By Thomas Palmer
With this weekend’s opening performances of “Spongebob: The Musical” at the Galion Community Theatre, I thought that it seemed a good time to look back to what was the first instance in recorded history when a play was staged in Galion.
There may well have been family plays staged of sorts, but the first time that the public was welcomed to a full performance was in 1840, over 180 years ago. The place was one of two taverns in Galion, then a small settlement with only 200 residents.
The tavern was owned by John Kraft, Sr., and it was located on the site of the current Municipal Building.
John Kraft Sr., a cooper by trade, had migrated to America in 1833, establishing himself in Baltimore before making his way to Ohio a year later. In Galion, he erected a one-room log cabin, which served as both his residence and his workshop, where he diligently crafted buckets, tubs, barrels, and butter-tubs. By 1840, he had expanded his operations to include a tavern, the site of the historic theatrical performance.
Given the limited space of the tavern’s dining room, it had to be cleared and makeshift seats were fashioned by placing planks on chairs. The shortage of seating meant that children had to sit on the floor at the front. The play selected for this significant event was “The Babes in the Wood,” a popular pantomime subject rooted in an English children’s tale.
“The Babes in the Wood” is a poignant tale of two children who, abandoned in a forest, eventually perish and are covered with leaves by compassionate robins. It’s a story that had been reinterpreted in various forms over the centuries and often featured in Mother Goose rhymes. Around the same time as the Galion performance, Richard Barham included a spoof of the story in his Ingoldsby Legends, under the title of “The Babes in the Wood; or, the Norfolk Tragedy.”
The staging of “The Babes in the Wood” in Galion was not just an evening’s entertainment, but the beginning of a tradition carried on today at the Galion Community Theatre.
Each Saturday, we share a post about local history. We call this series “Galion History Corner,” and we will be sharing not only stories about our shared heritage but also updates on history news here in southeast Crawford County.
This series is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Bernard M. Mansfield, whose “Your Historical Galion” was a fixture in weekend editions of the Galion Inquirer. Dr. Mansfield was a friend and family physician, and he inspired the current generation of Galion historians to continue his work.
Source: 1912 History of Crawford County; Wikipedia