Anvil Club takes on a world of topics
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- They gather the first Thursday of the month at the University of Charleston's Geary Student Union for drinks, dinner and a topic that could be just about anything.
The Anvil Club has been meeting more or less continuously since the years around World War II. The group has evolved into a monthly forum for a presentation that can be on any topic except for a subject within the professional occupation of the speaker.
Like, say, Ferris wheels, the Eiffel Tower and Erector Sets.
Which just happened to be the topic of the March 6 Anvil Club talk given by Dr. Steven Artz, who otherwise practices nuclear medicine and endocrinology here in Charleston.
In 1889, the French had a world's fair celebrating the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution. Gustave Eiffel's company designed a tower as the centerpiece for the exposition on the Champ de Mars, Artz said.
"Of course, the neighbors were not happy about it," he said. They got up a petition which read in part: "Imagine for a moment a giddy, ridiculous tower dominating Paris like a giant black smokestack...."
"Eiffel says, 'Hey, guys, this is the Egyptian equivalent of the Pyramids. Why would something admirable in Egypt become hideous and ridiculous in France?' He basically got his way and started to build this tower."
Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, the World's Columbian Exposition in 1893 — otherwise known as the Chicago World's Fair — was looking to rival the French tower with the creation of the world's first Ferris wheel, a 264-foot-high contraption designed by George Washington Gale Ferris.
"The cars can have 40 people on them. Now, how do you sell a thing like this?" Artz said. "Well, one, you say it's the highest ride in the country, in the world. Two, you can rent a car, and have a wedding, you can have a party. So they had some weddings, they had some parties. The revolution was 20 minutes to go around."
The Ferris wheel was later disassembled and moved to Lincoln Park where it had a few good years before the company operating it went bankrupt. It was disassembled and moved to St. Louis for the 1904 World's Fair. And then it met its demise.
"They literally blew it up and sold it for scrap And it disappeared. That was the end of it," Artz said.
But the Ferris wheel lived on as one of the big Erector Set kits sold by the A.C. Gilbert Company. Artz had brought a motorized working model of a Ferris wheel he had made from Erector Set kits he had bought on eBay.
After World War 11, Gilbert made science kits including one that allowed a boy to cast his own lead soldiers. "This was before OSHA. I don't think you could sell that these days," Artz said, much less a kit that explored radioactivity and had a Geiger counter and a small amount of Uranium-238.
He took questions and fielded observations from club members. "Where is the largest Ferris wheel?" asks Frank D'Abreo.
"The largest Ferris Wheel is probably going to be in Dubai."
"How large would be the diameter compared to the original?"
"It's probably twice the size."
The Anvil Club began as a discussion group at the old Morris Harvey College, which preceded the University of Charleston. There really is a small silver anvil and mallet the group lays out before each meeeting.
"What they essentially evolved into was an issue-oriented conversation around a meal and very, very sociable affair in which anything was fair game — anything serious, of course. Being serious people, in the main," said Clifford Lantz, who helps run the club.
"One member would be asked to present a paper on his topic of interest, something not in his field, usually, so that you weren't recounting your private views of your own professional work, which you might know better than anyone else at the table.
"Other people were added, other faculty and then people beyond the school itself. 1941 is a long time ago and we're still at it. And we've broadened our range of interest. We have professional people, lawyers, doctors dentists, architects. It runs the gamut."
What the group does not have is women and their inclusion has been discussed before.
"It has been an all-male group from its inception," said Lantz, who has been a member for six years. "I sense at some point that that's going to evolve further. But that's a matter for the group as a whole to decide.
"It's come up many times before my time. It just is not discussed much lately. Whenever you bring it up somebody will say, 'Oh, well, we've discussed that,' and they move on to other things.
"I sense there is some considerable vigor in favor of admitting women. And almost all organizations today do. And one day that's my prediction — but what do I know. I'm the new boy on the block. The Anvil Club will have to make that judgment as a body. And I'm sure they will."
The other thing about the group is, it is invitation only and members each give papers every few years.
"One doesn't ask to be a member. One gets asked. Anyone may be nominated by a member. The vote is nearly always affirmative. I don't know of a single denial. If someone leaves the group it's because they move away, retire, leave West Virginia or unhappily die. Or become incapacitated in some way or another. We have no set procedure for removing anybody."
It's another first Thursday of the month and Lyle Sattes, an attorney who has also worked as a real estate developer, is talking about "Connecting With Your Spirit."
"The human view is called self or ego or the voice in our ear we hear all the time," he said. "The human view we learn through our senses. And the spiritual view is different from that because it's experiential learning. And there really is a significant difference.
"When you get in touch with that spiritual side of yourself what changes?" Sattes asked.
"Well, I can say a few things that I think change. One is you begin to get intuitive information that if you're honest with yourself, 'this is brilliant and it didn't come from me.' When you can say that about something that you've got, that's what I'm talking about.
"If I get data from my senses but I see it from the perspective of the spiritual side which gives the input an entirely new and different meaning, you see it from a different point of view.
Sattes conceded that "this is just a learning experience for me. One time during meditation I had this sense of a light. It wasn't bright light or anything like they normally talk about. It was sort of like a golden glow. Nothing really exceptional about the light but the feeling, I cannot describe. It's literally one of total well being."
The questions and observations come back at him quickly. Could all this really be just the brain talking to itself, wondered U.C. President Ed Welch.
"Its not some external message that's coming to me. It's something that's happening within my own brain... which is a fascinating different way of looking at the same phenomena," Welch said. "That I have the capacity to free up my brain to think in those ways. And that might be the outcome of meditation as opposed to some mystical thing, radiations coming down from aliens or God or something else. For what's that's worth."
Reach Douglas Imbrogno at email@example.com or 304-348-3017.