Gate Lodge’s place in history marked during Founders’ Day
Extended hours, performance to highlight AA’s beginnings

Akron Gate House

The Gate Lodge, located next to Stan Hywet’s front gate, was the site of the first meeting of the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous. Photo courtesy of Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens

Scene from Bill W And Dr. Bob

Performing a scene from “Bill W. And Dr. Bob” are Robert Krakovski, as Bill W., and Patrick Husted, as Dr. Bob. A scene from the biographical drama, which examines the first meeting between the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, will be performed at Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens June 9-10. Photo courtesy of New Repertory Theatre

By Kathleen Folkerth

WEST AKRON — A conversation that has changed thousands of lives took place in a tiny room of a cottage on a grand Akron estate.

It was the historic meeting of two men, Akron surgeon Dr. Bob Smith and New York stockbroker Bill Wilson, both troubled by their addiction to alcohol.

The meeting, which took place in the Gate Lodge at Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens on May 12, 1935, set the stage for what would eventually be known as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).

That historic meeting will be marked at Stan Hywet the weekend of June 8-11, to coincide with activities surrounding AA’s annual Founders’ Day. The Akron Area Intergroup Council of AA will honor the 71st anniversary of AA with activities June 9-11.

The Gate Lodge, which features an exhibit about “Dr. Bob” and “Bill W.,” will have extended hours throughout the weekend. In an adjacent tent on the Stan Hywet property, several performances of a scene from a play about the two AA founders will be performed.

The Gate Lodge opened to the public in 2004. The house was occupied until 1999 by Irene Seiberling Harrison, who died then at the age of 108. After her passing, it was decided that the cottage would be restored and its place in history would be noted.

During the past two Founders’ Day weekends, more than 7,500 people have walked through the doors of the modest cottage, according to Donna Spiegler, communications manager of Stan Hywet. The Gate Lodge is also open when the estate is open to the public and included in the price of manor tours.

Stan Hywet volunteer Jim Urban, of West Akron, is often stationed at the Gate Lodge to answer questions.

“AA members just want to see the place,” he said. “They read every single word.”

Urban said he also has served as a soundboard for some.

“Sometimes an AA member will unload on you,” Urban said. “That’s inspiring.”

The Gate Lodge is the building to the right of the entrance gate at Stan Hywet. It was built as a residence for the estate’s superintendent, who lived there until his death in 1923. At that point, Fred Seiberling (the eldest son of Stan Hywet owner F.A. Seiberling) moved into the cottage with his wife, Henrietta, and their three children, John, Dorothy and Mary. The couple separated in 1935, and Fred moved into the Manor House while Henrietta and the children stayed at the Gate Lodge.

It was Henrietta Seiberling who is credited with bringing together Dr. Bob and Bill W. According to information in the Gate Lodge, Henrietta was active in the Oxford Group, a spiritual movement popular at the time, which stressed that “moral strength was the foundation to social justice and personal change would bring about social change.”

Through her activities with the group, Henrietta met Dr. Bob and his wife, Anne, and knew about the doctor’s struggles with alcohol.

Meanwhile, Bill W. was in Akron working unsuccessfully on a business deal. He had been sober for a few months, but the failure of the deal led him to seek help on the night of May 11, 1935. He felt if he could talk to another person struggling with alcohol addiction, he would be able to resist the temptation to visit the bar at the Mayflower Hotel in downtown Akron, where he was staying. From the hotel’s church directory, he randomly selected the Rev. William Tunks, who gave Bill W. a list of 10 names of people who might know an alcoholic who would talk with him. None of the numbers led to any success until he dialed Henrietta Seiberling.

Henrietta called the Smiths, but Bob was sleeping off his latest binge. Anne Smith asked if they could meet the next day, Mother’s Day. Bill W. hung on and came to the Gate Lodge that day for dinner. Dr. Bob reluctantly arrived with Anne and their son, and after dinner, Dr. Bob and Bill W. retired to the small library of the Gate Lodge for what was intended to be a 15-minute conversation.

They stayed there for five hours.

Today, the library is appointed with a small table and two chairs. Three recordings — of Henrietta Seiberling, Dr. Bob and Bill W. — can be played that talk about the events that transpired to help set the stage for AA, which became an international, spiritually oriented community that helps its members stay sober and help other alcoholics do the same.

The historic meeting has spawned books, movies and even a play, “Bill W. and Dr. Bob.” A 20-minute scene from the play will be performed June 9 at 2 p.m., 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. and June 10 at 1 p.m., 2 p.m., 3 p.m., 4 p.m. and 5 p.m.

The play is a biographical dramatization about the meeting written by Janet Surrey and Stephen Bergman and directed by Rick Lombardo. It features Patrick Husted as Dr. Bob and Robert Krakovski as Bill W.

The New Repertory Theatre in Watertown, Mass., hosted the play in March, where it broke box office records. According to the theater’s Web site, the production is slated to be performed off-Broadway this fall.
Husted may be a familiar face, as he has appeared on “Law and Order” and “L.A. Law” as well as in many feature films.

A brief audience discussion will follow each 20-minute performance of the scene.

Extended hours for Founders’ Day at the Gate Lodge are 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. June 8 and 9, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. June 10 and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. June 11. In honor of Founders’ Day, there will be no admission fee for the Gate Lodge June 8-11, although regular prices will apply to other tours at the site.

Regular hours of the Gate Lodge are noon to 4:30 p.m. daily. For more information, call (330) 836-5533 or go to www.stanhywet.org.

Dr. Bob’s House

Another West Akron site important to AA members is Dr. Bob’s house, located at 855 Ardmore Ave. The house was turned into a museum honoring the AA co-founder in 1985.

The corner home features much of the home’s original furnishings placed as they were when Dr. Bob and his wife opened the doors to many seeking help. A pot of coffee is on in the kitchen, and those who come in are invited to sit down at the table in the kitchen, just as many visitors to the home did years ago.
According to volunteer Ray, who works at the home once a week, the house is visited by about 6,000 people during Founders’ Day weekend. On a regular day, he said about 15 people might come through the doors.

“We get people from all over the world,” Ray said.

Ardmore Avenue runs between South Portage Path and West Exchange Street. The home will have extended hours during Founders’ Day events but is otherwise open every day but Christmas from noon to 3 p.m. There is no admission fee, but donations are welcomed. Dr. Bob’s grave

Mount Peace Cemetery, Akron’s second-oldest cemetery, is the site of Dr. Bob’s grave. The cemetery is located at 183 Aqueduct St., a few blocks north of West Market Street.

According to Susan Blaydes, of Mount Peace, the cemetery attracts people throughout the year who want to pay their respects to the Akron doctor.

On June 11 at 7:30 p.m., Founders’ Day activities will include a motorcycle procession to the grave and a memorial service.

Signs from the main entrance to the cemetery direct visitors to the grave. Many AA visitors leave their Sobriety Coins, which are given to AA members to mark the anniversary of the day they stopped drinking, on the gravestone in tribute to Dr. Bob.

The cemetery also features a bronze plaque with the Serenity Prayer on it not far from the grave. Adjacent to that is a columbarium, which holds remains. The columbarium is dedicated to AA and Dr. Bob and allows those wanting to have their final resting place near Dr. Bob to have their wishes granted.

Dr. Bob's House

Dr. Bob’s home on Ardmore Avenue is visited by thousands during Founders’ Day weekend.   Photo: Ken Crisafi

Dr; Bob's Grave

Mount Peace Cemetery in West Akron is the site of Dr. Bob’s grave, which attracts many throughout the year.   Photo: Ken Crisafi

The Akron Leader Online©  06/01/06


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