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Edith Russell debuts on the Chautauqua stage in Coshocton County

| July 8, 2015

COSHOCTON – Ohio Chautauqua opened last night, Tuesday, July 7 under rainy skies, but despite the weather, approximately 400 people came to listen to Edith Russell’s story of how she survived the sinking of the Titanic.

Before Russell made her Coshocton County debut, a reception was held in the Model Railroad building at the fairgrounds. Bob McKenna catered the event and never fails to deliver a variety delicious food.

“This is one of our favorite communities,” said Pat Williamson, director of Ohio Humanities, which sponsors Ohio Chautauqua.

After the reception, Wildwood Friends gave an hour-long entertaining performance under the big red and white tent. In keeping with the Titanic theme, they played songs that may have been heard in third class such as “Let me Call you Sweetheart”, “Orphan Girl”, “The Water is Wide”, and “When Irish Eyes are Smiling”. The last song they performed was supposedly the last song performed by the band on the Titanic before it sank, “Nearer My God to Thee”.

After a brief intermission, each Chautauqua character in the Journey Troupe took the stage and talked a little about themselves and what night they would be performing. This year’s troupe includes Russell, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Henry David Thoreau, Olive Anne Oatman, and J. Goldsborough Bruff.

Then, Edith Russell, portrayed by Debra Conner, took the stage and gave a frightening account of the sinking of the Titanic. Russell, a fashion reporter for a European magazine, was traveling to New York with priceless gowns and, with her musical pig, Maxie given to her by her late mother, made it safely to the Carpathia, the ship sent to rescue Titanic survivors.

“I really enjoyed hearing her very much,” said Ellen McClain, who has been interested in the Titanic for many years. “Tonight, I was definitely here because of the Titanic theme. She (Conner) is very knowledgeable.”

“To be able to answer any question thrown at her was incredible,” said Joni McClain. “Everyone was really absorbed in everything she said.”

“I enjoyed learning the true story behind it (the Titanic),” said Ellen. “It was such a tragedy. I sat there and you get cold chills thinking of how all those people died.”

Conner has been portraying Russell for two years.

“It takes about a year to research your character, write the script, and learn the script,” she said. “Many of us in this business say we don’t feel comfortable with our character until after three years, so I’m almost there.”

Conner said she somewhat identifies with Russell.

“I sometimes joke that I hope to grow older and more eccentric as she did,” she said.

Tonight, Henry David Thoreau will take the Chautauqua stage at 7:30 p.m. Come early to hear Jerry Weaver perform at 6:30 p.m.

Sponsors of Ohio Chautauqua in Coshocton County include Coshocton Foundation, Montgomery Foundation, and the Simpson Family Foundation. Supporters include the Coshocton Library, COTC, Annin, Habitat for Humanity, Coshocton Village Inn and Suites, REACT, the Sheriff’s Auxiliary, and Boy Scout Troops 402 and 412.

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About the Author ()

I have been employed at the Coshocton County Beacon since September 2009 as a news reporter and assistant graphic artist. I am a 2004 graduate of Newcomerstown High School and a 2008 graduate of Capital University with a bachelor’s degree in Professional Writing. I am married to John Scott and live in Newcomerstown. We have two beautiful daughters, Amelia Grace Scott and Leanna Rose Scott.

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