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Release: July 27, 2000

Chautauqua revived for Council Bluffs audience Aug. 4-8

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Humanities Iowa, the state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, will revive the once popular Chautauqua outdoor "big tent event" featuring entertainment and lectures at Bayless Park in Council Bluffs Aug. 4-8. Chautauqua evolved from largely its 1840s spiritual teaching focus to a cultural enlightenment movement, drawing immense crowds to small towns and cities for days at a time throughout the Midwest before trailing off into history in the 1920s.

The special collections department at the University of Iowa Libraries has the best collection of Chautauqua material in the United States and is allowing its Web site information on Chautauqua to be used by Humanities Iowa during the August event, says Sid Huttner, head of special collections.

Re-enactors -- historians, philosophers, and humanist scholars -- will pose as historical figures, refreshing the lectures and discussions on literary, scientific and moral topics by the persons who traveled what was then known as circuit or tent Chautauqua.

Attendees at the August gathering can expect to hear re-enactments of Teddy Roosevelt talking of his days in the Dakota Territory badlands and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie speaking on philanthropy and the American labor movement. Several others planned include Booker T. Washington discussing the voices of the African-American experience, says Chris Rossi, executive director, Humanities Iowa.

Keith Vawter, a native Iowan, who in the early 1900s worked in a Des Moines bookstore, led an initiative to launch the first Chautauqua circuit in 1904. As many as 15 Iowa and Nebraska towns signed contracts for Vawter to provide talent for their events that summer, according to Robert McCown, special collections manuscript librarian and authority on Chautauqua. Various Iowa towns, including Clear Lake, Grundy Center, and Keota were among the sites where musicians, lecturers, humorists, magicians, and other talent were billed on Chautauqua programs.

Iowa led the nation with the most Chautauquas before radio and motion pictures shifted the public's attention away from the outdoor events. In recent years, Humanities Iowa has brought such events to Ottumwa, Mason City, Davenport, Sac City and Des Moines.

Richard Kolbet, librarian, special collections, recently wrote an essay on the Iowa Chautauqua experience, which will be reprinted in "The Scene," a quarterly publication by Humanities Iowa.

For more information about the event, contact Humanities Iowa at (319) 335-4153.