On February 4, 1880, Skaneateles capped off the Library lecture season with Major Henry C. Dane holding forth in Legg Hall on “The Great Naval Battles of the Rebellion.” Sent forth by the Redpath Lyceum Bureau, Major Dane was a rising star on the lecture circuit. And in the days before film, radio and television, the best lecturers were indeed stars, able to hold an audience’s interest, enlightening and entertaining them for two hours at a stretch with voice and gesture alone.
Dane could do that. “While his delivery is rapid,” a Cincinnati reporter wrote, “his voice has been so well trained, and his tone is so carefully modulated that it gains by its rapidity a wonderful charm and fascination. Major Dane also possesses rare dramatic qualities in his delivery.”
Dane’s subject in Skaneateles was acknowledged, in years to come, as the gem of his repertoire. An audience member in Perth, Australia, recalled, “The furious engagements between the Confederates and the Federal ships were depicted in the most graphic language, which completely riveted the attention of the audience for the two hours the lecture lasted, while the drily humorous sallies which the lecturer occasionally indulged in created a good deal of merriment.”
In Denver, the press noted, “He related the fight at Hampton Roads between the ‘Monitor’ and the ‘Merrimac’ with picturesque vividness… He next carried his auditors to New Orleans, and under the gallant old Admiral, David G. Farragut, took possession of the lower Mississippi. Farragut, lashed to a ship mast and commanding his troops at Mobile Bay, made a fitting climax to this engaging lecture.”
Major Dane came by much of his knowledge first-hand, having participated in the capture of New Orleans, the siege of Port Hudson, the Red River Expedition and operations in the Shenandoah Valley. After the war, he toured Europe and the Near East, drawing upon his travels for other lectures including “Up the Rhine and Over the Alps with a Knapsack,” “Sights and Scenes of London,” and “Constantinople, the Queen of the Levant.”
From Skaneateles, he traveled west, lecturing in major cities and small towns, in churches, music halls, Chautauqua tents and college auditoriums across the country. A brother of Phi Gamma Delta, he was given a dinner and reception by the local chapter at Ohio’s Wooster University, whose scribe noted, “The intellectual feast supplied by our honored guest and worthy professors, and also the appropriate toasts responded to by different brothers, will do much in making the recollection of the occasion of the most pleasing and profitable character.”
Major Dane’s tour took him to Los Angeles and San Francisco, and from there on to Australia and New Zealand. While in Australia, Dane married a young woman from Sydney, and so returned there often. On his way back to the U.S. after a family visit in October of 1895, aboard the Mariposa, he died of heart failure and was buried at sea.