Louise Duncan tells stories at Red House Interpretive Center

Sunday, May 25, 2008
FRED LYNCH ~ flynch@semissourian.com Louise Duncan talked about growing up near Dutchtown during storytelling Saturday at the Red House Interpretive Center.

Louise Duncan's favorite story to tell is about her experience as a child with Santa Claus or, as she knew him, "Kriss."

"When we were doing something outside and didn't come in the house when we were told to come in, Kriss would show up at the window upstairs and bang on the window, 'Hey, little girl, didn't your mommy tell you to come in the house.' And, of course, I would throw everything down and take off for the house."

Duncan explained that she was terrified of clowns and, in particular, Santa Claus, and that whenever she did something bad, one of her parents would dress up as Kriss Kringle and come to the window to scare her into being good.

"I suppose I was 8 or 9 years old before I found out who Kriss was," Duncan said.

More than a dozen people appeared on the porch of the Red House Interpretive Center on Saturday to hear that story and many others from Louise Duncan's 79 years of life experiences in the Cape Girardeau area.

A local storyteller and an exhorter at her church, St. James AME on North Street, Duncan is a well-known and well-respected figure in Cape Girardeau's black community, according to Dr. Frank Nickell, the director of the Center for Regional History. She has a deep, "rich" voice for storytelling, Nickell said.

Nickell, who has encouraged Duncan to be more active in sharing her life experiences with the community, finds that she has a unique perspective on the history of the area.

"She's a treasure," he said. "She's a very bright person who's got character, personality."

Duncan began the event by describing her formative years on a farm outside of Dutchtown where she grew up.

"Growing up on a farm, there's always something to do," she said. "You had to milk the cow, which I hated."

Duncan became the most emotional in her story-telling when she described the all-black cemetery, Shady Grove Cemetery, near Dutchtown, and when she described what her family told her about lynchings.

"'You would have thought that people were going to a picnic on the day of a hanging,'" said Duncan, who relayed the observations of her aunt when she was a girl.

Duncan did not link her stories by any common thread or with chronology. She said, "Well, that's about it," several times before she actually finished; but her audience followed her with the occasional chuckle and repeatedly asked her for more.

The event concluded with questions from the attendees about Duncan's experiences with making pound cake and her famous skills with an iron.

"She's a master ironer," Nickell said. "I can't imagine anyone liking ironing, but Louise does."

The event was part of African-American Month at the Red House and was held in conjunction with an historical re-enactment of fur-trapping by Lucas Beine of Jackson. It was the second year that Duncan had appeared on the Red House porch to tell her stories.

African-American Month is part of an effort by the Red House to attract and retain visitors. June will be French-Canadian month.

"We're just trying to create things that are different because people say they'd like to go to the Red House," said Jane Randol, former chairwoman of the board for the Red House.

The Red House is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. For tours and information on the summer schedule, contact the Convention and Visitors Bureau at 335-1631.

tthomas@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 197

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Louise Duncan tells her stories

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