By Nathan Pilling
CLIFTON — The village of Clifton has been bustling with activity this week, and it’s all been centered around a large red and white striped tent that recently popped up in the middle of the small town. Under that tent each night, hundreds of attendees have heard stories from the past, tales from years and eras gone by, all told by actors stepping into adopted roles.
Civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., Titanic survivor Edith Russell, Native American captive Olive Ann Oatman and 49er J. Goldsborough Bruff each spoke earlier in the week, with the performances concluding with philosopher Henry David Thoreau taking the stage Saturday evening.
It’s all part of Ohio Chautauqua, a touring humanities festival that makes its way through the state each summer. Clifton is the third of this summer’s four stops.
On Wednesday night, attendees heard from actor Dianne Moran in her role as a Olive Ann Oatman, a woman who while traveling with her family in the 1850s, watched Native Americans kill her family before they took her and her sister captive.
“When we were brought into the camp, we were told to stand,” Moran, as Oatman, said. “They surrounded us, and the women and children danced in a most maniacal way all about us and each time they passed our faces they slapped us and spat upon us. That was our welcome into the village of the Yavapai. We were made to be their slaves.”
Oatman told audiences about her sister’s death and the trials she went through both during her time with the Native Americans and after her release back into the society she once knew. Eventually she was reunited with a brother she thought had been killed in the original attack that ended the lives of her family members.
After hearing her story, audience members could ask Oatman questions and then later could ask Moran questions after she stepped out of character.
This year will mark the 17th annual tour for Ohio Chautauqua, but the roots of the event stretch back further than that. Chautauqua assemblies first became popular in the late 1800s and early 1900s, when they had similar education-entertainment goals.
In addition to the main-stage events each night, music, food and workshops have rounded out the festival’s influence in the area.
Reach Nathan Pilling at 937-502-4498 or on Twitter @XDGNatePilling.