Experience living history: Lake Tahoe Historical Society presents third annual Chautauqua | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Experience living history: Lake Tahoe Historical Society presents third annual Chautauqua

The Lake Tahoe Historical Society holds its third annual Chautauqua event this Saturday, Aug. 13, at 5:15 p.m. Five actors will portray figures from the 19th and 20th centuries.
Courtesy / Lake Tahoe Historical Society |

Watch history come to life this Saturday, Aug. 13, at Lake Tahoe Historical Society’s third annual Chautauqua event. Five actors portray historical figures from the 19th and 20th centuries in what Theodore Roosevelt once deemed “the most American thing in America.”

A nation-wide movement, Chautauqua began as a means of adult education in the 19th century and is named after New York’s Chautauqua Lake, the site of the first assembly.

“Chautauqua is a way to educate the public, as well as entertain them,” Lake Tahoe Historical Society president Diane Johnson said.

Each actor is allotted stage time to tell the figure’s story, evoking the spirit of the character and interacting with the audience.

“When [attendees] feel like they can meet that person in real life, it becomes exciting and you see a whole new interest in history through living history, which is Chautauqua,” said Kim Copél-Harris, who is participating in the historical society’s event for the third time.


This year, five actors will participate in the historical society’s Chautauqua event, depicting four iconic people in Tahoe’s history, as well as Theodore Roosevelt, who played a key role in the development of national parks.

Copél-Harris — a Genoa, Nevada, resident and volunteer at the historical society — portrays Laura D. Fair, a forward-thinking Virginia City businesswoman of the 19th century who shot her lover.

“She is an enigma,” Copél-Harris said.

“What I like about playing [Laura D. Fair] is that she was a little bit off — she wasn’t completely right in the head, but she was a good businesswoman. She knew what she wanted and she went after it,” she added.

Also returning to Lake Tahoe Chautauqua is Mary Jo Sonntag, a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania resident who initially connected with the Lake Tahoe Historical Society through her book “Write If You Live to Get There,” a collection of letters from the Phillips family. Sonntag portrays a member of the family, Sierra Nevada Phillips, in this year’s Chautauqua.

“She did things that women either couldn’t do or just were not easy for women to do at that time. I think she was very entrepreneurial, so I’m excited to talk about her accomplishments in that light. I also think she was very resilient. She had many hardships that she had to face and her spirit was never worn down,” Sonntag said.

Phillips, named after the mountain range, operated three Lake Tahoe resorts catering to miners and tourists during the 19th and 20th centuries.

To learn more about these characters’ stories, as well as hear from Agnes Diamond, Etta Farmer and Theodore Roosevelt, attend this weekend’s Chautauqua event, which is a fundraiser for the historical society.


The festivities begin at 5:15 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 13, at the Duke Theater on the Lake Tahoe Community College campus. Prior to the actors taking the stage, there will be appetizers, socializing and raffles — the latter of which includes themed baskets such as an offering of two nights at Pine Cone Resort in Zephyr Cove.

Tickets are $45 for historical society members and $50 for non-members. Anyone who buys 10 tickets will get the member price. The cost includes a $5 value token for one drink or one raffle ticket.

Call the Lake Tahoe Historical Society at 530-541-5458 or visit in person at 3058 Lake Tahoe Boulevard during open hours Thursday through Saturday to purchase tickets.

“This is our main fundraiser of the year,” Johnson said. All proceeds support the museum’s yearly budget.

Carpooling to the event is encouraged, as the LTCC parking lot is undergoing construction. The college is located at 1 College Drive.

For more information on Lake Tahoe Historical Society, visit http://www.laketahoemuseum.org.

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