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Published: Saturday, 7/19/2003

Program brings Johnny Appleseed to life

BY KIM BATES
BLADE STAFF WRITER

DEFIANCE - Actor Hank Fincken pulled off his black Velcro sandals in front of his audience yesterday, so he could walk barefoot just like his character, Johnny Appleseed.

Then he rubbed black powder onto his feet and toes to make them look worn and dirty, and he used an old toothbrush and silver coloring to turn his blonde hair and beard a shade of gray.

While Mr. Fincken transformed himself into a 70-year-old version of Johnny Appleseed, Defiance-area children who were watching him yelled out in delight at the progress.

“I love a good audience,” Mr. Fincken replied to the several-dozen youngsters, ages 5 to 12.

The portrayal yesterday of the traveling apple-seed planter and distributor from the 1800s, whose real name was John Chapman, was brought to Defiance this week as part of the Ohio Chautauqua 2003.

The chautauqua, which has a theme of Ohio frontier this year, is an annual traveling tent show that already has appeared in five other Ohio communities this summer.

Defiance is the last city on the tour, with remaining presentations planned for today and tomorrow.

Organizers in Defiance said the event is especially important because it was scheduled on purpose to take place during the state's bicentennial year, as well as the year of Defiance's first-ever birthday celebration, which was held April 28.

“We wanted to make 2003 really special for the Defiance community,” said Karen Seigman, director of the Greater Defiance Area Tourism and Visitors Bureau.

She said the chautauqua is historically meaningful in Defiance because similar chautauqua gatherings were held in the town in the early 1900s.

Those events ended, though, after the flood of 1913, when the former Maumee River island that served as a meeting location was washed away. Ms. Seigman said the chautauqua was attempted elsewhere in town, but never really caught on in other locations.

The tourism director said response to this year's event, which started on Wednesday, has attracted major interest from the community.

In addition to Mr. Fincken as Johnny Appleseed, other characters for the chautauqua are frontier aristocrat Margaret Blennerhassett, Native American captive Mary Draper Ingles, frontiersman Simon Kenton, and Iroquois leader Chief John Logan.

Next year, the Ohio Chautauqua will focus on the Roaring 1920s. This year's events were put on by local communities along with the Ohio Humanities Council, Ohio Bicentennial Commission, and Ohio State University's Humanities Institute.



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