Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Time Capsule: The First Fidgettine Phenomenon

We’re celebrating a half-century since the first miraculous Fidgettine vision!

It was fifty years ago this year...when exactly we’re not quite clear...that John Bellairs began frequenting the apartment of his friends, Dale and Marilyn Fitschen. Both John and Dale were taking classes at the nearby University of Chicago, with Bellairs plodding along in pursuit of his doctorate in literature and pounding out pages of his dissertation.

When major deadlines had been met or once final exams were out of the way – or “even when someone had the thirty-five cents for a quart of beer or $1.25 for a jug of Gallo's Red Burgundy wine,” recalls Marilyn – the Fitschens began hosting parties. It was time to unwind, to relax, take in a game or two, and shoot the bull. That meant a story from Bellairs.

Fellow student and friend John Drew recalls Bellairs' gift for storytelling at these parties: "tubby, cherubic, a sort of younger Middle Western version of Father Brown. John he would settle back in a chair, where others reclined on the floor, and, after a muffled snort or two, would give vent to some facetious fantasy that cumulated in a chuckle - but not always."

Of his wild tales, one that the audience begged for more about was the one of the miraculous life of Saint Fidgeta.

According to the foreword from the 1966 book, Saint Fidgeta “first appeared on rainy day in front of the Oriental Institute in Chicago” to friend and fellow student, Bernard Kent Markwell, who then, according to legend, “was struck to the ground by the vision.” Warner Johnston, a student of Bellairs at Shimmer College, says that when he asked about Fidgeta’s origins he was told the tiny saint first appeared “during a dramatic reading by flashlight and headlights of a bronze plaque on the side of Stagg Field at the University of Chicago.”

After one such party in early 1963, Dale and Marilyn discussed the popularity of this silly saint and suggested to John that he put the story down in writing for possible publication.  Hesitant maybe, but John kept the gears turning.

Fifty years ago this fall John had left his Hyde Park comfort zone to begin teaching full-time at the now-defunct College of Saint Teresa in Winona, Minnesota. While some of his writing was geared toward stodgy, scholarly reviews of poetry and prose, John kept the creative juices flowing and over the next two years began finalizing the story of the tiny, twitching saint.

No comments: