Those near downtown Lawrence Friday probably couldn't avoid the first official day of Chautauqua celebrations in Lawrence, even if they hadn't planned to attend them.
Chautauqua celebrants, dressed in hoop skirts, bonnets, stove-pipe hats and shawls, swarmed Massachusetts Street and heckled onlookers to banish "King Alcohol" in a temperance rally. Others boarded a horse-drawn trolley -- and blocked a little traffic -- for a tour of historic Pinckney neighborhood.
An afternoon youth camp, a noon-hour speech about schools in the 1850s and an evening speech by Frederick Douglass were at less obtrusive locations but drew more than 700 people among them.
The Chautauqua was designed in the late 1800s to filter modern ideas to small-town scholars, but this weekend's events have become more of a history lesson to the community about Kansas' influence in the Civil War.
Lawrence is the final stop of "Bleeding Kansas: Where the Civil War Began," the Chautauqua event that spent time earlier this month in Junction City, Colby and Fort Scott.
The Lawrence Chautauqua continues through Tuesday and marks the territorial birth of Kansas with the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in late May of 1854. It also coincides with the sesquicentennial of Lawrence's founding.
In one of the day's most entertaining segments, about 30 re-enactors huddled at the Watkins Community Museum and gathered signatures from befuddled passersby to support their plight against alcohol.
"You all need to grow a spine and stand up to these old laws, is what you need to do," yelled Debbie Bears, cloaked in a hand-made black period gown and bonnet.
The ladies, flanked by a handful of men "for protection," struck out down the street bearing blue ribbons, crosses and hatchets in the name of temperance.
The march replicated an 1857 Lawrence incident, in which participants stormed into the city's seven "groggeries," buying up their liquor and dumping it on their doorsteps.
"The idea of smashing with hatchets came along long before Carry Nation," said Christine Reinhard, of Lawrence. Nation's first hatchet rampage in Kansas didn't happen until 1900.
The group was led by a red, white and blue bass drum and trailed by a stream of giggles from onlookers.
The march culminated at Free State Brewing Co., 636 Mass., where about 20 people already drinking beer on the patio rabbleroused the re-enactors as they gathered their emptied bottles and smashed them with hatchets.
The actors in the rally weren't necessarily on board with the cause.
"After the revolt is over, we're going in and having drinks and dinner," whispered Bob Eckoff, a re-enactor from Lexington, Mo.
Cultivating young minds
At the Lawrence Public Library, 25 children -- most in fifth through eighth grades -- gathered for the first day of the Youth Chautauqua Camp.
The children on Friday selected historical characters they will re-enact during two- to five-minute presentations from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday under the Chautauqua tent in South Park. The characters included Missouri ruffian William Quantrill, territorial governor Andrew Reeder and abolitionist John Greenleaf Whittier.
"We find it works out well because they're living and breathing that person," said Joyce Thierer, a camp organizer.
Another organizer, Ann Birney, said the children could serve as a resource to the community, making presentations to organizations such as Rotary clubs.
"We want them to have a good time while they learn history of Lawrence in the 19th century, particularly the Bleeding Kansas era," Birney said.
Back to school
Women sat on one side of the room and men on the other during a noon-hour lecture that re-created the feel of a one-room 1850s schoolhouse.
"Somebody mentioned they were disappointed not to see a dunce cap here," said Reinhard, who talked for an hour about what schools were like in territorial Kansas.
About 50 people attended the lecture in the basement of the Watkins Museum, about double the number Reinhard expected.
Reinhard helped bring the era to life by wearing a floor-length gown and a red apron known as a "pinner."
"Excuse me, are you falling asleep in class sir?" she asked one man in the front row.
Within a year of Lawrence's founding, Reinhard said, the city's first school opened in the 1600 block of Massachusetts Street. The city had elected a superintendent by 1858.
"Within four years, they established a very credible school system here in the midst of an awful lot of political upheaval," she said. "That tells you how important this was to these people."
An afternoon tour crammed almost 30 people into a trolley at the Eldridge Hotel. All four trolley tours this weekend, including two today and one Sunday, are sold out, said guide Paul Stuewe, who teaches history and political science at Lawrence High School.
Stuewe showed participants Friday the Pinckney and Old West Lawrence neighborhoods, just west of downtown.
Among the stories he told were of Hugh Cameron, the "Kansas hermit" with three-feet-long hair and beard , and one of the first to settle Lawrence.
The trolley cruised past the site of Cameron's tree house and basement cave/kitchen, which was outfitted with electricity and telephone in the 1908, Stuewe said.
Cameron walked everywhere: from his origin in Washington, D.C., to Lawrence to Washington, D.C., and back, for most of the presidential inaugurations of his time, Stuewe said.
"He had a lung ailment, so doctors told him he had to start walking," Stuewe said.
One rider couldn't remember Cameron's name, but the story stuck with her.
"I liked the one about the hermit that lived in the ravine," said Shirley Gilchrist of Topeka.
In the tent
The evening speech, presented by famed abolitionist Frederick Douglass, as portrayed by Charles Everett Pace, drew a crowd that spilled out of the Chautauqua tent at South Park and into the streets.
Re-enactment speeches in days to come could be just as crowded, said Susan Hinderson, marketing director for the Lawrence Convention and Visitors Bureau.
"If you've got a chair and a blanket you can throw in the trunk, it wouldn't hurt to bring them," she said.
Staff writers Eric Weslander and Terry Rombeck contributed to this story.