A surprise ending to our first day in Ohio - Monday, July 20
After a quiet weekend in our Pennsylvania campground, today we left the Pittsburgh area and headed west on I-70. The 227 mile drive took us through that odd piece of West Virginia that sticks up between southwestern Pennsylvania and northeastern Ohio, and then across the Ohio River into the state of Ohio.
Coming into Ohio here the state looks very different than it does along the Ohio Turnpike farther north. The hills are taller and the highway passes through lots of deep cuts chiseled out of solid rock. The rock and the steepness of the terrain discourage farming, and the only sign of agriculture are a few cattle grazing on the hillsides. This is a transition zone between the mountains of West Virginia and the rolling farmland of eastern Ohio.
We stopped at an Ohio Visitor Information Center a few miles into the state, and we picked up some information on Cincinnati. We’ve driven the northern route across Ohio, and we’ve passed Cleveland and visited Toledo. This time we’ve elected to go south and see their biggest city on the Ohio River.
At Zanesville we turned off the interstate and headed southwest on Highway 22, a good two lane road with light traffic and not too many towns. Our day’s drive ended up in the small town of Chillicothe, where we found a nice and totally deserted campground at Great Seal State Park. The thing that drew us to Chillicothe is an outdoor play they do in the summer months. It is called Tecumseh! and it’s about the life of Tecumseh, the great war chief of the Shawnee tribe that once inhabited the Ohio Valley.
The play venue is a few minute’s drive from our campground and they offer a buffet dinner which we decided to try. Dinner is served from 4:00 until 7:30 and the play starts at 8:00. Outside of Chillicothe we had encountered some sporadic but heavy rain. The play goes on through light rains, so we took an umbrella and our ponchos with us. The dinner was mediocre, and the small museum uninspiring, but there were a surprising number of people arriving. By show time the giant amphitheater was more than three quarters full with a large and enthusiastic crowd.
The play started promptly and the first half was played out in the fading daylight of evening. There was a twenty minute intermission mid play, and by the time the show resumed it was dark and the second act was played at night under artificial light. During the night scenes when the lights were dimmed or turned off altogether we could see fireflies flitting about, giving a nice touch of realism to the scenes.
I went to the play expecting it to be fairly good but probably as unremarkable as the dinner. I could not have been more wrong. From beginning to end it was superb. The stage, which looks large before the play begins, gets huge once the actors show up on foot and on horseback to fill it. Looking at the program most of the actors were white folks who looked nothing like Indians, but the costuming and make up were so good that on stage they were utterly believable. But the thing that impressed us most was the serious and authentic way they played their parts. Without the use of microphones they managed to project well enough that we could hear them well without it sounding like they were shouting. In the beginning they were speaking in the Shawnee language, but as they switched to English so we could understand they did it so seamlessly that we hardly noticed.
The stage has a dirt floor and the side wings go all the way up a hill and out of sight on both sides. There is a pond of water in the center where the river is supposed to be, and the actors enter the stage from both sides, often at a full gallop, or by way of the water in a variety of boats and canoes. The action is fast paced and in two and a half hours there is not a dull moment. War scenes are played with real cannon and muskets, and there are stunts where people fall off of rocks or roofs in breathtaking drops that are skillfully staged. Unfortunately no photography is allowed.
The show has played to high critical acclaim for many years, and this is their 37th season. We returned to our campground at 11:00 thoroughly dazzled and won over. Seldom have we seen the conflict between European and native people presented with such serious focus and such moving drama. It was a night we will long remember. When we got back to out campground one other family of campers had arrived so we were not completely alone in the campground. What a great day!