Saturday, June 6, 2009

Ypsilanti Teen Diarist Allie McCullough at an 1874 Open Mike Night

Kind readers may recall that Allie speaks often of the "Lyceum." What was it?

It was an Open Mike Night at which members read aloud their original essays. Like a Poetry Slam--except it was a Prose Slam. With no mikes.

In the old papers, DD has seen mention of 3 Lyceum "clubs" in Ypsilanti in Allie's day. There was one at the Normal School (EMU). There was the Union Lyceum in which Allie participated--this appears to have been for high school students. And around this time something called the "People's Lyceum" was being organized.

This was considered entertainment.

Allie was good at it, though. She actually appeared in the Ypsilanti Commercial of June 20, 1874, in an article covering the Union Lyceum meeting that praised her talk. Her essay, "Step by Step," dealt with the incremental progressive steps we must take in order to improve various aspects of our lives. She later was elected an officer in the club.

Most of the Lyceum topics were ones that to modern sensibilities would seem unbelievably trite, pedantic, and didactic. It's hard to get into the 19th-century mindset and grasp how anyone could sit through these talks instead of, say, trimming one's toenails. But this was a popular pastime, in a society with no radio, no telephone, no movie theater, no TV. Faced with the absence of those things, I might wander down to the Lyceum hall too, to see what my friends were presenting on.

But judge for yourself. Here is the program for the June 20, 1874 Lyceum Allie participated in:

1. Prayer by Rev. Mr. Tindall.
2. A capella number: "The Stars that are Shining Above Us"
3. Oration by T. H. Holmes: "Delusions"
4. Essay by Allie McCullough: "Step by Step"
5. Musical trio: "Wake, Gentle Zephyr"
6. Oration by A. B. Hawkins: "The Land of Our Pride"
7. Essay by Jessie Hendricks "Extravagance"

[intermission time yet? NO!]

8. Oration by Frank Herald: "Marks" [we leave in history]
9. Musical duet: "Hunting Song"
10. Humorous essay by Lydia Day on "Seminary Times"
11. Oration by A. E. Lucking: "The Policies of the Nations"
12. Benediction by Rev. Mr. Tindall.

Phew. But you have to hand it to them: they made their own evening of entertainment without pricey gewgaws or glowing screens. DD admires that self-reliance. I still don't want to sit through one of these, though.

5 comments :

Fritz said...

I'm used to thinking about a time before television. But I guess that was also a time before PBS or the Discovery Channel. Maybe the desire to watch something educational is as old as the desire to watch something purely for fun.

Dusty D said...

Not to disagree with you, but a lot of it wasn't educational, really, just sort of personal reflections (presented as truisms) on morality or a societal issue, or exhortations of some sort on how to do better at something. I guess you could say it was edifying, though.

But if you think this was bad, you should see the Normal School commencement ceremony, as detailed in the Commercial newspaper. It's like a mega-Lyceum, droning on and on and on as every administrator from dean to deputy paper-shuffler delivers what sounds like the worst of institutional ceremonial speeches. Worst in terms of platitudes and more of those exhortations again.

I had to steel myself to get through the whole thing and that was just reading a precis in the paper--much less sitting through this deadly ceremony!

Jen said...

Wow, in Anne of Green Gables, these sound a lot more fun! LOL!

I wouldn't want to sit through one either.

Dusty D said...

Ooh, nostalgia blast--I loved those books! I must reread them now, since my porous memory doesn't recall the Lyceum part, but I'm curious now.

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