Local students to see history come alive

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By Geoff Hamill

History class will be in session for some Washington County students on Thursday, Sept. 24, when a trio of Chautauqua actors brings the past to life.


Behind the efforts of Michael Breeding, a Springfield native, along with the Kentucky Humanities Council, three actors will portray historical figures for local students through a method that first started more than a century ago.

“Chautauqua started in the early 1900s. It was like tent meetings, where people would learn information on Sunday afternoons,” said Julie Klier with the Kentucky Humanities Council. “They did everything from cultural meetings to topic-specific events. You name it. But with the advent of radio and TV, those type of cultural get-togethers came to an end.”

Now, to help students know what life was like before the electronic age came along, Chautauqua continues to deliver messages to young people. Breeding, who has made films about everything from events in Springfield to subjects around the world, is excited about the program.

“We are trying to expand Chautauqua in the schools, especially those schools in counties with few resources or little knowledge of our programs,” he said. “We are developing a kit to introduce teachers, principals, superintendents and school boards to the concept of Chautauqua.”

For his part in that educational process, Breeding is creating a 10- to 15-minute video that will be part of the kit, which focuses on several Chautauqua characters.

Some of those characters will be presenting their stories to local students at Washington County middle and high schools, as well as at St. Dominic School.

One of the characters students will learn about is Emilie Todd Helm, half sister of Mary Todd Lincoln, and also the wife of Confederate General Benajamin Hardin Helm. Helm’s story is told by Chautauqua actress Betsy B. Smith in her drama “Rebel in the White House.”

Other characters featured at local schools will be Revolutionary War hero George Rogers Clark, and Johnny Green, a member of Kentucky’s celebrated Orphan Brigade, which earned its name because its soldiers couldn’t re-enter the state without being tried for treason for joining the Confederate Army. Clark is portrayed by Mel Hankla, and Green is portrayed by Ethan Smith.