Madison’s Birthday

Madison’s Birthdaybicentenial

We all have birthdays once a year. Cities do, too. But seldom is notice taken of municipal birthdays, unless they’re especially notable.

Like an observance of two centuries of existence.

None of us humans will celebrate 200 years on this earth. But our city of Madison is marking its bicentennial this year. Like most things 200 years old, we’ve seen better days — but so far, we’re hanging in there.

The bicentennial celebration being developed for Madison this year will include local people portraying other local people — really notable, well-remembered ones — who came before them. And that’s where I come in.

I was asked a few months ago if I would be willing to write some of the material for the bicentennial. Since writing has been my life’s work, I said, “Sure.”

Then came the next question: Would I be willing to play a part in the re-enactment part of the celebration? That gave me a little pause. I’ve only acted in a play one time in my life, and that was in the eighth grade. But when it was explained to me that this wouldn’t be a play acted on a stage, but more like a person going out on the street in character and period costume and pretending to be some historical character, I decided it was worth the risk.

This isn’t my first time participating in a Madison birthday celebration. Fifty years ago, in 1959, I played a tardy schoolboy who gets paddled by his teacher for coming in late, in the Valley City Saga, which is what they called the pageant that accompanied that celebration. We put it on six times, a whole week’s worth. No dialogue — just a narrator on a sound system. Easy and fun for a 14-year-old.

My best friend Gavin Lodge played the teacher. He thought it was neat getting to give me a paddling every night — except that I had always put a schoolbook down into the seat of my pants, causing him to hurt his hand. All part of the show, folks, all part of the show …

When I agreed to participate in the bicentennial this year, I found myself wondering if there is anyone else involved who was also in the sesquicentennial in 1959. I doubt it, but anything’s possible. Anyone know? You’re welcome to post a comment on the website. I’d love to find out.

Oh! I forgot to tell you who I’m playing in this on-street portrayal. Most of you know I worked at The Madison Courier for 39 and one-half years, getting the boot in 2006. Well, I’m to play Michael Christian Garber, who bought the Courier in 1849 from Samuel Covington. Michael Garber’s great-great-granddaughter — we’ll call her JJ — fired me three years ago. Funny, isn’t it, how what goes around, comes around?

We had our first run-through of stand-up recitations of our characters’ remarks this Saturday. Went pretty well. I was told that my presentation was good, my voice projected well, and I showed no signs of nervousness. But, they said, put more feeling into it at key points. Well, OK, I’ll try. Writing has always been my strong suit, as opposed to speaking, though.

In studying Michael Garber’s life for this part, I’ve found that he was a remarkable man in a remarkable era, and I’m going to do my darndest to portray him that way.

After all, this is probably the last Madison birthday celebration I’ll get to be in. I rather doubt if I’ll be around for the 250th!

Old Corporal <corporalko@yahoo.com>

Two hundred — and counting, – Saturday, April 04, 2009 at 19:04:32 (EDT)

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