CHAUTAUQUA-Tradition is something not taken lightly at the Chautauqua Institution. And Old First Night is the proof.
On Tuesday, Chautauqua natives and others from across the country crowded into the Chautauqua Institution’s amphitheater to celebrate the 140th anniversary of the Institution’s opening – an event aptly titled Old First Night.
Festivities included performances by the Chautauqua Children’s School and the Chautauqua Boys’ and Girls’ Club Air Band, as well as a number of traditions that made the evening a unique way for Chautauquans to reconnect with their roots.
“(Old First Night) is important because there are so many traditions in Chautauqua” said Richard C. Karslake, master of ceremonies. “Those traditions really bring the people of Chautauqua closer to Chautauqua and make them feel more a part of Chautauqua.”
Roll calls, for example, were conducted to reveal the number of years people have been coming to Chautauqua as well as the number of family generations.
Startlingly, one woman had returned to the grounds for the past 92 years. She received a standing ovation from the crowd.
One family – equally impressive – had eight generations of family members visiting the area.
Other traditions included the “Drooping of the Lilies,” a somber moment in which audience members hold up handkerchiefs and slowly lower them in honor of fellow Chautauquans who have passed away.
This was followed by a tradition called “Postcards from Chautauqua” in which historical postcards are read aloud to reflect the moods and musings of earlier Chautauqua visitors.
Recognition was also given to the 125th anniversary of the Chautauqua Women’s Club and the 100th anniversary of the Chautauqua Golf Course.
Donations to the Institution were made by the Chautauqua Children’s School and the Chautauqua Boys’ and Girls’ Club. They donated more than $500 and more than $4,000, respectively.
“Like your family, you have little traditions that are your family’s alone,” Karslake said. “They’re unique and you don’t skip them … you hang on to those things and they’re important. This is what Chautauqua is all about.”