Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The great 1902 Chautauqua

I’ve been working this week with a program for Lucas County’s Chautauqua Assembly of 1902, the first of at least two held in Chariton at the turn of the 20th century designed to inform, entertain and elevate our forbears --- with a good deal of that old-time religion thrown in for good measure.

The dates for the great event were Saturday through Sunday, Aug. 16-24, and the location, “School Park.” I have no idea exactly where School Park was, but it was located within a five-minute walk of the depot and the square. I’m guessing that what now is Halferty Park (formerly North Park) may be a remnant of the location, but can’t be sure.

Whatever the case, School Park would have been large enough to accommodate the Chautauqua and related tents, vendors and thousands of people.

The Chautauqua organizers were among Chariton’s major movers and shakers --- Frank R. Crocker, president; Smith H. Mallory, first vice-resident; George J. Stewart, second vice-president; Eli Manning, secretary; and W.B. Beem, treasurer.

The event was intended to draw an audience from all over southern Iowa, so the C.B.&.Q. was offering round-trip fares at a discounted rate for all within a 60-mile radius and adding special excursion trains to its schedule on some days.

Once in Chariton, a ticket for all events during the week could be purchased for $2 by adults and $1 by those under 15 (under 10, free). Otherwise, per-event admission ranged from 25 to 50 cents. The lineup of speakers and entertainers had been organized by the Knepper Lyceum Bureau, headed by the Rev. A.V. Knepper, a Methodist minister

The only performers featured daily during Chautauqua were members of the Slayton Jubilee Singers, an eight-member black gospel group, plus accompanist, popular on the Midwest Chautauqua circuit.

Chautauqua opened at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 16, with an invocation by the Rev. A.H. Crittenden, then pastor of First Presbyterian Church; a welcome by Frank Crocker; and opening remarks by the Rev. John Merritte Driver, a Methodist preacher, author, song-writer and clerical star of the Chautauqua circuit. The Rev. Sam P. Jones, one of the most celebrated revivalists of his day, ended the evening with a rousing lecture entitled, “What I Know of Hell.”

Sunday commenced with a 10:30 a.m. service featuring the Rev. Mr. Driver. An open air “sacred” concert began at 2 p.m. followed at 2:30 by a lecture entitled “Abraham Lincoln” by Henry Watterson, known as the “silver-tongued orator of Kentucky.” Founder of the Louisville Courier-Journal, Watterson was active in Democratic political circles and an advocate for the rights of black Americans.

The day closed with another service, beginning at 7:30 p.m. and featuring another preacher popular on the Chautauqua circuit, the Rev. Thomas J. Wright.

During the balance of the week, afternoon and evening sessions generally began at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. with performances by the Jubilee Singers, followed by lectures at 3 and 8 p.m.

The featured speaker Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday evening was Maude Ballington Booth on the topics, “Lights and Shadows of Prison Life” and “Prison Reform: A Heart Story.” Booth was co-founder with her husband, Ballington Booth, of Volunteers of America and a crusader for better conditions in American prisons.

The Rev. Mr. Driver was a regular preacher during the week, holding forth on such topics as “The Anglo-Saxon, or the Future Rulership of the World” and “The Romance of Our Nation’s Birth.”

Featured speaker on Saturday was Fitzhugh Lee, nephew of Robert E. Lee and himself a former general in the Army of the Confederacy, Virginia governor and U.S. consul general in Havana on the eve of the Spanish-American War. Also a celebrated symbol of post-Civil War reconicilation, his topic was, “Peace and War in the United States and Cuba.”

The Chautauqua closed on Sunday, Aug. 24, with a morning service, afternoon entertainment and evening lecture.

The featured speaker Sunday afternoon was Ballington Booth, husband of Maud and co-founder with her of Volunteers of America.” He also led a “sacred song service” as part of the program. Booth was a son of William Booth, the Methodist preacher who founded the Salvation Army, and had come to the United States from England with his wife initially to take charge of the Army in the United States. Although the Booths parted company with the Salvation Army and formed their own volunteer-based organizations, both were stars of the Chautauqua circuit in 1902.

After that, the week ended with promises of a bigger and better event during 1903, tents were folded and loaded with other equipment aboard trains and Chautauqua moved on to its next stop on the Midwest circuit.


Patrick said...

Wonderful! I have read of Chautauquas, and this amount of detail is very entertaining.

Donnell said...

Frank, thank you for enlightening me about the Chautauqua. I've heard about it many times but never really figured out all that went into it. As usual, another well-written article.