By Fred Engle
What did people do in Richmond for leisure and entertainment between the two world wars?
Here are a few activities — some still common, others largely extinct.
The source of the city water supply, Lake Reba, provided a place to fish, boat or picnic. Baseball and softball were popular pastimes in the spring and summer months. Attendance at these games by members of the local community was impressive.
There was a May Day Festival — celebrated through songs, pageants and dances, as well as the traditional dance around the May pole.
I have seen this done in Europe, but not so often in the United States anymore. The children and young people’s costumes were elaborate and colorful as city schools dismissed classes for the program.
A very well known entertainment from of this era was the Redpath Chautauqua. This group came to Richmond annually from 1912 until 1932.
The Chautauqua events took place in a large tent put up on the baseball field. There were few radios, movie houses or automobiles for touring purposes and the Chautauqua was the biggest entertainment event of the year. Large numbers of Madison Countians paid $1.50 to attend these events.
The schedule was made up of a combination of entertainment and educational activities as self improvement and personal growth was a big part of the Chautauqua philosophy and experience.
To give you an idea of this program, we must only note that one year one of the speakers was William Jennings Bryan, deliverer of the famous “cross of gold” speech on free silver, winner of the Scopes Monkey Trial and three-time Democratic candidate for president. By the 1930s, radio, movie houses and widespread sales of automobiles, along with the Great Depression, combined to finish off the Redpath Chautauqua in Richmond.
Eastern’s presence was felt in the social life of the city. Eastern’s Little Theatre Club put on “Twelfth Night” in 1935. The school was also the origin of a number of musical concerts and recitals open to an appreciative local public. Handel’s “Messiah” was a particular annual favorite.
On campus, student organizations such as Sigma Tau Pi (the commerce club, founded in 1926) provided students with activities outside the classroom. W.J. Moore and I were both long-time sponsors to this venerable organization.
President and Mrs. Crabbe were ardent church goers. Many Eastern students of the Baptist persuasion were by all measures active on campus and in the city community. So you can see there was plenty to do in Richmond back then.
PUBLICATION NOTE: Readers are reminded that a compilation of some 60 Richmond Register articles from over the last 40 years by Dr. Grise and myself are now available in the paperback book “Madison’s Heritage Rediscovered.” Combined with relevant photographs selected from the EKU Archives by my granddaughter, Kathryn Engle, who edited the volume, this book is available for $19.99 plus tax.
Autographed copies may be found at the Richmond tourism office (Irvinton) on Lancaster Avenue, ClearSight Optometry on the Martin Bypass and Baldwin CPAs on Main Street. Autographed copies are also available by calling Kathryn Engle at 859-893-0947 or 623-1150.
These books make excellent birthday presents for family or friends. Keep in touch with out of town family and friends by sharing this gift of home.