The Play and Related Rambling Thoughts

18-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Friday, April 5, 1913:  Tonight expect to stand before an audience and make them smile. I caught a fish this afternoon, and I didn’t’ go a fishing either.


Our play went off pretty well, although we did make some slight mistakes. I cut quite a splash after I was all fixed up. We made over twenty dollars, but our expenses come out of that.


This is the stage in the McEwensville Community Center that Grandma would have stood on a hundred years ago today. Back then the stage was deeper and had curtains. In recent years, the back part of the stage was converted into a storage area.


I can almost picture the room  filled with an attentive audience sitting on rows of chairs.

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Yeah!—the class play went well.  $20 from ticket sales doesn’t sound like much—but in 2013 dollars it would be the equivalent of about $500 today.

I bet Grandma in blackface, playing the role of Chloe the servant, made quite a splash—and that she enjoyed every moment of it.

Thank you all for your thoughtful comments yesterday. They really help me think about the issues.

When I read the diary, I was surprised that Grandma had once played a role in blackface. I was especially shocked because it brought back another very vivid memory. Let me tell you a personal story—

About ten years ago, right after I got my Ph.D. in Educational Policy and Administration, I interviewed for a faculty position at a university located in a rural area. If I had gotten the job, I would have worked closely with school districts in that area.

During the interview I was told that a nearby rural school district had recently held a school play where some of the white cast members had played the role of Blacks wearing blackface.

I was then asked, “If you worked with this district, what would you do?”


I wish Grandma was still around so that together we could grapple with complex topics and issues. . .

26 Responses

  1. That’s an interesting interview question. My guess is that it’s illegal to ask per federal law.

  2. I guess I would suggest that the adults involved discuss how the play might adversely affect the African American residents in the community and appealed to their sense of civic responsibility. I might even do some homework to come up with an alternative play that the whole community would enjoy participating in and attending. If they didn’t like my solution I would know that it wasn’t the right place for me to work and bid them adieu.

    • You’re faster at coming up a response than I was. At that time, I’d never thought about the issue and am sure that I just mumbled something.

      • I’m sure I’d have to think about it in an interview too Sheryl. I wonder about their motives for asking, since typically it would hardly be up to just one person what happens in a school. I’m certainly no professional, that’s from my gut. You probably could offer up several options given time to study the situation.

  3. Since I have been thinking about it, my mind dredged up an old memory of one of the plays that we put on during High School. We had one part that was for an African-American. I went to a school where the only minorities that we had were one Hispanic and several people with some American Indian ancestry. One of the students played the part of the African-American, but the make-up job was very realistic and there were no stereotypical actions that set the role apart from the others.

    I find it very interesting that you were asked the question during the interview.

  4. Glad the play was a success. And you can bet that – if your grandma were alive today for the two of you to discuss current issues – her thoughts, in some cases, would be very different from yours! The changes that have come about in the past 100 years are amazing.

    • I’m sure your right that her thoughts would be very different from mine. . . I think it’s a generational thing. In some cases my thoughts are very different from my children. :)

  5. Aside from that odd interview question, how do you suppose Grandma caught a fish and didn’t go fishing? Is it metaphorical?

  6. My perspective on some issues is different than my 101 year old cousin but there are times when I am surprised how similar we are.

  7. I too wondered about that catching a fish reference.

    • I can’t remember ever hearing the phrase, but for some strange reason, I want to think that it means that she found some “dirt” on someone.

  8. Ten years ago…that’s interesting. Makes one wonder.

  9. We can all learn from our grandparents. I am glad to read that the play was a success, that is alot of money for that time. When I visited Helena’s resting place and school I could almost see her and her friends walking to school and hanging out in the yard before classes started and now it makes it easy for me to picture things like the play going on and and the families filling the little school house.

    • It is such a nice little town–and it’s absolutely amazing how many of the old buildings still exist.

      • I love driving through it. I was in Watsontown today, almost took a side trip although I was driving I was carpooling with two other ladies and the one lady needed to get back to Williamsport. It was a beautiful day and would have made for a nice drive.

  10. […] probably was tired after the wonderful “splash” she’d made the previous evening in the class […]

  11. […] course, the class play was held on April 5, and Grandma was very busy with it—so maybe she had an excuse for not doing homework and other […]

  12. That part about the fish made me laugh.
    Also, so glad the play went well!

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