April 18, 2010

Chautauqua, Most American Thing in America!

Teddy Roosevelt called Chautauqua "the most American thing in America!" Could this still be true? In the 1920's this declaration could have been true since rural America depended on 'traveling culture'. The isolation of rural living with few cars and no TV, farmers and small town folk depended on culture to come to them.

Enter the Chautauqua, a meeting place for entertainers, speakers, musicians, and specialists of the day. First popularized in the 19th and 20th centuries, the Chautauqua is hailed as a sharing of entertainment and intellectual knowledge. In summer 1925, a traveling production of The Mikado scheduled performance Chautauqua in over ten Montana towns ending in the High Line town of Sidney. Today, the only Chautauqua I know of in Montana, or anywhere else for that matter, is held at the Elling House Arts and Humanities Center in Virginia City, Montana. The Chautauqua is held every third Saturday, January through April.
Last night's Elling House Chautauqua began with a gathering of friends and acquaintances around the potluck table.
 Come on in, welcome!

Following hearty food and drink, let the fun begin!
The MC sings a lilting song of love and loss.
Everyone taps their feet to the beat.
A speaker presents his original piece about Montana mines filled with radon. A mine he hiked into was filled, extraordinarily, with people relaxing the rocky mine floor, soaking up radon, supposedly as a last ditch attempt to stave off terminal cancer.
A Browns Gulch, just southwest of Virginia City, old-timer played a poignant tune about a cowboy and his trusted mule. Could this guy be Tom Waits? A little too old but sure had a soulful sound.
The Flocking Magpies could have played into the night with their spirited tunes about Patsy Cline and living on the edge.
A parting glimpse, the stairway to the second floor. Wonder if a gardener once lived in this lovely Victorian home?

Keep up with the Elling House Arts and Humanities happenings (and the home's restoration) at their website: http://ellinghouse.org/Elling/Welcome.html

1 comment:

  1. Cindy, nice post. Chautauquas are still held here and there around the country. In the early years of GWBush's presidency, Jim Hightower was very active in promoting them across the USA. One or two were held in Bozeman up at MSU. You didn't include your own reading on this post, at least I didn't see it. -Drush