Archive for Thursday, April 12, 2007

Chautauqua Days set for June run

April 12, 2007

History will be coming alive in Baldwin City once again.

Last summer, the Battle of Black Jack celebrated its sesquicentennial east of town, but this year Baldwin will be hosting a different historical festival.

In June, the Kansas Chautauqua will be rolling into town for its week-long experience.

"It's a festival celebrating local history," said Tony Brown, Baker University professor and co-coordinator of the event. "It's a really low-key kind of thing. This is a way to bring history to life with historical reenactments. It's a really attractive way to learn about history and it's coming to us, we don't have to travel to it."

Baldwin City is one of two towns to host the event this year. Medicine Lodge will be holding its Chautauqua June 11-17 while Baldwin will be hosting June 18-24. It will be taking place on Baker University's campus.

Dave Hill, MidAmerica Bank president and co-coordinator of the event, is thrilled to bring the festival to Baldwin.

"We are lucky to be one of the two towns selected this year," Hill said. "Baldwin gets looked at nicely because of its historical significance. It will be a fantastic event."

The main attractions to Chautauqua are the historical presentations. There is one each night from June 21 to June 24.

"The primary events at Chautauqua are the presentations by these featured speakers, who will present themselves as the famous Kansans," Brown said. "I have to be honest, I've never been before. I've heard these people do amazing portrayals of these people and it's a wonderful event."

The 2007 Kansas Chautauqua includes presentations about "Bar Room Smasher" Carry Nation, poet Langston Hughes, newspaper editor William Allen White and controversial goat-gland doctor J.R. Brinkley.

Kansas Humanities Council professionals will portray the famous Kansans under a tent each day. Following the opening presentation each evening, the audience has an opportunity to ask questions of the famous historical figure as well as the scholar who created the portrayal.

The professionals won't be the only ones acting out characters during the festival. There will be a chance for children to do their best impressions of local historical figures.

A youth camp will run from 2-5 p.m. June 18-22 for children who have just completed grades fourth through sixth. The campers will learn about a local figure before giving a presentation before the Friday night professional.

"They are going to try and pick people from Baldwin City's past," Brown said of the campers. "The kids will present their characters to the group preceding the featured speaker Friday. That's something that I am excited about."

Brown also said local residents will have a chance to share their Kansas history stories with a national oral history group. Some of the stories will be chosen for the national archive and may be played on National Public Radio.

"We want to promote it as a family event," Brown said. "There will be tents for kids to play in as well as tents for people to tell their own personal story about their history in Kansas. The evening events will be packed with a lot of stuff for people to interact."

For those who crave more history, Chautauqua has got it. There are two local history workshops on June 21-22 for anyone wanting to learn more. There will also be adult workshops at 10:30 a.m. on both of those days.

"These workshops are really for people who like these presentations but want to get a little bit more history," Brown said.

There will be tours running all day June 23 that will take people to many sites around the area of historical significance.

The festival will wrap up June 24 with the final presentation on Brinkley, which will begin at 1:30 p.m.

Brown is happy to be hosting the event this year, particularly because Baker, the oldest university in Kansas, will be celebrating its 150th anniversary next year.

"We feel really honored to have it come to Baldwin City, especially at this point in Baker's history," Brown said. "It sort of ties in with the sesquicentennial."

The festival will take place during the end of spring and the beginning of summer, so Brown hopes it will help bring in the new season in a fun way.

"It falls right on the transition from spring to summer, so it will be 110 degrees," Brown said jokingly. "The ice cream social is sort of the farewell to spring and welcome to summer event. We are going to kick off summer in Baldwin City by having this historical festival."

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