Chautauqua 2012 features characters from War of 1812 in Catonsville

Historical figures visit during annual free event July 6 to July 8


Chautaugua figures from War of 1812President James Madison (Illustration by Tom Chalkey, Courtesy of Community College of / July 3, 2012)
By Brian ConlinJuly 3, 2012

On the heels of Baltimore’s Sailabration, which marked the bicentennial of the War of 1812, the Community College of Baltimore County and Maryland Humanities Council will team to commemorate the conflict in their own way.

On the evenings of July 6-8, the Catonsville campus of CCBC will host Chautauqua 2012, during which three historians will address crowds as some of the most important players in early-19th century America.

This year, the presentations will be impersonations of President James Madison, Baltimore flag-maker Mary Pickersgill and British Major General Robert Ross.

The 10th annual event, which is free and open to the public, begins at 7 p.m. each day with musical performances by CCBC faculty members Patti Crossman and Daniel Lewis in the Q Building Theater on the South Rolling Road campus.


“We’ll get some interesting perspectives from various people, especially Ross, who we don’t often get to hear what’s going through his mind,” said Bill Watson, the event’s organizer, on the July 8 presentation.

At the end of each of the three 40-minute presentations, the actors will answer questions from the crowd as the historical figures for about 15 minutes before breaking character and answering further questions.

“They really like to find things out about the historical figures that they wouldn’t know otherwise,” Watson said of the attendees. “What better way to find out historical information than to ask the historical figure?”

A crowd’s curiosity challenges the performers, even one with 20 years of chautauqua experience like Doug Mishler, who will portray Ross.

“That’s actually kind of the fun of it,” said Mishler, who has portrayed George Wallace, Jefferson Davis and Henry Ford at other chautauquas around the country.

“You work your way into this person’s head and come up with a viable understanding,” he said.

If presented a question which his research hasn’t shown a definitive answer, Mishler will use his understanding of the character’s status in the particular era of society he lived to provide a response.

Once he breaks character, he will inform the crowd that his research didn’t cover that topic and provide the reasoning behind his answer.

With Ross, Mishler faces an extra challenge because not much has been written on the British officer, he said.

Instead of biographies and journals, Mishler will base his presentation on his studies of battles and the background of the war, he said.

Mishler, a professor of history at the University of Nevada at Reno, said he will not dress in the garb of a 19th-century general but plans to address the audience in attire common to the time.

In Mishler’s presentation, Ross has snuck into town to attempt to convince Baltimore colonials to make peace. especially in light of the burning Washington D.C., which Ross ordered in August 1814.

“It’s his last attempt to save Baltimore. He’s there to try to reason with the colonials one last time,” Mishler said.

Ross never burned Baltimore. He was mortally wounded in September 1814 after an American sniper shot him at North Point as he traveled to the Battle of Baltimore.

Though portraying an enemy to the colonists, Mishler said presenting the motivations and rationale of historical characters can lead to the audience questioning beliefs they once held as certainties.

“With questioning comes growth,” Mishler said.

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