On June 16, 1813, Kimball Union celebrated the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Academy. The centenary celebrations were planned around Commencement and Reunion and featured an historical performance chronicling the settlement of Meriden in 1769 and the founding of the Academy through 1913. Called The Pageant of Meriden, it was the third in a series of Pageants of New Country Life by William Chauncy Langdon with Arthur Farwell as composer and director of music. The pageant became a community production with Kimball Union and the Meriden villagers who participated as actors, musicians, dancers and as production assistants, showing the continued link between the town and the Academy over the years. Because of the great interest shown in the pageant and general celebrations, The Old Home Week Association of Plainfield (Meriden is a village in Plainfield), voted to join in and have its annual celebration be the pageant.
The nine episodes of the pageant, Langdon wrote, were “written and composed on the principle that both dramatically and musically the pageant is a distinct and individual art-form, and not merely a series of historic episodes interspersed with incidental music.” The location was Pageant Hill or, as we know it, the Potato Patch, with the audience, Langdon continued, “…looking across the valley to the hill-top on which Meriden and the Academy stand, and to the lofty height of Ascutney rising beyond.”
It begins with Episode I: The Settling of Meriden 1769: “From out of the woods to the west comes Daniel Kimball, a boy of fifteen years, parting the branches before him as he makes his way out in the open. He is dressed in home-spun shirt and leather breeches; over his shoulder is slung powder-horn, shot pouch and flint bag. In his hand he carries a flint-lock somewhat too long for him. He comes out into the clear space and looks around a moment. … ‘Here is a bit clear space, Mother….’” and they prepare a site for their new home. The following two episodes deal with The Starting of the Church 1780 and The Founding of the Academy 1813.
The following is the first half of Episode 4: The Coming of Girls 1840, the year Hannah Kimball’s Female Department officially opened.
EPISODE 4: THE COMING OF GIRLS
(AUGUST 20, 1840)
Several boys of the Academy run out with a large football of that time and begin kicking it from one to another.
TOM: Here goes! The English against the Classical Department!
ALL: Hurrah! Hurrah!
A boy passes through with an open book from which he studies off and on.
SEVERAL: Come on, Will!! Join in the game a bit!
WILL: No, I thank you. I want to study.
TOM: Come on! Don’t be a poke. You need exercise and its jolly good fun.
WILL: No, I feel I have not been attending to my studies as I ought and it is my duty to avoid the temptations of the playground.
DICK: Rooms in the Academy are to be occupied by pious students only. He wants to get in. That’s why.
WILL: I assure you that is not the case. I feel––
TOM: Come on, let’s play.
NED: He’ll be arguing in favor of the girls next.
(All groan aloud.)
DICK: I’m not coming back next term if they have a lot of girls here.
NED: Nor I. I’m not going to any girls’ school.
FRED: (near Meriden vista): Sh! Here comes Mr. Richards.
TOM: (near orchestra stand): And Mrs. Kimball, too.
NED: I wonder if they heard.
Mr. Richards comes in by the road from the field. The boys all stand respectfully and take off their caps to the principal. He returns the greeting cordially.
MR. RICHARDS: Young gentlemen––I am glad to see you enjoying yourselves at a healthful game of football. The young ladies from away arrive on the Lebanon stage today. I trust you will give them a kind and respectful welcome.
SEVERAL: Yes, sir. Yes, Mr. Richards.
Mrs. Kimball and Dr. Frost come in from the top of the hill.
MR. RICHARDS: Good afternoon, Mrs. Kimball. I am glad you are able to enjoy the occasion of this auspicious day.
Mr. Richards takes off his hat with a courtly bow. All the boys take off their caps and stand respectfully as Mrs. Kimball approaches.
MRS. KIMBALL: Oh, yes, Mr. Richards, I am perfectly well, entirely able to enjoy the day. I thank you. I had no intention of being otherwise. I have been looking forward to this day for some years. yes–- (she looks around at the boys) I have been across to look at the new Academy building for the Female Department.
MR. RICHARDS: Does it please you?
MRS. KIMBALL: It seems to me to afford very adequate and proper facilities for convening and boarding the young ladies. Yes, I hope with the divine assistance and direction it will fully answer the great purpose to which my husband and myself have devoted our estate.
MR. RICHARDS: (Turning with an inclusive smile toward all the boys):I am positive that the mutual influences of the two departments will be good. I foresee an air of cheerfulness and interest thrown over our little community of students quite unusual before and elsewhere.
SEVERAL: Yes, Mr. Richards.
Others stand silent and uneasy. Mrs. Kimball looks keenly from boy to boy.
MRS. KIMBALL: I think, Mr. Richards, the young gentlemen believe they will not like having the girls here. They will find themselves mistaken. Yes.
Several boys look guilty. Others start to protest but remain silent.
MRS. KIMBALL: Now, I will go in. Will one of you young gentlemen inform me when you see the stage-coach coming? (To Tom) You, sir.
TOM: Yes, Mrs. Kimball.
MRS. KIMBALL: I think you do not understand at all. However,––it is not to be expected.
Mrs. Kimball and Mr. Richards go into the house.
DICK: Come on, kick the ball. Quick, let’s have a little more fun before the girls come.
The boys resume their game, playing with special vim and hilarity until the horn of the stage-coach is heard down the Lebanon road.
SEVERAL: (with groans): There it comes.
Tom brushes his clothes off and walks over to Mrs. Kimball’s house.
TOM: I hear the stage coming, Mrs. Kimball.
Mrs. Kimball comes out, in a state of suppressed and very dignified excitement, followed by Mr. Richards and Dr. Frost. From other directions come Miss Martha M. Green and Miss Lucy Baldwin and several other teachers of the Academy. These all group themselves excitedly near the top of the hill where they can see down the vista. The boys pick up their ball and stand together in groups rather quiet and not at all enthusiastic. Will returns with his book and eagerly looks for the coming of the stage. Up the Lebanon road comes the stage driven at a fast pace. Inside and out it is loaded with girls and with their baggage. As it drives in and stops and older people wave their handkerchiefs and hats and the girls descend; the baggage is unloaded from the stage. Several of the girls are very pretty. The boys notice the fact with a quiet but pleased surprise. As one of the girls starts to get down from the top of the stage, Dick steps forward to help her. Mr. Richards, however, hands him a large carpet bag, and himself helps the young lady down. As another of the girls descends Will, who has been waving to her, runs forward, helps her down, seizes her in his arms and kisses her.
Has poor Will suddenly forgotten his desire to study at Kimball Union and rashly hugged and kissed a girl in front of Mrs. Kimball and Principal Richards?
To be continued …..