Debra Conner has been portraying Margaret Blennerhassett for 14 years and will bring the Frontier aristocrat to life in Warren when Ohio Chautauqua comes to town later this month.
The Ohio Humanities Council will bring the 14th installment of Ohio Chautauqua to Warren beginning July 24 for five days. The theme of this tour is "When Ohio was the Western Frontier.''
Ohio Humanities Council's Chautauqua director Fran Tiburzio said Conner's performance is usually a lot of fun for the audience.
Special to the Tribune Chronicle
Debra Conner will portray Margaret Blennerhassett, a Western Reserve frontier aristocrat in the early 1800s, during the Ohio Chautauqua later this month in downtown Warren.
"She's really comfortable with the character, which makes it very smooth. Margaret Blennerhassett is a very charming person, and there's a lot of humor. And Debra is one one of those you can watch and see she's having a lot of fun with it,'' Tiburzio said.
This is Conner's seventh tour with Ohio Chautauqua and the second in which she has portrayed Blennerhassett. A poet by profession, Conner began her character portrayals in 1997 as Emily Dickinson. She has since portrayed ''Gone With the Wind'' author Margaret Mitchell, Zelda Fitzgerald, the wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Civil War surgeon Dr. Mary Walker.
Her performance will be on the fourth night, Friday, under the big red and white tent at the Kinsman House.
About Ohio Chautauqua
- Ohio Chautauqua is a five-day event that combines living history, music and entertainment, education, theater and audience interaction in a cultural event the entire community can enjoy.
- The Ohio Humanities Council will bring the 14th installment of Ohio Chautauqua to Warren July 24 to 28 to coincide with the community's ongoing celebration of Ohio's Frontier period. The theme of this tour is "When Ohio was the Western Frontier."
- Each historical personality is portrayed in full character by an actor-historian versed in that person's life and experiences. The performance is a 30-minute monologue on significant events in the character's life, followed by a question-and-answer period with the character, and then a Q-and-A with the actor.
- Performance schedules are Jeremy Meier as Oliver Hazard Perry on July 24; Dan Cutler as Chief John Logan on July 25; Debra Conner as Margaret Blennerhassett on July 26; Marvin Jefferson as York on July 27; and Hank Fincken as John "Johnny Appleseed" Chapman on July 28.
- All performances are 7:30 p.m. on the south lawn of the historic Kinsman House, 303 Mahoning Ave., Warren. They are free and open to the public.
- Free musical entertainment will begin at 6:30 p.m. The July 26 presentation about Margaret Blennerhassett will feature Bill Lewis on banjo.
- The tour also will include daytime youth and adult workshops each day at the Warren-Trumbull County Public Library.
- For more information and to view an interesting video, log on to www.tribtoday.com, and click on the button for Ohio Chautauqua.
Conner, who lives near Parkersburg, W.Va, where the Blennerhassetts made their home during Ohio's early days, said she loves the drama and tension of the Blennerhassetts' "riches-to-rags" story.
"They were destined to have success and their life ends tragically with ruin," she said. "Also, their connection with powerful men in American history and people like that, they lived in what some called the most beautiful home in the west."
Blennerhassett was born in England around 1771. In 1794, she married her uncle, Harman Blennerhassett, five years her senior.
Inter-family marriage had been a common practice, but at the time in Britain, the Protestant Church began to frown upon it. That along with Harman Blennerhassett's membership in the anti-British group, the Society of United Irishmen, brought enough pressure on the young couple that they left for America around 1796. The spending began before they even left Britain.
It continued through the building of their lavish mansion on the upper half of Backus Island. By 1805, they were nearly broke, but an opportunity to reverse their bad financial fortunes came in the form of a former U.S. vice president.
Aaron Burr, veep to Thomas Jefferson in his first term, had fallen out of political favor after he killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel. Burr arrived on the island and asked the Blennerhassetts to join him on a western expedition into Spanish-owned lands.
But Jefferson saw the expedition as a treasonous attempt to undermine presidential authority and had Burr and Harman Blennerhassett arrested.
In September of 1807, the Supreme Court acquitted Burr, and his co-conspirators were released with no further ado.
Unfortunately, their absence had led to the deterioration of their home and it burned down in 1811. They first tried to rebuild their lives in Mississippi, then back in England and ultimately on the Channel Islands off the coast of France.
Harman died in 1831, and Margaret followed 11 years later. The mansion was reconstructed in the 1970s and opened for tours in 1988.
The presentation is part of the 14th installment of the Ohio Humanities Council's Ohio Chautauqua, returning to Warren for the fourth time this summer.
The event this year is being sponsored by the Tribune Chronicle, Warren-Trumbull County Public Library and Trumbull 100 in partnership with the Ohio Humanities Council and the Trumbull County Tourism Bureau. It is part of a year-long string of events helping to mark the Tribune Chronicle's celebration of the 200th year of newspaper publishing in downtown Warren.