Charles County’s Matthew Henson is among 3 notable figures to be portrayed

Chautauqua 2019: Making Waves

Matthew Henson, the namesake of one of Charles County’s middle schools, will be the first of three historical figures portrayed this summer in the Maryland Humanities Chautauqua series, presented at the College of Southern Maryland’s La Plata Campus.

Chautauqua brings people from the past to life on stage every July with free performances in CSM’s Fine Arts Center, in the Brad and Linda Gottfried Theater. Chautauqua’s theme in its 25th year is “Making Waves,” exploring how water has shaped history. Celebrated historical figures in this year’s line-up have “navigated ice, waves, and the depths below,” according to the Maryland Humanities website.

The three historical figures this year are Henson, Jacques Cousteau and Grace O’Malley. Henson’s portrayer will be on stage July 9; Cousteau will be July 10; and O’Malley will be July 11. All performances will begin at 6:45 p.m. and will be held in the Fine Arts Center (FA) Theater.

Henson, who was born in 1866 in Nanjemoy and died in 1955, accomplished many feats as a polar explorer, craftsman and author. Charles County’s Matthew A. Henson Middle School was named in his honor in 1969. Described as a co-discoverer of the North Pole, Henson may have been one of the first men to reach the North Pole April 6, 1909, along with Admiral Robert Edwin Peary and four Inuit men. According to National Geographic, Henson, as the dogsled driver, was the first to reach the actual site. The Charles County Public Schools reports that eventually Henson toured the United States lecturing on his adventures and wrote a book titled, “A Negro Explorer at the North Pole.”

Keith Henley, the actor portraying Henson for Chautauqua, will give a first-person account of Henson’s life and adventures. Henley is also a historic interpreter, studying and portraying specific individuals from history in various venues. Past performances have included Henry Box Brown, George Washington Carver, Langston Hughes, Sergeant Henry Johnson, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the American Historical Theatre in Philadelphia, as well as Chautauqua performances here and in Colorado, Delaware, South Carolina and Arkansas.

Oceanographer, filmmaker and scientist Jacques Cousteau will be portrayed by independent scholar Doug Mishler. Cousteau is best known for his invention of the aqua lung, which helped his deep sea explorations and made longer deep-sea dives possible. Mishler is a veteran Chautauquan. Since 1995, Mishler has appeared at the Maryland Chautauqua as P.T. Barnum, Theodore Roosevelt, William Lloyd Garrison, Henry Ford, Upton Sinclair and George Wallace. He also portrays Ernie Pyle, Billy Sunday, William Clark, Andrew Carnegie, Andrew Jackson, Edward R. Murrow and Thomas Hart Benton. Mishler has a Ph.D. in American cultural history from the University of Nevada, Reno.

Grace O’Malley was a 16th-century Irish Pirate Queen, who commanded ships, men, and the respect of Queen Elizabeth I. The actress portraying her is Mary Ann Jung, who has won numerous awards for her work and specializes in interactive history.  Jung has been a lead actress and director of renaissance history and Shakespearean language at the Maryland Renaissance Festival for more than 30 years and her history performances include Julia Child, Clara Barton, Mistress Margaret Brent, Rosalie of Riversdale, Amelia Earhart, Good Queen Bess and Rosie the Riveter. She received her bachelor of arts in British history from the University of Maryland.

Chautauqua is presented by Maryland Humanities in partnership with College of Southern Maryland with support from Old Line Bank. For information on Chautauqua at CSM, visit

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