of the North Manchester Historical Society, Inc.
Volume XXVI Number 3 August 2009
THEODORE DREISER IN NORTH MANCHESTER, 1915
Part Three: TENT CHAUTAUQUA
By John Knarr
In correspondence sent to the Chautauqua booking agency, dated January 9, 1915, A.L. Ulrey, Superintendent of the North Manchester Public Schools, and Secretary of the local Chautauqua Committee, requested that the seven-day Chautauqua in North Manchester be scheduled after the date set for the Wabash Chautauqua (August 8-15). Ulrey also requested that the closing date not be later than August 29 on account of the number potentially drawn from the College, and also on account of Teacher's Institute which came the following week and "of course would deprive us of a lot of people."1 Chautauqua Week in North Manchester in 1915 was consequently scheduled for the week of August 19-26. Theodore Dreiser had come to town just prior to the start of the events, and banners and posters all over town were promoting this popular cultural event. [See Newsletter, May 2009; Dreiser, A HOOSIER HOLIDAY.] Dreiser made the following observations in his autobiographical account:
Page 341: These streets of North Manchester were hung with those same triangular banners—red, white, blue, green, pink, orange—which we had seen in the East and which announced the imminence of a local Chautauqua. …In the store windows were quite striking pictures of Stromboli, the celebrated band leader, a chrysanthemum haired, thin bodied Italian in a braided white suit….And adjoining him in every window was the picture of Madame Adelina Scherzo, the celebrated soprano prima donna straight from the Metropolitan Opera House, New York.
Page 342: Madame Scherzo was in black velvet, with bare arms, shoulders and throat, an entrancing sight. She was rather pretty too, and a line under the picture made it clear that she was costing the management "$800.00 a day," a charge which interested me, considering the size of the town and county and the probable audiences which could be got out to see anything.
While Dreiser was buying some picture cards at the local bookstore, he learned that a tent was brought for these Chautauqua entertainments. The good-sized tent could hold or seat about fifteen hundred people. The seats were running fifteen, twenty-five, thirty-five and fifty cents. "A thousand is a good crowd for a fair night," he was informed. Moreover, they played to two audiences a day.2
The Chautauqua Program. The traveling Chautauqua was a new kind of show business, blending education and entertainment.3 The seven-day program was promoted and printed in the North Manchester Journal (July 22, 1915):
Drama Night: William Owen and cast in a modern play, "The Servant in the House."
Health and Happiness Day: Lectures by Dr. Charles E. Barker, who was physical adviser to President Taft during his administration in Washington.
Band Day: Francesco Pallaria, dynamic, dramatic and spectacular director and his band.
Popular Science Night: Wrestling gyroscope, monorail car in action, handwriting on the wall by ultra-violet rays. A thrill and surprise every minute.
Patriotic Day [August 25]: Ex-Governor Shallenberger of Nebraska, newly elected member of Congress, in a great address on "political Patriotism."
Joy Night: Rollicking fun, music and enthusiasm. Don't miss this feature.
Alice Nielsen Day [August 26]: Recital by Prima Donna Soprano of the Metropolitan and Boston Opera Companies. Greatest musical feature ever announced on a Chautauqua program.
The play, "The Servant in the House", had just been introduced in the 1915 Chautauqua circuit. This play was first produced in 1908 and had been a long-run hit on Broadway. William Owen was the leading man in the wholesome Chautauqua drama; he was twenty-three years of age. Owen and the other actors were acclaimed and seasoned actors; Owen had established a reputation playing Mephistopheles in Faust on the Great White Way. Written by Charles Rann Kennedy, this play was known as a modern morality play in five acts, Stressing wholesome values, humility and the love of a father for his child, the play's words and themes did not upset or undermine the values of the Chautauqua belt, including those of North Manchester.
There were never very many athletes represented in the Chautauqua troupes which travelled the country. A fast runner once talked on the subject of The Spirit of Sportsmanship. Baseball owner Branch Rickey on one occasion covered Business and Baseball. "Farmer" Burns, former heavyweight champion wrestler of the world, gave talks on good health and clean living. John L. Sullivan, the former heavyweight boxing champion spoke on Temperance. Such celebrity appearances took place in other communities. Here in North Manchester in 1915 Dr. Charles Barker, a former gymnast, showed up and reportedly could jump over a pile of chairs on the stage. Barker went on to demonstrate with exercises, dumbbells and chairs what he had prescribed as physical adviser for President Taft to lose weight!
Musical Entertainment. Besides educational programs, drama productions, speechmaking, orations [For information on A.C. Shallenberger, see the May 2009 issue of the Newsletter.], elocutionists, the Chautauqua programs always included popular musical groups, bands and singers. Local amateur talent was seldom tapped, so as to ensure a professional and higher quality show. Dreiser playfully described Alice Nielsen as "Madame Adelina Scherzo" and the popular band leader Francesco Pallaria as "Stromboli…thin bodied Italian in a braided white suit." Stromboli probably was a reference to an Italian volcano with energetic motion. In 1907 and again in 1912 the Italian volcano Stromboli had erupted north of Sicily. The well-known Bohumir Kryl Band had played during the previous summer in the 1914 local Chautauqua. As for
Madame Adelina Scherzo, the name was possibly another playful Dreiser reference to the remarkable musical talents of this singer. "Sweet Adeline" was a popular tune (1903) shortly after Dreiser placed lyrics to his brother Paul's music (1897) "On The Banks of the Wabash."
The parents of Alice Nielsen had met in South Bend, Indiana when her mother Sara Kilroy was studying music at St. Mary's College. Born in Nashville, TN, on the seventh day of the month, the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter (as she liked to recall when interviewed), Alice Nielsen became a Broadway musical star around the turn of the century, eclipsing her friend Lillian Russell. She studied opera, made her grand-opera debut in Naples (Italy), sang opposite Caruso in London, and debuted in major American cities, including Boston and New York City. Nielsen then began participating in the popular Chautauqua tours, singing to more people than could be gathered in an opera house.
Wikipedia: "These outdoor concerts took place under a big tent, moving from town-to-town by rail. The circuit ranged from Florida to Chicago. Nielsen was the highest-paid performer on the circuit. The week-long Redpath Chautauqua series closed in each town with Alice Nielsen Day." James Redpath was the successful agent, originator and promoter of the lyceum-lecture bureau that paved the way for the genesis of traveling Chautauqua. And Redpath's name was bequeathed to the Chautauqua tent circuits. So the banners in North Manchester proclaimed "Redpath-Chautauqua" week. It was written of this lyric soprano, America's queen of song, "To hear her soar in the upper register of sympathetic, clear, interpretive tone, that reaches the heart as well as pleases the critical ear, is an experience not to be forgotten." 4
Communities were required to guarantee a large number of ticket sales to assure that the show would come to town. According to the memoir of someone who was involved financially with the 1915 Chautauqua tour: "Sending Miss Nielsen on the kind of tour we did was big business for us and hard, weary business for her. In one hundred and eighteen days the dark-haired soprano from the Metropolitan and Boston Opera companies, travelling with her own piano in her own private [railroad] car, sang one hundred and eighteen consecutive concerts in one hundred and eighteen packet tents, in the most pretentious musical effort any circuit ever had attempted….Alice Nielsen received the highest salary ever paid up till then in the tents, a whopping fifteen hundred dollars a week, plus expenses. The private car made her daily life a bit easier though even a plush private car, standing all day in a smoky Chattanooga railroad yard (those were the days when air-conditioning had not yet been dreamt of) left something to be desired." 5
Alice Nielsen's tour in 1915 was given the widest publicity. Photographs 18 x 30 inches, framed and under glass, were displayed in ten conspicuous places in each city. Also displayed were posters and automobile pennants bearing the words "Redpath Chautauqua, Alice Nielsen Day." With much fanfare, on August 26, 1915, Nielsen performed on stage under the big tent in North Manchester. She had signed on February 11, 1915, a contract with Redpath Chautauquas for a period of 20 weeks of performances. She agreed to furnish an accompanist and violinist, and to give six full programs a week of not less than one hour and thirty minutes each. Miss Nielsen received a total of $30,000.00 for the 20 weeks, being paid in weekly installments of $1500.00. Redpath also agreed to pay Nielsen one-half of the single admission fees charged for her performances (once the initial $30,000 was recovered from the admissions for her concerts in the scheduled 118 towns and cities). Nielsen's expenses for the 1915 Chautauqua season included: $5000.00 rental on a private railway car; $400.00 for maid; $2000.00 for assisting artists; $2000.00 for manager of her tour; $4425.00 for Redpath commissions on summer bookings.6 The day before Nielsen performed in North Manchester, she had sung in Waukegon, Illinois; the following day she found herself in Logansport. During the summer of 1915, Alice Nielsen performed in 25 different Indiana communities. This peripatetic, prima donna soprano, traveling in her private railway car, also performed in other states on the circuit: Kentucky, Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, North and South Carolina, Illinois, Michigan.7
1915 Contract between Redpath Chautauqua and North Manchester. Those who signed the contract for North Manchester agreed "To subscribe and pay for seventeen hundred and fifty dollars ($1750.00) worth of season tickets of admission to said Chautauqua Assembly at two dollars and fifty cents ($2.50) per ticket, on or before one day prior to the opening of the Chautauqua Assembly." The season ticket enabled the purchaser to attend any or all the sessions. Tickets for children between the ages of six and fourteen could be sold for one dollar and fifty cents ($1.50) each. Without the season pass, one could pay admission for single events, as had been mentioned by Dreiser.
North Manchester's guarantors (leading citizens and town boosters) for the seven-day Chautauqua in 1915 who signed the binding written contract included: Geo. Burdge, Isaac Oppenheim, Geo. L. Shoemaker, A.C. Wolfe, A.L. Ulrey, H. Kinny, J.C. Bonner, Calvin Ulrey, A.I. Urschel, J.B. Williams, Chas. Wright, S.S. Gump, C.E. Sexton, Mel Blickenstaff, C.M. Comer, Dr. W.H. Shaffer, Geo. D. Balsbaugh MD, W.M. Jennings, Ira E. Perry, Daniel Sheller, A.B. Babcock, Geo. B. Frame, Charles B. Frame, W.H. Ballenger, E.A. Ebbinghous, H.B. Sheller, W.E. Billings, J.W. Domer, J.D. Lautzenhiser, Geo. D. Garber, Frank Humbert, R.A. Schoolcraft, M.F. Adams, Emma G. Holloway, Paul M. Browne, J. A. Browne, A.B. Thomas, C.F. Kraning, Otho Winger, L.D. Ikenberry, C.H. Olinger, John H. Winesburg, Ira Mummert, J.B. Lockwood, Thurle Little, F.P. Freeman, C.M. Walters, F.B. Sorg.8
According to Redpath Chautauqua's financial records, the total ticket sales in North Manchester for August 19-26, 1915, were $2268.10, including advance season tickets of $1750.00 and single tickets totaling $518.10. The original signed contracts and financial records are located in the Archives at the University of Iowa, Iowa City. During the month of August in 2009, ninety-four years after Theodore Dreiser's visit to our town, my wife and I were privileged to view and research the nearly 700 linear feet of Chautauqua Circuit files, the nation's largest collection of its kind. These records include the office files of the commercial lecture bureau and booking agency for Chautauqua and Lyceums throughout the U.S. and parts of Canada. The Redpath Chautauqua Collection in the Special Collections Department, University of Iowa Libraries (Iowa City) consists of talent files, correspondence, contracts, publicity brochures, advertising flyers, business files, location files with materials about sponsoring cities and towns;, photographs, daybooks and cash books, reports by platform superintendents and advance men; etc.
Chautauqua's Roots. The Chautauqua experience had developed from the Lyceum movement of the nineteenth century. The first Chautauqua Assembly was held in western New York in 1874. President Grant was present for the second Assembly in 1875, and his presence gave impetus to ensuring prominence for the Chautauqua movement. In 1876 the Chautauquan, a monthly magazine, was established. Chautauqua's founders believed that education must be exalted: "The whole of life is a school. …Education, once the peculiar privilege of the few, must become a valued possession of the many."9 The North Manchester Journal (July 22, 1915), as reprinted from the Merchants' Trade Journal (Des Moines, Iowa): "…The original idea of the Chautauqua movement was to bring noted teachers, men and women who have accomplished things into the community where the people might receive teaching and inspiration from them first hand. But this movement has grown until now our Chautauqua has become the great American forum, where the public meets to hear discussed problems and questions of moment. It has become a place where the reformer, the politician, the educator, finds open minds to receive his teaching and theories."
Even though Methodists founded the Chautauqua movement, nondenominationalism or what William Jennings Bryan once called "a sane catholicity"10 was a striking characteristic of the Chautauqua platform and the operative principle in its development. Bryan appeared on more than three thousancd Chautauqua programs and was paid up to $25,000 per season. In some ways, the movement served as a secular extension of the earlier religious camp-meetings. "Saving souls", unreasonable sectariansim and razzle-dazzle evangelism were not identified with Chautauqua. On the Chautauqua circuit, the citizens were not urged to "walk down the sawdust trail" in a tent. Billy Sunday's evangelistic tours were independent of Redpath-Chautauqua booking.
Stimulating the mind was ultimately Chautauqua's secular function, offering exposure to education, the arts, music, poetry, recitations, the latest developments in the sciences, politics, travelogues, the world of ideas, patriotism, peace and social issues such as suffrage, temperance and prohibition, child labor, racial and economic divides. President Theodore Roosevelt once called the Chautauqua "the most American thing in America." William Jennings Bryan considered Chautauqua as a "potent human factor in molding the mind of the nation." The Chautauqua movement combined education with entertainment in the form of concerts, plays, lectures usually held in a large outdoor tent. Americans were thirsty for culture, hungry for information, and looking to be entertained. They wanted edification, they wanted to be uplifted, they wanted to laugh, they wanted to be festive. Moreover, the merchants welcomed the crowds! Chautauqua was a much anticipated annual summertime event in communities such as North Manchester, and the local newspaper always promoted the event several weeks in advance.
The Big Canvas Tent. The large brown tent was erected usually on the grounds (northwest corner) of the Central School. An exception was made in 1922 and 1923 while a new building was being constructed. The grounds chosen in 1925 was land owned by U.R. Young, southeast of Bond and Third Streets. The Chautauqua tent was made of heavy duty brown canvas material. The tent size was 70' x 140'. Since the stakes extended 10 feet on the sides beyond the tent, the minimum lot size needed was 90' x 160'. When it was impossible to get everybody into the tent, the canvas sides could be rolled up and hundreds more sat outside. In raising the tent in the outdoors, the people no longer were confined to a church building, the Knights of Pythias hall on Walnut Street or the opera house on Main Street. The stage was set outdoors under the "big top" canvas.
The extensive railroad system facilitated the transport of Chautauqua troupes and Chautauqua ideas from state to state, town to town. The traveling Chautauqua circuit had commenced in 1904 in Iowa under the business tutelage and management of Redpath's successor Keith Vawter. These records for the traveling circuit were eventually bequeathed to the University of Iowa.
The circuit Chautauquas and their booking agencies were independent of the Chautauqua Institution on Lake Chautauqua in western New York. As I was delving (July 13, 2009) into the research files at the Oliver Archives Center on the beautiful grounds of the Chautauqua Institution, Jon Schmitz, the archivist, pointed out that a split had developed between the two in their respective approaches or emphases. Those associated with the parent Chautauqua Institution often considered themselves more urbane, articulate and cerebral, while frequently viewing several of the circuit performers as "bumpkin entertainers."
I did find relevant research materials in the McClarran Collection (Box 463) along with an unpublished manuscript having excellent information on the Hoosier "tent chautauquas". Interestingly, I discovered typed correspondence by Liegh Freed recalling his memories of seeing Edgar Bergen and a "chalk talk" at one of the Chautauquas in North Manchester circa 1923 when he attended Manchester College.11
Vice-President Thomas Riley Marshall occasionally expressed favorable sentiments toward Chautauquas—"There is no place where more good can be done to the government and to the cause than upon the chautauquan platform. …The people who need information will be there, and more and more as the years go by, persons who can get it are availing themselves of that avenue."12 On one occasion, local conservative values and a high moral tone were reflected in Otho Winger's written protest (December 2, 1921) to the Chautauqua booking agency when some female performers appeared on stage in North Manchester in "décolleté" (strapless, low-cut) dresses. President Winger's correspondence on college stationery is at the archives of the University of Iowa.13 As a side note, in the 1920s the College frequently contracted with the Redpath Lyceum Bureau to schedule speakers, performers and productions to be held on campus. Vice President Marshall augmented his own governmental salary by being under contract to Redpath. It was reported in the North Manchester Journal (August 27, 1914) that Marshall's fee for a single speaking engagement was $300.00. A later contract called for 24 lectures, November 2-December 2, 1920. Marshall received $250.00 plus expenses for each talk.14
The political orator A.C. Shallenberger's contract with Redpath in 1915 called for seven lectures per week for eighteen weeks. Shallenberger received $250.00 per week plus expenses for railroad transportation and hotels. According to Redpath's business records, Shallenberger earned $4554.98 for the 1915 summer Chautauqua season.15
The annual traveling Chautauqua appeared in North Manchester continuously from 1913 to 1930. The 1913 inaugural season was booked with the Lincoln Chautauqua group; for the other years, the booking agency used by the town was the bigger Redpath-Chautauqua agency in Chicago. The seven-day events were usually held during the latter part of July or August. With just a couple of exceptions, the large Chautauqua tent was located east of Market Street on the northwest portion of the Central school ground and just south of the railroad track. Rain, leaky tents and trains would sometimes ruin performances. The reports to the Redpath Bureau by the platform superintendents suggested that the tent was near the railway tracks and could be "very disturbing at night account of shifting cars etc." [August 4, 1923 report]
The Chautauqua folks often competed with the scheduling of the local North Manchester Fair and Exposition. Whenever there was a scheduling overlap, attendance at the Chautauqua events was adversely impacted. Other reports suggested that the size of North Manchester (about 3000 people) was rather small for a Seven-Day Circuit.16 Moreover, the farmers were often too busy during July and August. Blocks of "industrial tickets" were sold at discount to factories and business establishments. There was some concern expressed that Manchester College's calendar could conflict with Chautauqua. It was felt that the college student body boosted admissions. If students were absent due to the closing date for the summer school at the College or if students were just starting their classes at the College, Chautauqua attendance would likely suffer. Dr. E.J. Cripe, chairman of the local Chautauqua committe, estimated in 1924 that the college student body "furnishes us with one third of our support."17
In 1918, World War I notwithstanding, Rev. George Beiswonger of the Zion Lutheran Church observed, "Over 400 autos were in this town at one time last Saturday evening."18 Ten years later, though, deficits ensued and enthusiasm ebbed. The platform superintendent made the point that the contract was going to be difficult to get with the town: "Tickets (season) have been sold here, at reduced rates. Thus, weakening the Chautauqua spirit—It will be a miracle if we rebook." Jerry Johnson, the Chautuaqua superintendent, did remark in his written report (July 18, 1928): "This is a fine cultured community and a delight it is to be here." The 1927 superintendent, C.B. Sullenger, commented in 1927 that North Manchester was "a nice little Chautauqua town." Chautauqua's Advance Man (Harry Gordon) in 1927 had this to say about North Manchester: "The town is a good one, full of good people. All indications would suggest this town the best small town in the state. No empty stores, and no one complaining of hard times—The College must be worked hard owing to fact they are going to charge them 3.00 same as others."19
Demise of the Cultural Caravan. The 1920s represented the zenith in tent chautauqua's popularity. In 1921 the Chautauqua caravans visited 9,875 towns! Audiences in 45 states totaling 45 million people were exposed and stimulated by this cultural phenomenon. But its popularity waned in the late 1920s. In his letter dated August 8, 1928, Otho Winger commented, "The attendance was not so good this year…." As a guarantor Winger had to pay "about $15.00." Over the years, this college president was a leading supporter of Chautauquas, and indicated, "…I am very much interested in the work. I think it is splendid that these good programs can be brought to the people."20
Tent chautauquas finally lost their luster. Financial underwriting was a challenge. It became increasingly difficult to maintain a high level of quality in the talent pool. Too many tents contributed to a shallow talent pool! The Cultural Caravan fell victim to the Great Depression and other competing attractions such as the automobile, radio, Hollywood and the movies. School associations drained Chautauqua-type talent when they started to send speakers, artists and performers into the primary and secondary schools. The Chautauqua Cultural Caravan was challenged by the fierce economic downturn in the 1930s, and also by new technologies, new organizations and changing interests.
Researching Chautauqua. It was reported in the North Manchester Journal (July 30, 1914) that postal card views of Chautauqua were distributed along with a liberal supply of banners, pennants, window cards and programs. I have not yet found postcards or photographs of the local annual chautauquas. The Center for History has been given some Chautauqua ephemera in scrapbooks (from the collections of Liegh and Florence Freed) including a few original printed programs. Please notify the Center should you happen to know where other items exist pertaining to the Chautauqua phenomenon, including photographs, sketches or other artwork of the Chautauqua tent, trains, banners, posters, performers, audience and festive crowds in North Manchester during the period of 1913-1930. Uncovering additional details from diaries, written correspondence, or first-hand memories would also be greatly appreciated!
1 Ulrey's letter, January 9, 1915, in Redpath Chautauqua Collection, Special Collections Department, University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City.
2 See Dreiser, A Hoosier Holiday, Chapter 42, "In the Chautauqua Belt."
3 James R. Schultz, The Romance of Small-Town Chautauquas, 2002.
4 Guy Templeton, "The People's Prima Donna" in Redpath Chautauqua Collection.
5 Harry P. Harrison, as Told to Karl Detzer, Culture Under Canvas
—The Story of Tent Chautauqua, Hastings House, 1958.
6 Redpath correspondence, July 22, 1916, in Redpath Chautauqua Collection.
7 Alice Nielsen's contract, 1915 photograph of her on steps of private Pullman car and itineraries in Redpath Chautauqua Collection.
8 Town contract with original signatures in Redpath Chautauqua Collection. Contracts between the town of North Manchester and Redpath Chautauquas were found in the archives/special collections of the University of Iowa for the following years: 1914, 1915, 1918, 1922, 1923, 1924, 1925, 1926, 1927, 1928, 1929.
9 John Heyl Vincent, The Chautauqua Movement, 1881.
10 W.J. Bryan, "The Nation-Wide Chautauqua," The Independent, July 6, 1914.
11 McClarran Collection, Box 463, Oliver Archives Center, Chautauqua Institution, New York.
12 North Manchester News, July 11 and 18, 1918.
13 Letter, December 2, 1921, in Redpath Chautauqua Collection.
14 Redpath Chautauqua Collection.
15 Redpath Chautauqua Collection.
16 South Whitley hosted five-day tent chautauquas for several years.
17 Redpath Chautauqua Collection.
18 Letter, July 2, 1918, in Redpath Chautauqua Collection.
19 Gordon's Report in Redpath Chautauqua Collection.
20 Letter, August 8, 1928, in Redpath Chautauqua Collection.
1974 COMMEMORATIVE STAMP-CHAUTAUQUA
EDITOR'S NOTE--You can reach the editor via firstname.lastname@example.org. On the following page is listed the current NMHS membership. It is never too late to join! CFH volunteers and your financial contributions are greatly needed! Several significant collections and donations have recently been made to the CFH. Nancy J. Reed is Director of Museum Displays, Joyce Joy is CFH Office Manager and Archivist. Allan White continues the remarkable task of indexing the newspapers and microfilmed deeds. The NMHS Board under the leadership of Wm. Eberly has been quite active in so many areas. The NMHS website will be launched before the end of the year. There are still some available copies of Ned Brooks' revised book, REMEMBERING NORTH MANCHESTER. Cost is $20.00; payable to Friends of the Library. What a treasure! Thanks to the author and Allan White who expanded the Index!