Tuesday, May 15, 2012

275th Anniversary of Southampton: "a more sympathetic understanding between neighbors"

On June 12, 1915, the citizens of Southampton, N.Y., staged a historical pageant written and directed by my Great Great Aunt Abigail Fithian Halsey, commemorating the town's 275th Anniversary. In addition to being a teacher and one-time Southampton town historian, "Aunt Babbie" made a living writing stories, poems, and pageants.

Edward Post White, Sr., far right
According to the catalog of Babbie's papers held in the New York State historical archive, organizations which sponsored her pageants include: "The Dairymen's League Cooperative Association, the Heckscher Foundation for Children, City History Club of New York, the New York State Federation of Women's Clubs, and other civic or cultural organizations in Southampton, Sag Harbor, East Hampton, Riverhead, Ithaca, Kingston, Tappen, N.Y., and Cincinnati, OH." Among the topics covered in the programs were the Shinnecock Indians in Southampton, and the Women's Community Building and the Tompkins County Fair in Ithaca, N.Y.

One of the publications to which Babbie contributed was the Cornell University Extension Bulletin. Her article, "The Historical Pageant in the Rural Community," from Bulletin No. 54 in June 1922, features a photo of a woman in Puritan garb, accompanied by two children similarly clad. The photo depicts a scene from the 1916 Southampton pageant. I'm certain the boy in the photo is 10th-generation son of Southampton Charles Henry Halsey II, my grandfather, age 4.

In the article Babbie writes, "Fifty years ago the street procession was the usual form of American pageantry. Now the pageant is the dramatic representation of the life of a community, or of the development of an art, expressed historically, allegorically, or symbolically. This is a simple definition, but, for our purpose, a satisfactory one. Whether it is an historical pageant, an allegorical pageant, or a symbolical pageant depends upon the form in which we choose to present the life of our community. It is easy to look up the historical facts and portray them in a series; but the pageant will lose its best lessons if we depend upon facts alone for our materials. There are meanings below the surface of men's lives which can be expressed only in living pictures that represent spiritual qualities. This is allegory. There are lessons for the future which no portray of facts, nor even pictures of spiritual qualities, can teach, but which can be made clear only by some strong, symbolical episode which will for all time leave in the minds of its beholders a truth which cannot be forgotten. There, while it is perfectly possible to make a community pageant which shall be entirely allegorial or symbolical in form, it is better for our purpose to take the facts from the historical background of the community and use the other forms of pageantry 'to suggest the ideals and aspirations which have had a place in the development of the community.'"

According to a review of her article carried in the November 1922 issue of The Playground--the monthly publication of the Playground and Recreation Association of America--Babbie "offers practical and encouragement to rural communities desirous of making local history live through an historical pageant." Focusing on the "construction, presentation, music, costumes, committees, etc., of pageants," she claims as the pageant's purpose the development of a "local history as well as a more sympathetic understanding between neighbors."

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