Greensburg Daily News, Greensburg, IN

November 27, 2012

Chautauqua then and now

Pat Smith
Greensburg Daily News

Greensburg — Well, honestly!

Don’t ever count on using the Internet for the definition of a word.

I’m excited about the Chautauqua that’s coming up at the Greensburg High School Auditorium Thursday evening. After I decided to write about this, it seemed perfectly normal to look up the word to see exactly what it means.

Sure, I assumed it’s an Indian (or Native American) word. Here is what the Internet gave me:  Chautauqua is a Seneca word meaning ‘place of mists,’ ‘place of easy death,’ and ‘where the fish was taken out.’ OR, it is an Iroquois word, meaning either ‘two moccasins tied together’ or ‘bag tied at the middle’ or ‘jumping fish.’

I gave up but did learn that the first Chautauqua was established in 1874 on Lake Chautauqua, N.Y. and made adult education and morally uplifting recreation available to everyone.

I have known a couple of the men who served in the 101st Airborne, and I love their nickname, “The Screaming Eagles.”  

Herb Suerth from ’Easy Company of the 101st Airborne will be one of the speakers at this Chautauqua. It’s been a few years but you may remember the television series of programs based on the book ‘Band of Brothers’ written by that great biographer and historian Stephen Ambrose.

Suerth fought for 23 days during the Battle of the Bulge. Then an artillery shell nearly ended his life and did end his military career.

Another speaker will be Colonel Paul Longgrear, one of only 13 Green Berets that survived the Battle of Lang Vei during the Vietnam War. Longgrear received the Silver Star, Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts. He is featured in the new documentary ‘The Man Left Behind.’ There were 24 American Green Berets when the battle started Feb. 6, 1968. Only 14 of the 24 lived. I believe that two are still listed as missing in action.

Another program will be a panel of five Holocaust Survivors and Experts. Doesn’t it seem hard to understand that a few people still don’t believe that the Holocaust really happened? I’ve never heard anyone who survived tell the story. There is a Meet and Greet and a book signing following the program.

It happens that I have a program from the 1912 Greensburg Chautauqua at Bracken’s Grove. Here’s something especially interesting; the price of that Chautauqua 100 years ago was $2 each for the first 700 and after that the tickets would be $2.50. Remember, that was 100 years ago. This year the price is only $5. Considering inflation, one would expect the tickets to be – well, I can’t figure out how much to allow for inflation but it would surely be more than $5. In 1912, the Chautauquas lasted for a week but I doubt that many people could make a whole week of it today.

The main speaker in August 1912 was William Jennings Bryan who was said to be the greatest orator in America. “His greatest lecture is on the subject ‘The Prince of Peace.’ I have heard that Bryan’s speeches often lasted two or three hours. The Austro-Hungarian Orchestra was one on the bill. It states, “The Hungarians’ music is not of the brass band type, but of that peculiar bewitching kind that lingers with you long after the musicians have left the grounds.” There are seven men pictured.

The Tyrolean Alpine Singers and Yodlers were on the bill which states, “They sing the Bavarian, Hungarian, Swiss, and American Folk Songs and they play their native instruments. Have you ever heard real Alpine Yodling? These folks do it!”

Then they had Dr. Stanley Krebs who “knows life and men. He is prominent in educational, professional, business and musical spheres.”  Miss Ruth Hemenway was a dramatic reader and entertainer. “She will render the ‘Sign of the Cross’ in costume.”

One local woman was on the program. Miss Mary Wilson was apparently a teacher, and the program states she “has already won many friends in her public school service in Decatur County.”

She would lecture to the women at 1:30 p.m. and she would tell a story to children too.

Full blooded Ojibay Indians were going to camp at this Chautauqua and “give Indian folk songs, dances, religious ceremonies, coon songs and would reproduce the Hiawatha known as the Indian Passion Play.” Father John Daly, “one of the finest orators in the Catholic Church would speak on “The American Citizen.”

It sounds like a fine program but tastes change and I’m glad John Pratt has lined up Herb Suerth, Colonel Longgrear and the Holocaust survivors for us this year. See you there Thursday evening.