Founded in 1874 by Lewis Miller and John Heyl Vincent as part of a college “school trip” experiment, Chautauqua began as a Methodist retreat, but soon grew into a band for different Protestant denominations as well.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the establishment flourished and spawned a movement, with other Chautauqua installations springing up in Colorado, Ohio, Michigan, and beyond. Over the years, the institution has hosted outstanding writers and thinkers ranging from Mark Twain to former judge Sandra Day O’Connor.

Right now, the Chautauqua settlement, which sits about an hour south of Buffalo, is essentially unchanged from its heyday a century ago. Well-manicured grounds include garden bowling greens and art galleries, and string quartets play in the grass outside a stately pavilion.

Several hundred residents live on the grounds year-round, and the number of residents increases during a nine-week summer season, when owners and friends flock to the establishment for a feast of cultural programming, ranging from Sheryl Crow to Ballet Hispánico. Mr Rushdie was the featured speaker at the 10.45am Friday conference.

Although Mr Rushdie lived in a fortified safe house in London for the ten years after a value was placed on his head, he has been making public appearances for some years, usually with minimal security.

Moments after Mr Rushdie took the stage on Friday, the attacker rushed down an aisle in the amphitheater, pushing aside startled friends. The assailant met no obvious resistance when he took the stage and began stabbing Mr Rushdie, who was seated ready to start the conversation.