The autumn of 1912, the First Baptist Church of Skaneateles announced a program of entertainments to be provided by stars of the Chatauqua and Lyceum circuits, sort of an educational and uplifting version of vaudeville.
In October, Carmen’s Italian Orchestra was scheduled, but due to the unavailability of the group’s director they were replaced by “The University Girls,” six “cultured young ladies” who promised “a program given with all the snap, fire and interest of college life, and yet every phase of which reflects years of study with the great masters of music in America.” Their evening of orchestra numbers, vocal quartets and “novelty features” was well received.
In November, the Baptists hosted Mr. & Mrs. Rowand, who were unique on the lecture circuit. While Orie Rowand delivered a humorous talk that cloaked an important message, Pearl Rowand sketched rapidly in color, “revealing to the eye those things which cannot be told in words.” The Rowands’ mainstays were “Between Dark and Dawn” and “Blowing Bubbles,” but the newspaper didn’t say which one was delivered in Skaneateles.
In December, the Rev. Reuben E. Burton of Syracuse lectured on “The Tragedy and Comedy of War,” drawing upon his personal experiences as a Union soldier and prisoner of the Confederacy during the Civil War. In Trumansburg, which also hosted Burton, it was said that, “The speaker was greeted by a large audience, which he held until the last moment by his eloquent and forcible word portrayal of war scenes and incidents.”
In January of 1913, the Washington Brothers’ Alabama Jubilee Quartet, “young and cultured colored gentlemen,” performed “always popular and acceptable songs,” including old plantation melodies, camp meeting shouts, log cabin ditties, popular ballads and operatic jewels, interspersed with readings from the poems of Paul Laurence Dunbar.
In February, the church pulled out all the stops with William Sterling Battis of Chicago, “The Dickens Man,” who portrayed characters from the works of Charles Dickens, transforming himself from Uriah Heep to Little Nell (!) to Scrooge to Sydney Carton in full view of the audience, using only a few props, some makeup, and costume pieces. Of all the artists who appeared in the series, Battis had the most lasting fame, helped by recordings on the Victor label of “Paul Revere’s Ride” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (recitation with bugle), a dramatization of Dickens’ “Christmas Carol” and readings from Mark Twain. I can find no local review of the performance, but I’m sure it would have been a smash hit during Dickens Christmas.
And so the 1912-1913 season of programs drew to a close.
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My thanks to the University of Iowa Libraries whose lyceum literature collection made much of this possible.