Once Every Town Staged Historical Pageants
By Anthony F. Hall
Thursday, February 23, 2017
Lake George’s historical pageants were not so much entertainment for visitors as civic exercises meant to strengthen the community, Margy Mannix told an audience at the Lake George Institute of History, Art and Science (the former Warren County courthouse) on August 24.
“They promoted pride and patriotism,” she said. “We learned more about our particular place through the passage of time.”
Mannix’s talk, “Pageants in Lake George,” was one of a series of talks presented this summer by the Lake George Historical Association.
According to Mannix, the first historical pageant to be staged in Lake George was in 1855 in honor of the one hundredth anniversary of the Battle of Lake George.
Highlights – if that is not too strong a word – included a long address in the courthouse titled “An historical discourse on the occasion of the centennial celebration of the Battle of Lake George, 1755” by the Rev. Dr. Cortland Van Rennselaer, a prominent American clergyman.
From the 1850s to the 1950s, historical pageants were a characteristic feature of life in American communities, celebrating the town’s founding, its most memorable historical events and its most prominent citizens.
Anyone willing to don a costume and a wig was more or less guaranteed a role, or, if the town happened to be a small one, multiple roles.
Pageants were staged in Lake George again in 1912, 1926, 1929, 1933, 1938 and 1955.
In many towns, the residents relied upon one vigorous, disciplined individual to write, produce, direct and cast the pageants.
In Lake George in the 1920s, that role appears to have fallen to Mrs. Charles Tuttle, who was able to persuade such prominent residents of “Millionaires’ Row” as the Ochses, the Peabodys, Louise and Sidney Homer and Marcella Sembrich to lend helping hands.
For the pageants of 1938 and 1955, the community relied upon the John B. Rogers Producing Company, an established supplier of costumes, sets, lights, and scripts for amateur theater.
According to historians of these matters, the company could also supply singers, dancers and actors if the local population was lacking the requisite talent.
That was unlikely to be the case in Lake George, which could rely upon vacationing actors like Edward Everett Horton and the Minzeys to give its pageants a bit of show biz flair.
Pageants declined in popularity as movie theaters, drive-ins and finally television displaced live, more public forms of entertainment.
In the popular imagination, however, historical pageants are still identified with small town American life. If you doubt that, stream “Waiting for Guffman” through your tv set.
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