LYCEUM, CHAUTAUQUA AND MAGIC
by Miller Cravens
The Lyceum Movement and Adult Education
Josiah Holbrook, a teacher and lecturer, founded the first lyceum in 1826 in Millbury, MA. Lyceums were voluntary local associations "for mutual instruction in the sciences, and in useful knowledge generally," and, therefore, were an early form of organized adult education. By 1831, when the American Lyceum was being organized as a national society, over 800 town lyceums already existed. At first the lyceums were local organizations with speakers supplied by the community. By 1840 they had become professional institutions that hired outside, free-lance lecturers. After the Civil War started in 1861, a few lyceums continued to operate, but the movement as a whole disappeared.
Lyceum Bureaus Introduce Entertainment
When the war ended in 1865, lyceum activity began to increase again. But it was more commercialized. During the late 1860s the lecture bureaus began. The most notable of these was one founded by an ex-war correspondent and abolitionist, James Redpath. In 1868, with the encouragement of Dr. Samuel Howe and his wife Julia (who had written "The Battle Hymn of the Republic"), he established the Boston Lyceum Bureau, later called the Redpath Lyceum Bureau. Redpath secured high lecture fees for his celebrities, and he retained 10 per cent of it for himself. Other promoters, seeing potential profits, entered the field.
Redpath wanted to have entertainers as well as lecturers represented by his bureau. However, it was not easy to convince buyers that pure entertainment would be acceptable, particularly because many lecturers appeared in church halls. To overcome this objection to entertainment, magicians featured both mystery and music, which had always been a part of lyceum. Many magicians, such as Maro ("recognized as one of our leading artists on stringed instruments") and Joseffy (who played the violin) were musicians. Others, who did not have any musical talent or a wife/assistant with musical ability, hired musical acts to appear with them. Walter Floyd, who claimed to be the "First Magician in the Lyceum Field, 1881," presented "An Evening of Merriment, Melody and Mystification" featuring musical selections by Albert M. Heilman, Jr., "a pianist of the highest class."
The Chautauqua Institution
The Chautauqua Institution, an independent, nondenominational and non-profit organization, was founded by The Reverend John H. Vincent, who later became Bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church, and Lewis Miller, an industrialist, at Chautauqua Lake, NY, in 1874. At first the annual assemblies were summer camps for Sunday School educators. But gradually the program broadened to include education, religion, culture and recreation. The Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle (CLSC), forerunner of all book clubs and correspondence courses, was formed in the summer of 1878. It had an enormous impact on adult education and led to the formation of many local chautauquas and reading circles throughout the then 38 United States. By 1900 there were over 400 such local assemblies.
Lyceum booking agents entered the chautauqua field, supplying the same lecturers and other talent who traveled from one community to another. In effect, lyceums blended into the chautauqua movement. These traveling chautauquas were not connected with the Chautauqua Institution, nor were the tent chautauquas that followed.
In 1904, Keith Vawter, who was then Western Manager for the Redpath Lyceum Bureau, organized the first traveling tent chautauqua. Not wanting to endanger the Redpath bureau’s reputation, he operated as the Standard Chautauqua Bureau of Chicago. Harry Harrison, the first platform manager for Vawter, wrote "… with map, calendar, railroad timetables and his list of available Redpath talent Vawter planned a new kind of summer season. He built a sample program with a proper balance of serious lectures, humorists, magicians, popular music companies, play readers and a few famous preachers, to operate on an eight-day schedule." Local managers could choose their serious attractions, but Vawter picked the entertainment to minimize transportation costs for those acts with a lot of baggage. Edwin Brush (who did have a lot of baggage) was selected for this first circuit, and in Iowa Falls, on July 10, 1904, he became the first magician to perform for tent chautauqua.
With various exceptions, succeeding tent chautauquas operated on a four, five, or seven-day circuit. The seven-day circuit involved nine tents and 14 different shows. One tent was always being struck in one town and, eight towns further on, another was being raised. In between were seven others, each offering an afternoon and an evening program.
When Did Lyceum and Chautauqua End?
Lyceum, in one sense, never died. It evolved into things we still have today such as the cultural series offering lecturers, musicians and touring groups of entertainers. The chautauqua movement declined after the First World War (1914-1918) and tent chautauquas did not survive the 1929 depression. The Chautauqua Institution, however, still exists as a cultural village that springs to life every summer. Each year, thousands of people return for another season of lectures, concerts, opera, theater, study courses, and recreation.
The only thing missing is magic!
Who Were the Magicians?
The following is a list of lyceum and chautauqua magicians taken from articles by John Mulholland in The Sphinx and by David Price in Genii. As the two authors mentioned, the list is far from complete.
E. Clinton Adams, Anderson, Salo Ansbach, Argus, Frank Armitage, Al Baker, James Barton, Becker, Edgar Bergen, Bernilo, McDonald Birch, Evans Brown, Edwin Brush, Clinton Burgess, Willard Caldwell, Loring Campbell, Black Carl, Charles Carter, Charles H. Craig, Richard Davis, Jean DeJen, DeVilliers, Charles Detric, Frank Ducrot, John Duffy, Durno, Duval Brothers, Ellwood, El Roy, Ferrante, Paul Fleming, Walter Floyd, Fox Novelty Co., Fredrik, William Friedell, William Eugene Frye, John W. Frye, Karl Germain, Louis C. Haley, Hanchen, F. O. Harrell, Hendrickson, S. S. Henry, Hlavin, Herman Homar, Houston, Rupert Howard, Dr. H. Sheng Huang, Ralph W. Hull, Phil Hunter, Hurd, Jean Irving, Arthur Irwin, Jansen (Dante), Joseffy, James Kater, Louis Krieger, Kringsberg, Frank Lane, Eugene Laurant, The Great Lee, Joe Lightner, Lockman, Mandy, Marcelliee, Marco, Mardoni, Marlo, Maro, Matt Martin, Hal Merton, The Milburns, Arthur J. Moose, Silent Mora, The Morphets, Ray Newton, Nicola, C. Porter Norton, W. Byrd Page, Pereira, W. J. Poluhni, Frederick Eugene Powell, Ramona (Greystoke), Elmer Ransom, Razoux-Reynolds, Ed Reno, Madame Reno, Ritchie, Roltare, Rosani, J. W. Sargent, Scheetz, Seymore, Showe, Shungopavi, Bennett Springer, George Staples, Lee Stewart, Herbert Taber (Houston), Tarbell, Herbert Taylor, James Totten, J. Allen Troke, Ulrich, E. M. Vernilo, Wagner, Dana Walden, Wallace (Lee), Robert Wassman, Herman Weber (Namreh), Wilfred C. Wilson, Edward J. Wood (Marlo).
Circulars and Their Collectors
Contracting agents used circulars to sell the bureau’s attractions. Up to 1915, circulars were, in reality, printed booklets of from eight to 20 pages. After 1915, they usually were folders of four to eight pages. Most of these circulars were elaborately designed, printed in color and illustrated with photographs. New circulars were produced every year or two and some magicians had an astounding variety. Production usually was arranged by the bureau’s advertising experts and the printing costs were deducted from the talent’s salary.
Loring Campbell (1905-1979), an outstanding lyceum magician, was a major collector of lyceum and chautauqua circulars. It was my good fortune to know Loring Campbell personally and to obtain much of his collection over a period of several years. He would not part with a selection of his favorites though, and he died before he could pass them along. I hope they found a good home and that they are not lost.
I know of a few people who accumulated significant collections of lyceum and chautauqua circulars: Robert Lund (1925-1995), American Museum of Magic, Marshall, MI, (Elaine Lund still operates the museum); David Price (1910-1998), Egyptian Hall Museum, Brentwood, TN; and Byron Walker, Collector, San Leandro, CA.
There must be others who share an interest in this almost forgotten corner of magic’s history. Let me know who you are! Click here to send me email.
Here is a selection of covers from fliers in my collection. Click on a thumbnail to see a larger image:
Bode, Carl, The American Lyceum, Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 1956, reprinted with minor corrections 1968
Campbell, Loring, "Lyceum and Chautauqua," M-U-M, Official Publication of the Society of American Magicians, Vol. 60, No. 5, October, 1970, pp. 22,23
Case, Victoria and Robert Ormond Case, We Called It Culture, Garden City: Doubleday & Company, 1948
"Chautauqua" The New Encyclopaedia Britannica, Micropedia, 1995 edition, Vol. 3, p. 142
Daboll, Irene Briggs and Raymond F. Daboll, Recollections of the Lyceum & Chautauqua Circuits, Freeport: Bond Wheelwright Company, 1969
Gould, Joseph E., The Chautauqua Movement, Albany: State University of New York Press, 1961, third printing 1972
Harrison, Harry, as told to Karl Detzer, Culture Under Canvas, New York: Hastings House, 1958
"Lyceum," The New Encyclopaedia Britannica, Micropedia, 1995 edition, Vol. 7, p. 583
Morrison, Theodore, Chautauqua, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1974
Mulholland, John, "Lyceum and Lyceumites," The Sphinx, An Independent Magazine for Magicians, Vol. xliv, No. 3, May, 1945, pp. 85,90
Newman, C. A. George, "Lyceums, Chautauquas and the Loring Campbell Collection," The Sphinx, An Independent Magazine for Magicians, Vol. xliv, No. 3, May, 1945, pp. 75-78
Price, David, "Egyptian Hall Revisited," Genii, The Conjurors’ Magazine, Vol. 26, No. 8, April 1962, pp. 310-13
Vincent, John H., The Chautauqua Movement, Freeport: Books for Libraries Press, 1885, reprinted 1971