Wednesday, July 18, 2012

(87) Ohio Chautauqua: History Comes Alive in Gallipolis.......Marietta, Urbana, Burton, & Warren too


        The following is an adaption of my article that appeared on the front page of the Gallipolis Daily Tribune on July 19, 2012.  An abbreviated form originally appeared as a Letter to the Editor on June 22, 2006.  It was the first Ohio Chautauqua that appeared in Gallipolis.  This one is the fourth to appear in the City of the Gauls in even years.  The year 2014 will bring the fifth Ohio Chautauqua to the Gallia County seat.

Dr. Madame Maria Curie Sklodowska, winner of two Nobel Prizes first for Physics and later for Chemistry,
describes  how she  isolated and discovered radium in the Chautauqua tent in the Gallipolis, Ohio City Park..

HISTORY COMES ALIVE IN GALLIPOLIS, OHIO

        Imagine that you are in a time capsule with the ability to go back into time and to meet and talk to the great historical figures we can only read about in our history books. You can come close to that this week at the Gallipolis City Park each evening at 7:30 pm as we meet fascinating and entertaining characters of the Ohio Frontier when Ohio was part of the Northwest Territory of the fledgling United States of America.


        The 2012 historical figures are in the above photo.  Appearing first was Margaret Blennerhassett, a wealthy British immigrant who with her husband built a mansion on an island of the Ohio River between Marietta, Ohio and Parkersburg, WV. They contributed to the development of the region and stopping a small pox epidemic. Today the mansion is a rebuilt tourist attraction, accessible from Parkersburg (http://www.blennerhassettislandstatepark.com).  Also appearing this week is the young Oliver Hazard Perry, as he talks about his life and narrates the details of building a fleet of ships under his command on shore and the Battle of Lake Erie during the War of 1812.  York, a slave, who had an important role in the Lewis & Clark Expedition, follows on Thursday.  Then Friday has Chief John Logan, a peace maker on the frontier. The finale on Saturday features the dynamic Hank Finiken, a fixture on the annual Chautauqua circuit as Johnny Appleseed. This teacher/actor/scholar portrays a variety of historical figures for schools and community groups as his profession throughout the year (http://www.hankfincken.comhttp://www.terrificspeakers.com/html/hank_fincken.html).  

        Last year five Civil War figures were featured.  In previous years we have met Chief Cornstalk of the French & Indian War; Francisco Pizarro, the conquistador of the Incas in Peru; Ernie Pyle, the famed war correspondent of World War II; Clara Barton, a Civil War Nurse, who achieved fame as “The Angel of the Battlefield” and later as a pioneering leader in Red Cross war and disaster relief.  Other guests included W.C. Fields, an early star of radio and movies; Margaret Mitchell, the author of “Gone with the Wind”; Eleanor Roosevelt; and President Theodore Roosevelt of “Rough Riders” fame shown below.

Dr. John "Chuck" Chalberg, a college professor of history, appears as Theodore Roosevelt.  He's a well known
figure on the  Catholic cable channel EWTN in portraying the great British writer, Lord G. K. Chesterton.
   
       These actor/scholars have studied and researched their characters in depth. Thus it seems as though the actual historical figure comes to life in garb of the period and vividly share his/her thoughts.  Each one shows his/her personality, character, and mannerisms with insightful stories and anecdotes of his/her personal life, speaking in the first person. 

         In a second act so to speak members of the audience participate in a press conference format and ask questions, where all imagine they are living in the time of the historical figure in his/her time and know nothing about the events following his death.  If the character is controversial, the audience can ask tough questions and even bait him. Francisco Pizarro was an inviting target since he demanded and received a room full of gold as ransom for the captured Inca Emperor Atahualpa and then proceeded to kill him anyway.  “General Pizarro, how can you go back on your word?  Where is your honor?”  Hank Fincken, put me, the questioner down in good natured fun. We became friends after that.  What an entertaining way to learn history and our heritage!

Francisco Pizarro is second from the right.  This group performed in  2006.
         In the third act the actor comes out of character and answers questions as a scholar from the perspective of today.

        Seminars in the Mornings and Afternoons. Each morning in the Bossard Library, there is a youth workshop for kids and a more scholarly program for adults in the afternoon. People of all ages are welcome at every session. Yes, Summer should be a time for rest, relaxation, vacationing, physical activity, sports, summer jobs, etc. But should learning cease when school is out? Why not learn and have fun doing it? Education must continue throughout life to keep our minds sharp and ourselves ever young at least in spirit.


         It’s a shame not to take advantage of this great opportunity sponsored by the Ohio Humanities Council (http://www.ohiohumanities.org/?page_id=9). Keep posted at that website for the locations and theme for next year.  If you're not from Ohio, perhaps you could put the word in the right ears or be instrumental in having something similar in your state or community.  The Ohio Chautauqua is a revival of the Chautauqua Lectures which were very popular from the 1890s through the 1920s as shown on the postage stamp above.......before movies, radio, television, and now the internet consumed and spoiled us. Let us revive this joy of learning at the Gallipolis City Park every evening of this week on the west bank of the Ohio downstream from Pittsburgh, Steubenville, and Marietta, upstream from Cincinnati......old steamboat stops on the way to the Mississippi River and ultimately New Orleans. 

        We cannot understand the present without understanding the past. Those who do not learn from the mistakes of the past are doomed to repeat them. History is not simply dates, names, places, and events. History is people who shaped the past and influenced the present and the future. We owe to them our heritage and to a large extent the freedoms and prosperity we enjoy today.

History Comes Alive
Published in the Gallipolis Daily Tribune on June 22, 2006
 Dear Editor:
          Imagine that you are in a time capsule with the ability to go back into time and to meet and talk with the great historical figures we can only read about in our history books. You can come close to that this week at the Gallipolis City Park each evening at 7:30 p.m. After meeting Chief Cornstalk, Francisco Pizarro and Ernie Pyle since Tuesday, today we will meet Clara Barton, a Civil War nurse who achieved fame as “The Angel of the Battlefield” and later as a pioneering leader in Red Cross war and disaster relief. Tomorrow, we will be the guests of President Theodore Roosevelt of “Rough Riders” fame.

         These are actors and scholars who have studied and researched their characters in depth. Thus it seems as though the historical figure vividly shares his/her thoughts and shows his personality, character and mannerisms with insightful stories. Later, the audience participates in a press conference format. If the character is controversial, the audience can ask tough questions and even bait him. Francisco Pizarro was an inviting target since he demanded and received a room full of gold for the captured Inca Emperor Atahualpa as ransom and then proceeded to kill him anyway. Hank Fincken put me, the questioner, down in good-natured fun. What a fun way to learn history and our heritage!

          Each morning in the library, there is a youth workshop for kids and a more scholarly program for adults in the afternoon. People of all ages are welcome at every session. Yes, summer should be a time for rest, relaxation, vacationing, physical activity, sports, summer jobs, etc. But should learning cease when school is out? Why not learn and have some fun doing it? Education must continue throughout life to keep our minds sharp.

             It's a shame not to take advantage of this great opportunity financed by the state of Ohio. The Ohio Chautauqua is a revival of the Chautauqua Lectures which were very popular during the 1920s and 1930s before television consumed and spoiled us. Let us revive this joy of learning. We cannot understand the present without understanding the past. Those who do not learn from the mistakes of the past are doomed to repeat them.

Paul R. Sebastian
Rio Grande


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