As the author of Suite Harmonic, if you could be reincarnated from the past to the present time, what famous New Harmony person would you be, and why?
—Jim Stinson, New Harmony, Indiana
Jim, I knew I could count on you for a fun question, but I should start with a disclaimer. Though many of New Harmony’s luminaries do get a mention in Suite Harmonic, I’m far from being an expert on any of them as they weren’t my primary subjects. I know them the way you can know people in town you don’t really know.
But my first thought on this is that I really would not want to be Hildegard Mutschler. For one thing, I’m not that keen on her name. More substantively, I think it’s unfortunate if people are known only because of scandal that attaches to them, particularly a scandal that arises from an imbalance of power. That was certainly the case with Hildegard, a player in the drama that contributed to the undoing of the Harmonist movement because of her suspect involvement with Father George Rapp, the German millennial pietist who founded New Harmony and expected all of the Harmonists to be celibate, a standard Hildegard meant he himself didn’t meet. But he was almost fifty years older than she was! And even if the scandal was fanned in the time after the Harmonists left Indiana for Pennsylvania, she grew up under his spiritual leadership in New Harmony. There’s something deeply unequal about the whole relationship and if Hildegard felt she had something to gain from it, that in itself is sad.
But on to someone I might like to be. It comes down to two people. One would be William Owen who, at twenty-one or twenty-two, was left in charge of his father’s utopian experiment that had gone off the rails. I mean it can’t have been pleasant for him, having all those people descend on New Harmony expecting utopia and being the person in charge. But there still must have been something a little heady about the experience, being off in this wild new country in the midst of such chaos and realizing it was up to him to sort it out and that, if he did, he could not only gain his father’s admiration but maybe show him up in spite of his fame. So that choice is maybe a little perverse.
I think the person I would actually pick is Josiah S. Warren, anarchist and inventor of the time store, though not really for either of those things. I don’t entirely understand the time store concept, though I like the idea behind it that labor should be rewarded. I also think anarchy is about as practical an idea as utopia is. But Warren clearly had a very fertile mind and invented some useful things like a tallow-burning lamp and, more than that, he was a gifted musician who raised a son who led the best band around. His life and home had to be full of liveliness and music. That sounds pretty good to me.
Jim’s website is newharmonyinfo.com.