Going Home: The Outdoor Drama Tecumseh

When I was young, I worked two summer seasons in the box office at the outdoor drama Tecumseh. That was many years ago and while I have been to some shows since, it had been a long time since my last visit.

The show is celebrating its 50th season this year and I knew I had to go back.

Driving up the lane to Sugarloaf Mountain Amphitheater felt a little like going home. I spent a lot of hours there. At lunchtime I often just sat in my car in the tiered gravel parking lot. I would eat lunch and read while savoring the quiet. This was a far cry from the environment I experienced for the rest of my workday.

That’s because I sat in a small box office with typically four or five other people and the phone rang constantly for most of the summer.

We were one of the most popular outdoor dramas in the country at a time when there was some truly stiff competition in the industry. I spoke to people from all over the country and often all over the world as they called to purchase tickets.

We kept a list of the states and countries where people came from every year and it was impressive.

Although it always surprised me that local people didn’t really support the show as much as it seemed they should. After all, it tells the story of their past – of the great Shawnee Chief Tecumseh and Chalahgawtha, the place that white settlers would call Chillicothe. I was more likely to speak with someone from another state than from Chillicothe or the surrounding area.

Some of the actors were from Ohio but most came from other places. It was a large cast – a mix of professionals who traveled and college students who returned to class when the season ended.

Those were good times. My friends in the box office made a good team and they introduced me to modern country music. George Strait’s Blue Clear Sky always takes me back to that little room with stools that faced out into a pavilion that would be packed most nights of the season.

However, this was the job that taught me to hate the sound of a ringing phone. I could recite our rain policy in my sleep. Things weren’t computerized yet so the tickets were kept in these big wooden custom ticket holders on the wall – we used paper seating charts to keep track. By mid summer, we were busy on weeknights and selling out the weekends. The theater seats 1600 people and, by the end of the season, we were standing room only.

Yeah, those were good times.

Everything is computerized now so those old wooden ticket holders are gone but the box office looks mostly the same. The gift shop hasn’t really changed and it felt like a bit of a time warp.

I made a day of it starting with the afternoon backstage tour. Three cast members took turns showing us around the stage area, demonstrating weapons, showing us hand-to-hand combat techniques and talking about how the fake blood works. I always recommended this tour to anyone bringing youngsters to help prepare them for the potentially scary battle scenes.

You also get a closer look at the manmade pond that is an important part of the set. There are fish, frogs and even dragonflies. After dark, you’ll likely see some bats circling too.

The performance starts at 8 p.m. so it’s near dusk at showtime and almost completely dark by intermission.

The best thing about this theater is that the stage wraps up along the sides of the seating. This not only expands the performance area but also makes the audience feel fully immersed in the action. It also means that almost every seat has a great view and a different perspective.

People always called the box office looking for the best seats but I always wanted a different seat than I had before. Hint: the only seats I don’t like are the ones close to the stage. They’re too close and it’s hard to appreciate all the stuff happening off to the side. Personally, I prefer the middle to back of house for the best perspective.

You can’t take pictures during the performance so you’ll have to trust me when I say the show is pretty spectacular. It tells a compelling story and is visually impressive. A couple of scenes give me chills every single time.

By the way, it was written by the great Allen Eckert and narrated by the one and only Graham Greene. His voice is iconic.

What I didn’t realize is that we are fortunate they made it to 50 years. Several years ago, they were in financial straits, had lost a lot of employees and the future was not guaranteed.

The Scioto Society, the nonprofit that owns the operation, brought in a former producer named Marion Waggoner to help figure out how to save the show. Marion was the show’s revered producer when I worked there. They eventually hired Brandon Smith away from the Lost Colony down in North Carolina. Brandon is a local guy who was also with the company when I worked there. He is the current producer.

I cannot imagine the literal blood, sweat and tears that many, many people have put into reviving Tecumseh and keeping it going. My hat is off to them. I am grateful to still have it here and need to make a greater effort to support it more regularly.

If you’re thinking about going, better act now! The season ends soon! Click here for tickets and for details. They also periodically host other plays and live music so be sure to look out for those events too. Finally, there is a ton of fun stuff to do in Chillicothe and the surrounding area. Make a day or even a few days and enjoy the area.

Adena Mansion and Gardens

As part of Saturday’s Tourist In My Own Backyard adventure, I revisited Adena Mansion and Gardens. This historic site in Chillicothe, Ohio was the home of one of Ohio’s founding fathers.

Thomas Worthington came from a background of neglect before becoming a politician, a surveyor and a businessman. He is most famous as Ohio’s sixth governor. He also platted the nearby town of Logan, Ohio. He advocated for public education, opposed the War of 1812, opposed slavery and established the State Library of Ohio.

His legacy is vast and impressive.

Completed in 1807, Adena was designed by famed architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe. Our tour guide said it is one of just three Latrobe houses left standing in the country.

The sandstone was quarried on the property and I imagine that the wood for the house and furniture was cut there as well.

I was lucky to catch a tour with just two other people. To provide some perspective, the tour after mine was so big they had to split it up into two groups.

After a lifetime of periodically taking this tour, it still surprises me that I learn something new every visit. Our tour guide this time is a high school French teacher and she did a great job of telling the story, weaving together the human stories with the historic events.

I learned that Thomas Worthington was a notorious cheapskate. I knew that there were many instances in this house where faux techniques were used to fake mahogany and marble. This was done partly out of practicality because shipping in marble across the wilderness was expensive. It was also done partly because Thomas Worthington simply didn’t like to spend money. You aren’t allowed to take pictures inside so you’ll have to take my word for it that the marble faked with a turkey feather is pretty convincing.

There are also many interesting tidbits about the Worthington family that you’ll learn along the way. For example, Thomas and Eleanor Worthington had ten children and all lived to adulthood, an impressive feat for that time. One daughter, Sarah, opened Philadelphia’s School of Design For Women in 1848. That school still exists today as Moore College of Art and Design.

If you pay attention on the tour, you will find it thought provoking. It always makes me shudder to think what it was like for Mrs Worthington to leave civilization to come to the Ohio Territory and set up housekeeping. Their first home on this property was a log cabin and was about an hour walk from town.

Here’s a fun fact. From the hilltop where Worthington built his home, inspiration was found to create the Ohio State Seal. They have a pull off where you can stop and enjoy the view. It looks a lot different today but it’s still an important piece of Ohio history.

Some significant events and conversations took place here. Henry Clay was such a frequent guest there’s a bedroom named in his honor. Shawnee Chief Tecumseh visited here along with Blue Jacket, Roundhead and Panther. Tecumseh presented Thomas Worthington a tomahawk with the promise that he would never lift his tomahawk to him in battle. This meaningful artifact can be viewed in the museum on site.

Sadly, some members of the Worthington family fell on hard times and the home was in bad shape by the time it was sold to another family. You see, it had been left vacant for several years and local farmers used the home to store hay and to keep their chickens. It was sold at the turn of the 20th century to another family that adapted the house into a summer home. It began operating as a tourist attraction in the fifties. Restoration projects over the years have revived the home to reflect how it would have appeared when the Worthingtons lived there.

In addition to the house tour, there’s a museum, some outbuildings and trails to walk. My favorite spot is a toss up between the old barn and the garden. Admission is just $10 for an adult. Watch their online calendar or follow them on Facebook for special events. You can even host your own event or wedding here.

Ready to visit or learn more? There’s a ton of history available on the Adena Mansion and Gardens website. Tomorrow I will show you some pictures from the grounds.

Adventure Day Close To Home

Yesterday was epic. I didn’t travel far or do anything expensive. Instead, I spent the day being a tourist in my own backyard in nearby Chillicothe, Ohio.

The truth is, I didn’t actually do anything I had planned. The original plan was to go for a walk, hit a car show and eat Donato’s plant based pizza at the park.

None of this actually happened.

The lovely thing about solo adventures is there’s no one to complain when you go off script. What’s even better is that off script is often where the magic happens.

I started my day at Adena Mansion and Gardens, the historic home of Thomas Worthington. He was Ohio’s sixth governor, a founding father of Ohio who did so many things in his lifetime that he and his home will require their own story this week.

Ten dollars buys you a guided tour of the home, admission to a museum and access to explore the grounds. Here you’ll learn about life in Ohio when the state was young, about the life and career of this important figure in our history, and about others like Tecumseh and Henry Clay who visited here.

After that I hit up downtown Chillicothe which has experienced a rebirth in recent years. There are several nice specialty shops and restaurants here and the business community has done a great job of advocating for themselves. They have made improvements in the historic downtown and worked hard to draw in visitors who have money.

Downtown was busy as there were a couple of events in town and some stores were taking advantage of the extra foot traffic with sales. I don’t enjoy crowds so I didn’t dwell here but having live music was pretty cool

I had lunch at Carl’s Townhouse which is a 1939 era dinner that began life at the New York World’s Fair. A quick grilled cheese and fries were just the ticket to provide sustenance for the rest of my day.

Then it was a stroll down the street to Apollo Records where I chatted with the owner about the Flying Burrito Brothers and an amazing up and coming artist named Charlie Crockett. I found a great vintage Aretha Franklin album and a Roseanne Cash that I didn’t know but literally purchased for the cool cover art.

Then it was up the street to Grandpa Joe’s Candy Store for a cold drink and dessert before heading to Wheatberry Books for a new title and a chat with the clerk. She was excited about the Wendell Berry book I had chosen. Wheatberry is a small independent bookstore but their shelves are lined with all the books I either own or want to own. They even have a robust section for kids. Here’s something I once wrote on Wheatberry.

After that, it was a stroll through Yoctangee Park to see the swans, geese and ducks. I followed the sound of music to the ice cream truck because it was hot and humid and everyone’s a kid when the ice cream truck is nearby!

Afterward, it was a quick browse through Chillicothe Antique Emporium where I located a bargain and chatted with the owner about the old time soda fountain he assembled and added to his store. He collected the various pieces over time and from places as far away as Georgia. It is well done and you can sit for a cold drink, some ice cream or fresh popcorn! Click here for something I once wrote about that place.

Chillicothe has a lot of history and there’s much more than you can accomplish in a day. Hopewell Culture National Historical Park is an interesting stop to learn about the mound builders of this region. It has become internationally renowned and we are lucky to have it. In the summer, the outdoor drama Tecumseh tells the story of the Shawnee Chief who promoted intertribal unity to push back against the US Expansion into tribal lands.

Chillicothe has carved out a place for itself for specialty interests. The bookstore and record shop are practically unicorns in this day and age but there are other specialties. There’s an old school bike shop, a music store, a stained glass shop, a dojo and a place that specializes in aromatherapy. Plus antiques, clothing boutiques and a place where you can buy specialty toy soldiers designed for the serious collector. There is literally something for everyone in a tidy space along downtown streets lined with some very cool architecture. There’s even a great bike path and tons more to see and do than you can fit into a day.

Along the way yesterday, I had meaningful conversations with people who I never imagined I needed to meet. My Adena docent was fantastic and I met two retirees on my tour who I could have chatted with for hours. They didn’t bat an eyelash when I struck up a conversation and, as it turns out, they were open to talk about topics that I’ve never quite been comfortable discussing with my own friends.

It was an enriching and rewarding day, not necessarily for what I did so much as who I met along the way. More on that soon. For now, know this: the price of admission will get you into a place. The act of learning comes from talking to people about things that are new to you, talking to people about things that are important to them, talking to people about things that enlighten you.

Always, always, always be open to hearing someone else’s perspective.

Check back this week for stories about yesterday including more on Thomas Worthington and his Adena.

Here’s one more picture from the park.

Isn’t it peaceful?