|Oscar Wilde in 1882|
J.D. Hull, editor and publisher of The Chariton Democrat-Leader back in 1882, sent a front-page prayer heavenward during mid-February of that year.
"The Oscar Wilde craze is getting uncomfortably close to Chariton," he wrote on February 16. "It has struck the village of Chicago. St. Louis can now have some real cause for boasting over her rival. But St. Louis should go a little slow, and not burn all the bridges, for the craze may extend there yet. And Chariton is on the main line west from Chicago, and may not escape. It would be a terrible thing to have Oscar wild in our streets, and the prayer of all good citizens is, G.L. deliver us."
Wilde did alight in St. Louis on Feb. 27, but Hull's Chariton-related prayers were answered. His route west did not take him through Chariton and Lucas County missed out on what could have been a fascinating footnote to its pioneer history.
Residents of five other Iowa cities --- Dubuque, Sioux City, Des Moines, Iowa City and Cedar Rapids --- did have an opportunity to experience the Irish-born poet and playwright first-hand that long-ago spring, however.
This all occurred a dozen years before Wilde's love affair with Lord Alfred Douglas, his subsequent jail time, 1895-1897, and his premature death in Paris during 1900. Although the American press generally was not kind to this flower of the British aesthetic movement, he usually was well received by his audiences.
Wilde launched his year-long lecture tour of America on Jan. 9 in New York City and concluded it on Nov. 27 in the same city.
He set foot on Iowa soil for the first time on March 1 when he lectured on "The Decorative Arts" in Dubuque before going on to tour cities in Wisconsin, Illinois and Minnesota.
He arrived in Sioux City from the Twin Cities on March 20, then lectured in Omaha on March 21 before heading west to the Pacific.
During April, headed east and south again, he stopped in Des Moines on the 26th, Iowa City on the 27th and in Cedar Rapids on the 28th.
Wilde's topic during all of his Iowa stops was "The Decorative Arts," although he also was prepared, and did, speak on other occasions, about "the House Beautiful" and "the English Renaissance."
And even in Chariton, the Wilde influence was being felt. On page two of the Feb. 16 Democrat-Leader, editor Hull announced, "D.D. Waynick has purchased a lot of hanging lamps for his store which are so utterly too, that even the aesthetic Oscar Wilde would not be able to find fault with them. Call at his store after dark and see them."
If you're interested in learning more about Oscar Wilde and America, visit "Oscar Wilde in America: A Selected Resource of Oscar Wilde's Visits to America."