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Shakespeare Tercentenary Pageant 1916

Cover of pageant program

Richmond in 1916 celebrated 300 years since the Bard’s death with an all-day sampling of his works.  As the cover states, it was “Presented by ALL OF RICHMOND for  ALL OF RICHMOND” and the list of participants is quite large.  Many groups of students from local schools played ‘Groups of Villagers’ or ‘May Pole Dancers’ and ‘Fete Folk.’ Several groups from Earlham (faculty, Madrigal Club, Glee Club) and many ladies clubs (Athenaea, Aftermath, Music Study, DAR) presented short programs.

It took me a while to find the newspaper coverage, because it didn’t actually happen on May 20th, as advertised.  Apparently, torrential rain postponed the event.  By Monday the 22nd, the Evening Item published in its editorial that “The Shakespearean pageant to be given on the Earlham college campus ‘the first clear day this week’ deserves the support of every resident of this community. Not only that, but the pageant in itself has an educational value that should appeal to everyone. In this modern age of business, politics and best sellers it is to be regretted that there has been a distinct falling off in the popularity of Shakespeare, recognized as one of the world’s greatest writers.”  Sound familiar?

It wasn’t until Wednesday the 24th that the event actually came off.  Certainly because of its educational value, the city schools were dismissed at 2:30 so that students could attend.  The afternoon edition of the paper reported that 2,000 people had already gathered on campus.  In this moment in early automotive history “More than 300 automobiles were parked on the campus, while many horses and buggies were hitched.”

Thursday’s paper reported at length that more than 4,000 people attended one or both of the sessions, added to more than 600 people participating in costume.  The afternoon session drew an estimated 2,500 spectators, or more than twice the expected number.  Consequently, after filling the elevated seats and benches, then emptying nearby Lindley Hall of chairs, hundreds still had to sit on the grass to view the festivities.

By all accounts everyone had an enjoyable time, and except for the notably inadequate streetcar service in the afternoon, no problems were reported.  “Three policemen who were on duty were not required to officiate in any manner whatever excepting to aid in the placing of the crowd.”

— Sue King

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