As Chautauqua gets into full swing, organizers were happy to note that the event has turned Lawrence into a tourist destination.
At the Lawrence Visitor Information Center Thursday, visitors from Johnson County, Topeka, and as far as Chicago and Lincoln, Neb., were in attendance.
It's helping the Lawrence Convention and Visitors Bureau attract people from out of town, while educating people of all ages about the hard times of the 1930s.
"Education, I think, is a huge component of it," said Susan Henderson, marketing director for the visitors bureau. "Chautauqua, historically, has been about learning in a fun environment."
That environment includes historians, like Fred Krebs, "channeling" the personalities of historic figures to portray them on stage. Krebs, a history professor at Johnson County Community College, gave a lecture about Huey Long, the controversial Louisiana governor, Thursday at the Lawrence Visitor Information Center.
"The biggest mistake people make about Huey Long is that people didn't take him seriously," he told a crowd of about 30. Krebs, who can portray at least 16 other historical figures, ranging from Galileo to Benjamin Franklin to Kit Carson, performs as Long at 7:30 p.m. today at South Park.
While intimate knowledge of a historical figure's background is necessary to perform as that person, Krebs said, re-enactors need something else, which is not in history books.
"Beginning to understand the way they look at the work and their values, and trying to convey their sense of significance, how they see their contributions to the world" is essential, he said. He teased the audience about the impassioned speeches he would give in Long's character.
Catherine Bruck scheduled a vacation from her job as archivist at Chicago's Illinois Institute of Technology solely to experience Lawrence's Chautauqua.
"When I heard there was a Chautauqua in Lawrence, Kansas, it all just fit well for a last-minute vacation," she said. She attended workshops on agriculture and Will Rogers earlier in the day. She said she was impressed by the presenters' knowledge.
"They're genuine historians in that they have lived this type of material for a long time," Bruck said.
But this type of history doesn't have to be dry, Henderson said.
"I do hope that people who aren't familiar with the idea of a Chautauqua will give it a try. It's not as academic as it sounds," she said.
Plus, "You can't beat a summer night in the park."
Chautauqua continues through Sunday night.
Huey Long was the senator and former governor from Louisiana who, unlike Franklin D. Roosevelt, used force and totalitarian tactics to attempt to bring aid to his constituents and Americans. As a young governor, Long cowed legislative opposition and implemented public works programs. He put Louisianans to work, but did so increasingly in the manner of a dictator. In 1930, he was elected to the United States Senate. In his attempts to redistribute wealth in 1934, Long created the Share Our Wealth programs with the motto "Every Man a King." Long's popularity came from his powerful speeches, social reform programs and forceful actions.
Frederick A. Krebs
Frederick A. Krebs is a professor in the Social Sciences and Humanities Division at Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, Kansas. He received his M.A. in American History from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Professor Krebs is a prolific speaker and toured as William Allen White in the 2007 Famous Kansans Chautauqua and as Stephen Douglas in the 2004 Bleeding Kansas Chautauqua. To date, he has done Chautauqua-style characters in 18 states.
Today's events for the "Bright Dreams, Hard Times: America in the Thirties" Chautauqua:
10 a.m.-4 p.m.: Dust Bowl traveling exhibit, Watkins Community Museum of History, 1047 Mass.
10 a.m.: "Dear Eleanor, Dear Laura," children's workshop on letters to first ladies, Lawrence Public Library.
10:30 a.m.: "Crisis and the Role of the Demagogue," workshop by Fred Krebs, Lawrence Visitor Information Center.
Noon: "Art and the Dust Bowl Era," brown bag lunch presentation by Kate Meyer, Watkins Community Museum of History.
1 p.m.: "What Do Historians Say?" workshop by Patrick McGinnis, Lawrence Visitor Information Center.
1 p.m-5 p.m.: Youth Chautauqua Camp, Lawrence Public Library, 707 Vt. Registration required by calling 856-5284.
3 p.m.: "Radio in the Thirties," workshop by Tonia Compton, Lawrence Visitor Information Center.
7 p.m.: Radio show entertainment by the Vintage Players, Chautauqua Tent.
7:30 p.m.: "Huey Long" by Krebs, Chautauqua Tent.