Last night, I had a chance to watch the outdoor drama, Tecumseh!, here in Chillicothe, Ohio, where I am on a temporary work assignment. The play was written by seven-time Pulitzer Prize nominee Allen W. Eckert, its music was performed (on tape) by the London Symphony Orchestra, and its narration done by famed Native American actor Graham Greene (perhaps most noted for his work in the movie Dances With Wolves). Situated in a modern 1,800-seat outdoor amphitheater on a small mountaintop in rural Ross County, Tecumseh! is an internationally acclaimed performance with a cast and crew of more than 100 people.
So, what does this have to do with York County Civil War history? As I sat there on a balmy Tuesday night in mid-June with 500 other people, I could not help but think how something of this magnitude concerning York’s Civil War history might be a winner — a way of drawing tourists for a night’s stay in York in between tramping Gettysburg, the Hershey Chocolate World, and Amish country in Lancaster County.
Such an outdoor play might prove to be an economic boost to the area, but it would take time, money, and a detailed plan. In Ohio, Tecumseh! has been so successful there are two other Native American-related outdoor dramas that also attract good crowds every summer night — Blue Jacket near Xenia and Trumpets in the Land near New Philadelphia. All have survived for years and have put southern Ohio on the map as a popular tourist destination.
I noted in the parking lot last night on Sugarloaf Mountain scores of cars with out-of-state license plates, including many from Pennsylvania and Maryland, despite the record gasoline prices. I also watched as throngs of people flocked the $10.95 all-you-can-eat buffet line before the play, stood shoulder to shoulder in the gift shop to pay for their souvenirs, and lined up fifteen deep at the snack bar during the 20-minute intermission. The play certainly brings in cash for the local community and provides employment opportunities. At $19.95 per person, this is a solid evening of entertainment, with a little of Eckert’s stylized history thrown in for good measure.
There is plenty of drama that could be captured in a Civil War play (in fact, the church I attend, Stillmeadow Church of the Nazarene, puts on a different historical play each year that draws well, so I would think that a commercially viable drama in an outdoor setting might work in our area). Imagine the possibilities! The concern of the farmers and townspeople over the impending invasion, the wonder and marvel of the Confederates as they tramped or rode through the most lush scenery many of them had seen since leaving the Shenandoah Valley, the tense negotiations to surrender York, the Rebel occupation of the town, the burning of the bridge, Jeb Stuart’s midnight ride, and the aftermath. It could be woven into a compelling storyline.
Yes, I am dreaming and wishing, but perhaps someday an entrepreneur will see the possibility and invest in such a plan. We have an abundance of thespian talent in the region, as well as experienced stagehands, lighting specialists, etc. We also have a prime location in between some of America’s most popular tourist attractions.