The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Local news

March 4, 2013

Chautauqua actor teaches frontier lesson at Garfield Elementary

ENID, Okla. — Hank Fincken gave students at Garfield Elementary School more than just entertainment Monday afternoon — he gave them a fun history and language lesson while he was at it.

While portraying a moment in the life of John Chapman — better known as Johnny Appleseed — Fincken taught Garfield’s kindergarten through second-grade students about settlement of the Midwest, requirements for owning land in those days, and currency used at the time. A fippenny, for instance, was worth about six and a half cents.

Fincken brought both Johnny Appleseed and Thomas Edison to life at Garfield as part of Chautauqua-in-the-Schools. The word “chautauqua” comes from the Iroquois language, Fincken told the children.

Fincken performed in period clothing and bare feet. He explained Johnny Appleseed was a vegetarian, and shoes in those days were made from leather, so he preferred not to wear them. With that, he turned his back to the children for a moment, slipped on his vest and hat, and turned back around to speak to the children as Johnny Appleseed in 1844.

“I knew early in life that I wanted to do something useful for people, and what’s more useful than the apple?” Fincken said.

He explained that apples were not only good for food, but apple trees were required to qualify for free land to settle on, and apples could be used to pay taxes. As settlers moved westward, they needed to have apple trees on their land.

“What I would try to do is get there first and plant apple seedlings,” Fincken said.

Then, when settlers came to the area, they could buy apple seedlings from him to transplant on their own land.

Chapman didn’t eat all the apples that produced the seeds.

“I’d go to the cider mill and I’d pick out the sticky seeds the miller put out, Fincken said.”

Chapman sold his seedlings for a penny if the customer was going to do the transplant, but if the customer wanted Chapman to transplant the seedlings, he sold them for a fippenny.

As part of the two-week Chautauqua-in-the-Schools, Fincken will portray the Spanish conquistador Pizarro, Johnny Appleseed and Thomas Edison at Northern Oklahoma College, Waukomis, Enid High School, Pleasant Vale, Pond Creek, Timberlake, Drummond, Hayes, Emmanuel Christian School, Coolidge, Prairie View, Timberlake, Monroe, Kremlin-Hillsdale, Adams, McKinley and Eisenhower.

On Monday, he brought Pizarro to life at Oklahoma Bible Academy.

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