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Page 50 text:
worked out in the rough a plan tor the book, divided tin task of investigating tin-various sources of historical information,—and grew more enthusiastic with each weekly meeting, as the big possibilities of the theme began to show themselves in flu-reports made. OKI residents of Peru told picturesque stories of early pioneer days, of tense war times, of gay, long-remembered evenings when a steamboat tied up at tilt-landing for over night. There was enough for a week’s pageant. What a pity tin-need for compressing it into an evening’s limits forbade including everything!—that the students of these comfortable days here could not see their predecessors carrying water cutting their own wood, wearing the same gingham dress all week for nine months, washing and ironing it on Saturdays!—that all the quietly dramatic life of a simple early day, with its hardship, its fun and its flavor of fine ruggedness, could not be put on the stage in detail!
The problem of elimination occupied many hours during the weekly evenings together. Hut finally the book was outlined, and different epochs or episodes apportioned to be written. These episodes were in turn read before the committee, discussd with a fine-democratic freedom of speech, often rewritten more than once, as a new bit of material altered the situation, or the good of the whole demanded revision,—in fact, the book was a genuine piece of collaboration. Miss Rose Clark, a geologist with an imagination, conceived and wrote the prologue and the first part—the age of preparation. M iss Bowen formulated the Indian scene, utilizing a wonderful nature ceremony, practiced by the Indians in Nebraska, with the addition of a lyric composed by Dr. House to MacDowell’s music. Miss Esther Clark wrote the pioneer episode, with its lyrics; Miss Bowen and Professor Smith the early life of the town, Professor Smith collecting the material. Miss Mutz worked over the history of the school and wrote the group of episodes dealing with this topic, I)r. House contributing the symbolic episode of the transfer. To Dr. House was assigned the writing of the foreword and the editorship. Miss Victoria Wilkinson of the art department designed the cover. So the book was made.
The book was done. Now for the presentation. From the beginning there had rested upon Professor Smith, as chairman, the heavy task of organization, of setting the various wheels of the enterprise in motion, of keeping endless details in mind, and of meeting the difficulties that arose. Now he put before the committee his plan of executive organization, and a community committee was appointed to handle each aspect of the big undertaking,—finance, publicity, transportation, stage setting, properties, supervision of grounds and costumes. Miss Dunn as dramatic adviser, gave untiringly of her fine technical skill in the rehearsals, which were in general charge of Miss Rose Clark and Miss Bowen. The art classes worked in the designing and decorating of the costumes with Miss Mutz, chairman of the committee of valiant women who made these. The poster advertising of the pageant was designed by Miss Crumley and executed by Miss Wilkinson. Miss Thomas and Miss Carpenter were most helpful in the selection and arrangement of appropriate music, while I)r. House directed the choruses constituting so large a part of the pageant’s charm. The dances of the first part were originated by Miss Downing, who also drilled some of those in the
Page 49 text:
y bri y o 7
}t $Jagrant af Para
"Out of the mists that round thee lie,
Come forth, O spirit of years gone by!"
The pageantry of the middle ages was an unconscious thing. Gleaming armor and challenging trumpets, fluttering pennons and all the colorful splendor of procession, joust and tournament, were a natural accompaniment to the life of the mediaeval nobles. Of the nobles, 1 say; for drab indeed was the existence of the ‘‘submerged half,” the mass of the people, in that day.
Twentieth century pageantry is something quite other than that. Today through the pageant we seek consciously to revisualize for ourselves the dignity and meaning of that marching past which has made us, our time, our town, our state, what it is now. And the pageant of today, in England and America differs from the pageantry of old in another fundamental. It is the artistic creation of the whole community. The influence of this type of civic art. in knitting together the heterogenous elements of an American commonwealth, into a sense of genuine kinship, has yet to be measured.
Nebraska is feeling the proud significance of her statehood in this her semi-centennial anniversary year. This comes home to Peru with special force; for Peru is one of that chain of river towns forming the link between the old eastern home and the pioneer outposts of the west. More than that, here in Peru, in the very year when Nebraska achieved statehood, was proclaimed Nebraska’s belief that a sound citizenship demands a trained teaching corps and the struggling Methodist seminary, which had already taken upon itself this high civic task, was transferred to the state as its first normal school. It is especially fitting, then, that Peru commemorate this anniversary.
At a meeting of the Peru Commercial Club in April, 1916, President Hayes proposed that a community pageant be made a part of Peru’s 1867-1917 celebration. The suggestion was adopted, the club pledged its hearty support, and ever since then the Pageant of Peru has been growing from a vision into a reality. In most communities undertaking a pageant, a so-called “pageant-master” has been employed to write the book and direct the enterprise. Peru, however, followed the precedent of the University of North Dakota. The Normal School faculty elected as a pageant committee six of its members: Professor F. C. Smith, (chairman) ; Miss Esther Clark, Miss
Rose Clark, Miss Mutz, Miss Bowen, and I)r. House. 'I'his committee was to organize the project, to write the book of the pageant, and to be responsible for its presentation during commencement week, 1917. The task loomed large, and the committee set to work at once. The library staff saw to it that all the important pageant literature published in this country was soon on the shelves,—a fascinating literature, too, one that kindles the reader’s imagination and fires his civic zeal, as he sees what other communities have done to honor a noble past. Further inspiration was gained through witnessing the presentation by the city of Lincoln, of the “Gate City Pageant,” in June, 1916.
During summer school the committee formulated the big problems of the enterprise,
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finale. In a word, the presentation of the pageant, too. heljn-d to put new content into the word collaboration; for everyone,—committees, advisers, and the three hundred and fifty in the cast, down to the last butterfly and violet.—did bis best for the honor of the community.
Where should be pageant be played? To many it seemed obvious at first that the athletic field was the stage ready made. But a very brief study of the essentials of open air playing made clear that this was artistically impossible. So the neighborhood was scoured, and a natural wooded amphitheatre found to the southeast. The stage was levelled, tiled and sodded, shrubbery planted for background and entrances, and a forest home was ready for the spirit of the place.
Scarcely a sojourner in Peru but has felt that serene spirit which pervades hills and woods and river. And every one who has felt it carries its memory with him out into the world. It is fitting, therefore, that this embodied spirit should speak the prologue, and that he should then stand apart, to watch the pageant of the ages as they bring their gifts to this place which he calls his own.
The seas have retreated, leaving their bounty in hollows and on hills. The spirit of the place looks on, as the rude ice-giants, singing their defiant song, march over the land. When they retreat they too have left the ground the richer for their invasion. The cyclonic winds, in a whirling dance, scatter their largess. The place is made ready for man and the nature forces join in a great hymn of praise to the Creator of all things.
Man appears, heralded bv prophetic words from the Spirit of the Place. The Indians, the first human denizens of the region, proclaim their kinship with nature; with ancient rites a new-born child is solemnly presented to the cosmos, and the powers of earth, air and heaven are invoked, to make his path smooth over the rugged hills of life. In prophetic chant the seer of the tribe adjures the child to be strong in the struggle; for he glimpses dimly a darkened future, when the Indian shall no longer be first in the land.
l ime goes by. The song of the prairie schooner is heaid in the distance, and over the hill ox teams and wagons slowly make their way! Two pioneer families, seeking a home in the new country, stop to make camp for the night, As the leader of the company sits by the fire alone in reverie, wondering where the new home will be found, visions appear to him. The queen of the prairie tells of the rewards she bestows upon the strong toiler, but warns him too of the hardships, the loneliness, the silence of life in her realm. Leaping out of the shadows, the mocking spirit of gold beckons the pioneer toward the mountains, seeking to lure him with hints of reckless life and quickly gained wealth. Then comes the river, always the friend of man, a bond between the old life and the new; and the pioneer make his choice. Me and his companions settle by the river.
Again there is a lapse of years. Along the street of the little river settlement people arc passing to the mill,—not only villagers, for whites and Indians for miles around bring their grain to be ground here. A knot of men gathers, and soon loud voices and bitter words arc heard,—echoes even in this remote corner of the rising strife between
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