MOUNT VERNON — Making his debut on the Chautauqua stage is retired professor of the classics from Kenyon College, Robert Bennett. Bennett has graced the stage as an actor from time to time, this time he will become one of the most famous literary giants of the 19th century America, Walt Whitman.
Whitman, writer of the groundbreaking “Leaves of Grass,” spent most of the Civil War providing comfort, writing letters for and nursing the wounded Union soldiers in Washington City (then name for Washington D.C.). Whitman’s brother George had joined the Union army and began sending Whitman several vividly detailed letters of the battle front.
On Dec. 16, 1862, a listing of fallen and wounded soldiers in the New York Tribune included “First Lieutenant G. W. Whitmore,” which Whitman worried was a reference to his brother, George. He made his way south immediately to find him. “Walking all day and night, unable to ride, trying to get information, trying to get access to big people,” Whitman later wrote, he eventually found George alive, with only a superficial wound on his cheek. Whitman, profoundly affected by seeing the wounded soldiers and the heaps of their amputated limbs, left for Washington never returning to New York.
Whitman watched as President Lincoln made his way daily from the White House to find out the latest dispatches from the battle fields from the wire service and nodded to him as the two men came to recognize each other. After Lincoln’s assassination, Whitman composed his most famous poems, “Captain My Captain” and “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d,” and went on to lecture about Lincoln until nearly the end of his life.
Opening the program will be Elixir, performing their usual variety of not-quite-right musical stylings. Consisting of Gerry Rensel, Chris Petee and Mike Petee, the group re-invents classic American music with a twist.
Elixir, Ohio Humanities Council, Rolls-Royce Charities/Civic Fund and Ariel Foundation present the only monthly Chautauqua in the United States, right here in Knox County. The doors at ThePlace@TheWoodward (111 S. Main Street in historic downtown Mount Vernon) open at 6 p.m., Elixir performs at 7 p.m. and Bennett will take the stage as Walt Whitman at about 7:45 p.m. There will be a question-and-answer period. This program is presented on a donation basis. For more information on Chautauquas, visit www.elixirpresents.com or call 740-392-6102 or 740-392-3018.
Published on April 9, 2012