to try and sell it to us. Like Robert Hartley, his English name was also "Robert," and he had been the owner and innkeeper for nine years. He is now ready to retire and go back to China. But he needs a buyer for his inn.
The Redstone Inn started off as a 27-room home, not a hotel. It was built by Augustine Cooper in 1888 as a wedding gift for his favorite daughter. (Cooper owned the Cooper Wagon and Buggy Company, employed hundreds of men in his factory, and sponsored the Dubuque Blacksmith Baseball team.)
But Cooper wasn't always so rich. As a youth, he left home because his family had too many children and was too poor to feed him. As a teenager, he headed north by train to get work chopping down trees in Minnesota. But while he was on the train, a gunfight broke out (over a card game) and Cooper got shot in the toe. He had to get off the train in Dubuque in order to get medical attention. And in order to pay the doctor bill, he had to find a job before leaving town. And so he became an apprentice in a buggy and wagon repair shop, eventually a partner in the same shop, and finally its sole owner. Before long Cooper had tranformed the repair shop into a factory for making new wagons and buggies.
When the automobile replaced the buggy, Henry Ford tried to strike a deal with Cooper to make the carriages for his cars, but Cooper (an Englishman) refused to enter a partnership with Ford (an Irishman.)
At the apex of his wealth, A.A. Cooper built this 27-room mansion for his favorite daughter, Elizabeth. He couldn't, however, warm up to her Irish husband. Cooper harassed and abused his son-in-law so viciously that the poor man went down to the river one day and drowned himself. Elizabeth was so overcome with grief and anger at her father that she abandoned the house, left Dubuque for Baltimore, and never spoke to the old man again.
None of Cooper's other children wanted any part of his business (which collapsed after several fires and his refusal to modernize in the 20
century) and none of them stayed in town. The mansion was eventually sold outside the family and became a small hotel. The current owner has put out over $300,000 for renovations. Today its rooms are magnificent and surprisingly comfortable.
Bob Newhart looms in my imagination. Sitting in that magnificent and high-ceilinged parlor, I fancied myself welcoming people from all over the world, fixing them a hot breakfast each morning, and telling them stories of the house where they had just spent the night. And during the day...I'd be working on my novels and non-fiction books.
But then it dawned on me that Bob Newhart the TV star could probably afford the $900,000 asking price. As for me, however, someone who still gives out
all his writings out for free...well...I guess I'll work a little longer and find a cheaper place to welcome strangers and write my stories. But it was a lovely and delightful daydream...