“The Committee of the General Convention, which is charged with the duty of preparing for some ‘New Church feature’ at the St. Louis Fair, reports, in the Messenger for January 6th , a plan to reproduce, in as nearly exact form as possible, Swedenborg’s old house on Hornsgatan in Stockholm. The house was torn down long ago, but a fine picture of it, in water color, is preserved in the library of the Academy [possibly the two photos, below]. It is proposed to make this house a cozy centre for New Church people visiting the Exposition, and to have it furnished with a good bust as well as portraits of Swedenborg; a suitable exhibition of his Writings, with samples of the phototyped manuscripts, etc. The main idea, this time, seems to be the ‘very effective educative influence upon the minds of the youth and children of the Church,’ and as such it deserves the encouragement and support of the whole Church. The sum needed for the enterprise, is however, quite a large one” (New Church Life 1904, 104).
The Louisiana Purchase Exposition of 1904 opened on April 30th and ran until December 1st. The call within the New Church for funds to build a replica of Swedenborg’s house at the fair was entirely successful. Rev. C.A. Nussbaum is given credit for having first developed the concept. Two architects were given existing engravings of the house and asked to draw up plans. A St. Louis contractor, who was also a member of the New Church, was put in charge of the actual construction.
The house was, “in general external appearance, an accurate copy, on a larger scale, of the original building in Stockholm [see photo, left]. There was no intention of reproducing the interior arrangement of the Swedish house, as this, consisting on the ground floor of three small rooms, would have been entirely impracticable for the purposes contemplated at St. Louis. Instead of this there was one main room, used for the reception of visitors and for lectures, with small adjoining offices.
“The furnishings included a bust of Swedenborg, an original portrait in oil, copies of the photolithograph, and various editions of the Writings—originals, reprints and translations—including a handsomely bound set presented by the Chicago Society. Two ministers, the Revs. Messrs. Landenberger and Nus[s]baum, were in constant attendance, who kept a detailed registry of all visitors; and there was also a lady representative of the Young People’s League. These were assisted from time to time by visiting ministers who took part in the public lectures, which were given every week.
“That the undertaking has more than fulfilled the expectations of its promoters, cannot be questioned. It has been a missionary work on scale far more extensive than has ever before been seen in the New Church, and has resulted in bringing some knowledge of Swedenborg and his teachings to thousands who had never before heard of either. According to the Messenger it has also served to enkindle anew the interest of many who had become lukewarm to the Church. The total number of visitors is estimated at 25,000″ (New Church Life 1905, 43).
Alfred H. Stroh delivered two lectures at the house on September 26th and 27th on the subject of “Swedenborg as Scientist and Philosopher, and The Reproduction of his Manuscripts” (New Church Life 1904, 630).
The question of whether or not this evangelization effort at the St. Louis Fair would bear any lasting fruit was considered in the pages of New Church Life (1905, 42-43). Many years later Rev. Landenberger visited the Panama World’s Fair in 1916, and a summary of his Messenger report in New Church Life provides his answer to this question:
“That the distribution of New Church literature at a World’s Fair is seed sown that spreads far and wide, is evident from the following: A Syrian gentleman said he was given Giles ‘Nature of Spirit’ at Chicago in 1893. Afterwards he translated it into the Persian tongue, and delivered the lectures in two Persian towns. The lectures were also printed by others that heard them and so distributed” (New Church Life 1916, 606).
Photos: The photograph of the replica of Swedenborg’s house at the St. Louis World’s Fair is in the collection of the Academy of the New Church Archives, Swedenborg Library, Bryn Athyn, PA. The photograph was originally published in the The New Church League Journal in 1905. The watercolor of Swedenborg’s house in Stockholm may be the one mentioned in the 1904 New Church Life article, but we cannot be certain. There is an inscription on the front of the painting in Swedish: “Copia Nils Anderson 1853. Swedenborgs hus. Hornsgatan, Stockholm” (Copied after Nils Anderson 1853. Swedenborg’s house. Hornsgatan, Stockholm). The painting is in the collection of the Academy of the New Church Archives, Swedenborg Library, Bryn Athyn, PA.
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