The Walk and Talk Man, unnamed other than by his Chautauqua Assembly Herald byline, walked the grounds and talked with residents and lecturers during the 1890s. He referred to himself in the third person.
On Saturday, July 21, 1894, the column indicated, “The Walk and Talk man visited the Gymnasium yesterday and found that the work being done in the Chautauqua School of Physical Education is very thorough.”
The School had a faculty of nine experienced and famous specialists, assisted by 16 instructors, “with every facility at hand in the line of instruments and apparatus.” Every effort had been made to acquire and use the most sophisticated physical education devices.
“Many of the instruments for anthropometrical measurements and other purposes are not found in more than one or two other gymnasiums in the country,” the Walk and Talk man reported.
Two days later, the Walk and Talk man reported, among other things, “I sharpened my pencil for Prof. W.H. Tolman at the close of his last lecture. Tolman was secretary of the City Vigilance League of New York, an organization whose purpose was ‘to raise the tone of our citizenship. Whatever concerns the welfare of our city is made the subject of inquiry and conference.’ ”
Speaking of citizenship, the Walk and Talk man had run into Theodore Roosevelt and found him “in private conversation [to be] the same as on the platform.”
Roosevelt had given a talk July 19, 1894, titled “Civic Duties.” Roosevelt appeared to be “the most genial and courteous of men.”
They discussed the recent labor troubles of the Pullman Strike in Chicago, which the Feds intervened to quell. “ ‘President Cleveland’s action met my approbation,’ he [Roosevelt] declared with emphasis,” wrote the Walk and Talk Man.
In Roosevelt’s view the situation was not as desperate as sensationalists claimed. When questioned on women’s suffrage, Roosevelt said, “ ‘It will doubtless come in time … by small beginnings and a gradual extension of the suffrage to women. Probably not by a wholesale revolution.’ ”
The Walk and Talk man wrote that Roosevelt gave him some interesting information concerning hunting and trapping in western lands, “especially Montana, where his cattle ranch is located and where he has spent many pleasant vacations in following the sports of the frontiersman.”
Roosevelt told him that bears had practically disappeared, but wolf hunting was still popular, and usually conducted with “huge 90-pound greyhounds. The average wolf is as big as a calf and no dog is a match for one of them. When a pack of the greyhounds runs down a wolf the final battle is a terrific sight.”
Roosevelt at this time was United States Civil Service Commissioner, based in Washington, D.C., and, in addition to his talk on civic duties, during his Chautauqua visit in 1894 he addressed the issue of civil service reform.
He had spoken previously at Chautauqua in 1890. At that time he earned praise, from the Assembly Herald editor who said in a July 28, 1890, editorial that the address “was one that should reach the ears of every politically apathetic citizen of our country. It was a remarkably clear and forcible presentation of the aims and the methods of reform in Civil Service, and emphasized the responsibilities which citizenship imposes. One of the most lamentable facts in our present political methods is that so many among the better classes are inclined to abandon politics — practical politics at least — to those whose political motives are purely selfish or mercenary.”
Roosevelt returned to Chautauqua on Aug. 19, 1899, this time as Governor Roosevelt, and with great fanfare and celebration. It was National Army Day and Roosevelt was the guest of honor. It was Chautauqua’s patriotic celebration. The celebration included a welcome to the veterans of the “Blue and the Gray of the 60s and to the Boys of the Spanish-American War.” The paper reported there were vast crowds and great enthusiasm.
The crowd was larger than it had ever been in recent years, in some people’s estimation even larger than what it was for President Ulysses S. Grant. While there was much celebration over the guest of honor, “one of the most interesting features was the commingling of the veterans of the Civil and the veterans of the Spanish war.”
At 10:40 a.m. on July 21, Roosevelt arrived at the Chautauqua pier on the steam yacht Mayville with an entourage of politicians and Chautauqua County citizens.
“Cheer upon cheer re-echoed as the governor and Mrs. Roosevelt made their way to their carriage,” the Herald reported. “Governor Roosevelt was as always in his best humor and doffed his campaign hat as he smilingly acknowledged the greetings accorded him on all hands. Many handkerchiefs and small flags were waved.”
Chautauqua welcomed not only a fellow New Yorker, a Republican representative to the state assembly, a United States civil service commissioner, or even their governor; but it welcomed a Rough Rider, known for his heroic service in Cuba during the Spanish-American War.
Bishop John Heyl Vincent, Chautauqua co-founder, introduced Roosevelt to the Amphitheater audience. He called Roosevelt a distinguished orator, a great man on the battlefield, now governor, a man who, “If I have the gift of prophecy, will some time be the president of the United States.”
The choir sang the chorus of “A Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight.” The whole, vast audience gave the Chautauqua salute, which, the paper said “lasted some time.” He arose to speak amid a tremendous ovation.
He acknowledged that Chautauqua would agree with him: “Work, unless it is for righteousness, is for the devil.” There could be no ambiguity. No ambivalence. The Assembly Herald reported that Roosevelt “referred to a law passed by a Greek democracy, that a man who in a civic strife did not take sides, should be considered a traitor.”
Roosevelt wished this was the case in America.
Good people needed to take part in politics. “We must work intelligently” and choose good leaders. People must learn from the past. “Be practical to make yourself felt,” Roosevelt said. “The bad man has never won victories by himself in this country. Their victories have been won by the aid of those who do not suspect them.”
He saw before him the veterans. They had set a standard to emulate.
“The greatest good the war with Spain did, was that beneath the same banner marched the sons of the blue and the gray; the nation is now united in deed as well as in name,” he said. “After being the son of a man who wore the blue, the next best thing is to be a son of a man who wore the gray.”
Applause broke out in places through the speech. Roosevelt appealed to the audience for continued support in the Philippines, a land in ruins after the Spanish war. “We must build in these ruins temples of liberty and justice,” he said. “If we leave this building to people without tools, we shall show that we have sacrificed the deed to the name and are not worthy to be called a great nation.”
The Amp was decorated in the spirit of the day.
“On the front of the great organ appeared graceful festoons of red, white and blue, and on either side, an American flag was used as a panel,” the Herald reported.
Theodore Roosevelt visited Chautauqua one more time, on Aug. 11, 1905, this time as president; but that was a whole new century.