Actor will offer his perspective on 1849

WARREN – The name of J. Goldsborough Bruff may not have the cache of Lewis and Clark, but Hank Fincken wants to demonstrate how it is the efforts of the many, not the few, that help shape the way we should view the past.

“The danger for me as a performer is that many people might not know who J. Goldsborough Bruff is, but I hope they know me and will (give it a chance) because I’ve been to Warren before,” Fincken said. “If we look at history, we know the one or two people responsible for a big event, but it’s the other people who helped move things along and are a product of that time that we should be studying. There is a lot of wisdom that we can get out of what those people have to say.”

Fincken, a Chautauqua scholar, has been a touring history performer for 20 years in Europe, South America and the United States. Among the famous characters he has portrayed are Johnny Appleseed, Thomas Edison and Christopher Columbus. When the 2014 Ohio Chautauqua program, sponsored by the Ohio Humanities, visits Warren, Fincken will be portraying Bruff. A ’49er on the California trail, Bruff’s sketches, drafts and maps of the trail helped paint a picture of a growing nation.

Warren is among the four communities to host the program this year. The event features daytime workshops for adults and children, and nightly presentations. The theme of this year’s program is “Journey Stories.”

On each of the five evenings, a scholar dressed in full costume will portray a featured character and interact with the audience. There will also be a question-and-answer period at the end of each performance.

This year’s historic characters also include Edith Russell, Martin Luther King Jr., Olive Ann Oatman and Henry David Thoreau.

When Fincken presents Bruff, who has recently returned east from the California trail, he will be explaining his experiences and thoughts on the challenges, dangers and rewards to be had out west.

Far too often, Fincken said, history is shaped in a way that is comfortable to modern day values. In portraying Bruff, Fincken said he aims to give his Warren audience a chance to put themselves in the shoes of a person living in the 1850s.

“I believe that we are all a product of the time that we live in,” Fincken said. “We may believe that we understand (the world) completely now, but there is a chance that what we believe to be true now will be seen as incomplete by people just 20 years from now.”

During Bruff’s travels on the trail, Fincken said the explorer was only able to travel an average of roughly 16 miles a day. When people today can fly across the country in a matter of hours, Bruff’s limited mobility helps paint a picture of the breadth of information available to people of his era.

It is that perspective that Fincken said he hopes to explore, as he challenges the Warren audience to understand the world in which the people of Bruff’s era lived.

“I think that in an attempt to become more tolerant now, we have actually become less tolerant,” Fincken said. “Of course we can look back and think it is terrible what (the early explorers) did to Native Americans, but isn’t it important to really try and understand what the perspective of a person in 1849 was, rather than just condemning it?

“If you lived in the world that Bruff did, you would have a whole different slant on life and you would see the world entirely differently,” Fincken added. “He was just going with his best knowledge, just like we are going with our best knowledge now. And what we think is best will be incomplete in 20 years as well.”

Ohio Chautauqua is sponsored and presented by Ohio Humanities. It is hosted locally by the Tribune Chronicle and the Warren-Trumbull County Public Library and is in partnership with Trumbull 100 and the Trumbull County Tourism Bureau, with support from the Warren Library Association.