Chautauqua

Yesterday was the first normal day in a month. Well, kind of normal. OK. The first time since I got Covid and recovered that I sat and talked with a living, breathing, human being face-to-face other than the two kids I chatted briefly with when I picked up my groceries. I took four packs of notecards to the museum and chatted with the new director for a while — mostly about politics, strangely. While I was there, an old man came in — a really interesting old man who turned out to have been a retired archeology professor from Indiana — Purdue.

A long time ago I had an idea for the museum and then let it go because of 2020 and the life situation of the former director, my friend Louise. After seeing him, I flashed back to my idea and presented it to the new director. I think we might try to do it. My idea was holding a Chautauqua at the museum in the summer.

Chautauqua is a VERY late 19th century educational movement, that didn’t fade away until the 1930s. They still exist — particularly in their original location in Chautauqua New York. They were a movement, a really beautiful movement with the kind of objectives I think we could really use right now.

During my university life in Boulder attending the University of Colorado I was very immersed in the 19th century. I was an American Literature major. One of the cool things in Boulder is that it was a historical home to a Chautauqua every summer — the old buildings are still there along with the original cabins. When I was a student, the cabins were used as married student housing. In 1997 my best hiking pal — who’d moved to Tennessee — and I met in Colorado. I drove from San Diego with two dogs and picked her up at the airport in Denver. We did a bunch of hiking and stayed in a cabin at Chautauqua. In recent years it’s been gussied up and programs have begun again.

Anyway, it occurred to me that the museum could be a small Chautauqua with speakers like the retired archeologist I met yesterday. There’s a guy in Colorado who does Hal Holbrook type costumed representations of historical figures who might want to be invited, and I would do that; I would “become” Sarah Josepha Hale for twenty minutes as part of the whole thing, talk about Godey’s Lady’s Book and why she pressured Abraham Lincoln so hard to set aside a Thanksgiving Day.

The museum director loved the idea and we’re going to start planning.

23 thoughts on “Chautauqua

  1. Yay — a new project with lots of possibilities — lots of details to work out, and lots of potential!

  2. What a wonderful, interesting idea! I love how the catalyst entered the stage right on cue from the universe

  3. I have always lived the sound of the word, “Chautauqua.”

    When I was a very young boy, I heard the word used for traveling evangelical shows. It was probably being used incorrectly but where I grew up religion was as important as academic education. Something like this, only with more emphasis on hellfire and brimstone.

  4. Fantabulous! I remember the guide on the bus, when I took the ‘700 years’ tour at Mesa Verde, long ago – our Guide was named Everette, though he and the driver preferred “Poncho and Lefty” 😀 I failed to take full notes, that day, I was so fascinated at how quickly he answered, and responded and didn’t seem to mind me blurting out a question as it popped into my mind, as we went along the way – on plants, stories, building techniques, etc. I will just share what I ‘had notes for, that never got completed’ when I shared the wonderfullness of that trip, on my blog:

    “Everett said you don’t get a degree in archaeology – you actually study Botany, Geology, Linguistics, Anthropology and about 14 gazillion other subjects- then, when you’ve learned all that – you can go be an archeologist – – 🙂 (that’s not a quote from him, it’s my way of admitting I don’t remember all the subjects he listed that you need to study)”

    I don’t know if that’s really true, but man, am sure looking forward to hearing THIS story as it unfolds!!!!

    • I think to be a halfway decent archeologist you’d have to know botany, linguistics, geology and anthropology. Those guys take apart ancient poop to find out what people ate. I hope this story will unfold. Things here have a way of being “Wow let’s do that!” and then vanishing. Fingers crossed.

  5. Interesting concept, of course totally alien to me here in Australia. I had to do a quick bit of searching to understand. Good luck with being able to put a plan into reality Martha.
    Thanks for joining in 🙂 🙂

  6. Martha:
    What a delightful piece you wrote
    I just found it using my Android.
    We bought a cottage in Bethesda, Ohio, in 2005.
    The cottages still exist, the remnants of a Chautauqua site from long ago.
    Chautauqua activities take place in early July.
    Great history there at Epwoth Park. We sold our place in 2020.
    Too far away now, a thousand miles, three over nights to get there.

    • James, that’s beautiful. I spent a lot of time in the Chautauqua cottages in Boulder when my friends lived there — married grad students housing. Back then there were no Chautauqua events but now there are which makes me so happy, though I don’t expect to go. It’s a wonderful tradition and I hope my local museum follows through on the idea.

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