Chautauqua celebrates lessons of the past

Jackie O, Teddy Roosevelt tell their stories in Lewes
July 20, 2016

Story Location:
129 W 4th St.
Lewes, DE 19958
United States

Sponsored by the Zwaanendael Museum in partnership with the Lewes Historical Society, the 18th annual Chautauqua event, "Making the First State Shine: 50 Years of Historic Preservation in Delaware" took place at multiple locations in Lewes from June 19 to 23. The five-day series of activities celebrated Preservation50, the 50th anniversary of the passage of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966.

The Chautauqua was headlined by re-enactors from the American Historical Theatre, based in Philadelphia. The actors portrayed historical figures who engaged audiences, encouraging people to ask questions and interact with characters such as President Teddy Roosevelt, portrayed by Peyton Dixon; Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, portrayed by Kim Hanley; and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, portrayed by Jill Lawrence.

The actors spend an immense amount of time researching and reading in preparation for their performances. Jill Lawrence said she began her research on Jackie Kennedy in February. Months later, she was finally ready to make her American Historical Theatre debut as the famous first lady.

Lawrence said the most important thing history does is highlight the stories of people who have lived before us. "The humanity behind the events is so fascinating," she said. "And I think we can learn about our own humanity by looking through the stories of the past."

Chautauqua events included cemetery and historic house tours, a tour of the Lightship Overfalls, a bus trip to historic New Castle and a series of lectures. The week also featured concerts, an Old Time Radio Show presented by the Ad Hoc Touring Company and a worship experience by the Singing and Praying Bands of Maryland and Delaware.

Chautauqua takes its name from a series of adult education programs first held at Lake Chautauqua, N.Y., during the late 19th century. Chautauqua brought entertainment and culture to communities using speakers, teachers, musicians, entertainers, preachers and specialists of the day. Reborn in the 1970s as a vehicle for humanities education, modern Chautauqua are organized around a core program featuring historical re-enactors who speak and interact with audiences.

The 2016 Chautauqua in Lewes was partially funded by a grant from the Delaware Humanities Forum, presented as a partnership between the Delaware Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs, the Lewes Historical Society and the Lewes Chamber of Commerce, with financial support from Delmarva Power and Sussex County Council.

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