The Romance of Small-Town Chautauquas

The Romance of Small-Town Chautauquas

The Romance of Small-Town Chautauquas

The Romance of Small-Town Chautauquas

Synopsis

In The Romance of Small-Town Chautauquas, James Schultz offers a unique pictorial study of a cultural movement that started in 1904 and spread across the country. For almost thirty years, tent shows known as "chautauquas" brought popular education and entertainment to small towns in America from coast to coast. With more than one hundred photographs and other illustrations from the era, the book presents a captivating overview of the tent chautauqua movement from its inception to its demise in 1932. These traveling chautauquas-which were an outgrowth of the lyceum movement-evolved in the early part of the twentieth century. Keith Vawter, owner of the Chicago branch of the Redpath Lyceum, came up with an idea that would bring to rural America the same quality of lectures and other forms of entertainment that were available through the lyceum. His concept was a circuit of traveling tents that moved from town to town. Vawter named his traveling circuits "chautauquas," modeling them after the Chautauqua Institution in southwestern New York State, an intellectual community with summerlong programs of lectures, seminars, and workshops. Tent chautauquas offered a variety of cultural events by politicians, writers, and theologians, filling a void in the lives of rural residents who did not have access to the array of talent available to city dwellers. The Romance of Small-Town Chautauquas contains many previously unpublished photographs that reflect the styles and customs of a bygone era, as well as photos and anecdotes about many people of prominence who toured as speakers or entertainers. These included individuals such as President Warren G. Harding, Congresswoman Jeannette Rankin, ventriloquist Edgar Bergen, journalist and historian Ida Tarbell, poet Carl Sandburg, and many others. Schultz utilizes the existing literature on chautauquas, but he contributes much new information from the files of his father and uncle, both of whom were involved in the management of the Redpath Chautauquas, as well as interviews he conducted with individuals who remember attending chautauqua performances. Celebrating a fascinating chapter of America's cultural history, The Romance of Small-Town Chautauquas will appeal to students of American history and chroniclers of the entertainment industry.

Excerpt

Forty miles north of Mark Twain's hometown of Hannibal, Missouri, is the little college town of Canton, birthplace of two remarkable brothers, Richie and Eben Schultz. Richie was born in 1884 and Eben two years later. Growing up on the banks of the Mississippi, the two imaginative boys were influenced by the lore of the mighty river and the legends of Twain. Together, Richie and Eben fished in the Mississippi and its sloughs just as Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn fished in similar waters to the south.

At a local factory, they watched cutters punch out buttons from clamshells gathered from the river. They listened to the stories of black people who had been born as slaves. They talked to Civil War veterans, and because Missouri was a border state, there were some who had fought for the North and some who had fought for the South.

When they heard the sounds of a calliope, they knew that a show- boat had arrived at the riverbank and pestered their parents for tickets to attend one of the melodramas staged by the actors on board. They were captured by the romance of the river and the wonders of the world they had yet to know. As they entered their teen years they began to write short stories and poems, some of which were published in the local newspaper. At age sixteen Richie wrote a series of stories that he illustrated with drawings and bound in leather. With such titles as “The Land of Magic, ” “The Shipwrecked Orphans, ” and “Fred Farragut: the Hero of Dewey's Squadron, ” they were part of what he called his Navy series.

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