Sunday, May 28, 2017

Fascinated By A Chautauqua

It's the word itself - chau-tau-qua. The first time I heard it, I probably thought it sounded like an Indian word (Choctaw?) and I was all about Cowboys and Indians.
Then my teacher explained that Chautauqua's were similar to the tent shows I was familiar with except on a more enlightening plane. They could be entertaining but also educational. I wished that I had been born thirty years earlier or that they still had summer Chautauqua's.

Often the Chautauqua circuit did involve huge tents but they could also be permanent pavilions as I was to learn on a shopping trip to nearby Red Oak. Highway 34 ran through towns then before it began to bypass them. There on top of a hill was a big round structure. "What's that?" "It's Chautauqua Park and that's where they had concerts and plays."
The first time I actually remember stopping there and being inside the structure was when our school, along with two or three others, took a bus to Red Oak to tour the Thomas D. Murphy Calendar Company. After learning all about how the calendars were made and receiving a souvenir of our visit, we went to the park to eat our sack lunches.
By then, the mid 1950's, the place was run down; on the borderline of being unsafe. I remember some of us going up on the stage area and pretending to be performing and being warned to get down before we fell through.

In 1972 the old Chautauqua pavilion, originally built for $5,200 and one of the few left standing, was placed on the National Register of Historic Places and contributions were made to refurbish it. The stage is gone and it now serves mainly as a picnic shelter, but the nostalgia for times past lingers.

It has been more than fifteen years since I was last there for a birthday party/family reunion hosted by Lowell Mascher. That's him on the far right. He had both sides of his family there, so there were many we didn't know. This picture is of the ones on 'our' side of the family. My sister-in-law Ruth and brother Ron, Kathy and Delbert King, me behind Delbert's arm, Mom next to him, Aunt Lois behind Mom then Lowell's daughter and Lowell and possibly his granddaughter. The man next to my left and the woman next to Aunt Lois were Clay and Judy Heuer.

I am still fascinated by the word Chautauqua just as I was as a child. There is something romantic about it with maybe a hint of magic.

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