As I pedaled my purple seven-speed cruiser on my way to Wilson, a nice-enough guy passed by me on an orange electric bicycle.
“Howdy,” he said.
“Howdy?” I thought.
“Plannin’ to do a little ropin’ on yer way into town on that e-bike?” I wanted to ask.
But I didn’t. Snarky is not going to get me anywhere. I need to get over the electric bike thing, and, most importantly, I need to get out of town a bit.
Ever since I attended the annual beef barbecue at the Church of St. Hubert the Hunter in Bondurant, I have had a couple of notions.
One is to replicate the cooking of boned-out beef quarters by wrapping the chunks of meat in layers of aluminum foil, then chicken wire, and cooking them in a covered deep pit with wood coals for about 24 hours.
I’ve also had a hankering to revisit the Bondurant chapel to view the charming stained-glass window behind the alter of St. Hubert’s. It was donated and designed in 1941 by Jessie Van Brunt. I’m intrigued because Miss Van Brunt seems to have donated dozens of windows located throughout the world. My idea is to visit many of them — my “Van Brunt Quest.”
Van Brunt was an instructor at the New York School of Applied Design and was employed for a time by Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company.
In 1940 she donated two of her windows, Summer and Winter, to the Chapel of the Transfiguration in Grand Teton National Park. It was at the dedication of these two works that she learned of the construction of St. Hubert’s in Bondurant.
Van Brunt’s offer to make and donate a window of the vision of St. Hubert for the tiny log church under construction was accepted by the Episcopal bishop with appreciation and delight.
In 1939, Van Brunt created two stained-glass windows for Mammoth Chapel in Yellowstone National Park. I’m going to see those windows.
I’m considering taking a circuitous route, first stopping at the Chapel of the Transfiguration, next going over Togwotee Pass and on to Shoshoni for a side trip to the two-story framed building covered in metal panels that was once Yellowstone Drug, the place where everyone stopped for a shake in the late 1970s and ’80s.
Shoshoni is a crossroads leading to Yellowstone, Thermopolis or Casper through a sagebrush sea. I’ve had many a shake there, but what I didn’t know, until quite recently was that one of Wyoming’s wealthiest businessmen, President Gerald Ford’s grandfather Charles Henry King, built the old Yellowstone Drug building to house the CH King Company and Shoshoni First National Bank. King was in the business of lumber, finance, wool trading, freight hauling and real estate and became grandfather to a president of the United States.
The idea of a U.S. president’s grandfather residing in the Shoshoni region is quite intriguing. I’d like to see that building again. While there I’d like to imagine Gerald Ford at age 23 taking time off from his summer post as a Yellowstone National Park ranger in 1936 to visit his grandfather’s building.
One of Ford’s duties as a ranger was to welcome VIPs to Yellowstone. If it had been three years later he would have welcomed Jessie Van Brunt arriving to Yellowstone for the dedication of her windows in the Mammoth Chapel.
Besides welcoming VIPs, another of Ford’s jobs was to protect park rangers from bears that were being given meals from garbage-filled feeding trucks, which was a regular source of entertainment for park visitors at the time.
Ford took the presidential oath of office on Aug. 9, 1974, after President Richard Nixon’s resignation amid the Watergate scandal. Ford became the only person to become president without winning a general election for president or vice president. It was a tumultuous time I’d like to reflect upon in Shoshoni, not as far from the White House as I once believed.
And since I have time on my hands, after touring Mammoth Chapel, I would like to drive to St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Laramie, which also has Van Brunt windows. The woman got around. Me too.
I’m especially longing to travel to the Mission Inn Hotel & Spa in Riverside, California, where there is a Jessie Van Brunt room. I am quite aware that Riverside is not a vacation mecca, but inside the Mission Inn there are quite a few windows made by Van Brunt, including several that serve as a backdrop to a crescent-shaped sitting area inside her namesake room.
Oh, to stay in the Van Brunt room, in the very same hotel where Gerald Ford was once the guest of honor at a 1998 political fundraiser for Mary Bono, who was running for the California congressional seat of her late husband, Sonny. Van Brunt, Ford and a Bono all in the same hotel! Who knew?
This column was updated to correct two errors about a political fundraiser held at the Mission Inn & Spa. The fundraiser, held in 1998, was for Mary Bono, the late Sonny Bono's wife. — Eds.