This summer, Lawrencians will have the chance to meet President Franklin D. Roosevelt and other notable historical figures of the 1930s when Lawrence hosts the 2008 Chautauqua.
Lawrence was selected as a host community for the annual festival, which functions as a traveling history lesson. This year's festival is themed "Bright Dreams, Hard Times: America in the Thirties."
Five humanities professionals will portray Roosevelt, Sen. Huey Long of Louisiana, Pentecostal leader Aimee Semple McPherson, Harlem Renaissance writer/folklorist Zora Neale Hurston and humorist Will Rogers. Each will have 40 minutes one day of the week to glean personal and historical accounts of the 1930s, a period when the Great Depression, Dust Bowl and the beginning of World War II dominated the American landscape.
"The wonderful thing about it is while it's entertaining, it's an educational event as well," said Susan Henderson of the Lawrence Convention and Visitors Bureau, a sponsor of the event. "It provides the chance to see how historical figures made an impact locally and nationally."
Henderson has seen how beneficial the festival can be for the community since it toured Lawrence in 2004, the city's sesquicentennial year.
"It's a great opportunity for the community, it's a great way to bring a community together," she said.
Chautauqua will also visit Beloit in Kansas and Falls City and Hastings in Nebraska. It will make a stop in Lawrence from June 18 to 22 in South Park near 11th and Massachusetts streets.
Chautauqua also features a Youth Chautauqua Camp and various lectures, workshops and tours during the course of the event. At the five-day Youth Chautauqua Camp, for fifth- through eighth-graders, will be historians, researchers and scriptwriters as they present their own historical characters on the Sunday night of Chautauqua.
Rebecca Phipps, director of the Watkins Community Museum of History, said the '30s themed Chautauqua event will coincide with the 75th anniversary of the Douglas County Historical Society, which was established in 1933.
"Being it's the 1930s, there are people around who remember growing up during the Depression, so they will experience something completely different (than younger people)," Phipps said.
The Chautauqua is a partnership of the Kansas Humanities Council, the Nebraska Humanities Council, the Solomon Valley Highway 24 Heritage Alliance and the Lawrence Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Henderson said volunteers will be needed. A corps planning committee is yet to be formed to organize the festival. Anyone interested in helping can contact the Lawrence Convention and Visitors Bureau at 856-5282.