National park’s father returns: Will Steele on stage at Crater Lake
Herald and News
Klamath Falls, Oregon
April 9, 2002
By LEE JUILLERAT
It had been a long time, but on Tuesday William Gladstone Steele, the “Father of Crater Lake National Park,” made a return visit to the place he helped to create.
Steele, whose 17-year effort to have Crater Lake designated as a national park proved successful on May 22, 1902, entertained park employees for more than an hour with tales of his life and the lake.
His appearance wasn’t made possible through the miracles of modern science, but through a one-man performance by Leslie Muchmore of the Actors’ Theatre in Talent.
The play, known as the Will Steele Drama, was commissioned by the Friends of Crater Lake and written by Don LaPlant for this year’s Crater Lake Centennial Celebration.
Tuesday’s performance, complicated because lights in the park community building occasionally flickered off and on, was a “world premiere” and served as a dress rehearsal for Muchmore and staff from the Actors’ Theatre.
The play officially opens Sunday night at the 2002 Governor’s Conference on Tourism at the Ross Ragland Theater. Sunday’s performance is limited to conference attendees, so the first viewing opportunity for most Klamath Basin people will be 7 p.m. Saturday, May 18, at Oregon Institute of Technology’s College Union auditorium.
“This was a valuable experience in helping to bring the play to a final product,” said Peter Alzado, the theater’s producing artistic director.
Muchmore, who will celebrate his 65th birthday on the park’s 100th birthday, has previously performed as Peter Britt, the Jacksonville photographer who took the first known photograph of the Crater Lake, and many other plays. He has also directed several plays and taught theater at several universities.
“Very forward, single-minded, tireless worker who couldn’t sit down until he did what he needed to do,” said Muchmore of Steele. “He was a force who moved people.”
Muchmore plays Steele as a harried 74-year-old “I am not absent minded, just very busy” who meets with an unseen University of Oregon student doing a paper on Steele and the park. Steele, who is passionate about Crater Lake and the park, is shocked at the student’s misunderstandings of the park history and the fact that his visitor has never visited Crater Lake.
“You will have to see it for yourself, and even then you might not believe it,” tells Steele. “Even after you’ve left it, you’re filled with reverence and awe.”
The play touches on some of Steele’s fabled idiosyncrasies, including his desire to create a road inside the caldera. The often humorous script features anecdotes about the lake, including use of a “blueing fluid” to create its fable azure color, is sprinkled with historical facts, including visits by such famed historic visitors as John Muir, Charles Lindbergh and William Jennings Bryan.
Following its performance on Sunday, the Will Steele Drama will be presented through the year in Oregon and Northern California to help promote this year’s Centennial.
Before Tuesday’s park presentation, Crater Lake Superintendent Chuck Lundy announced Jeld-Wen has donated $50,000 toward costs of producing the play. The Cow Creek Band of the Umpqua Tribe previously donated $5,000.
Regional Editor Lee Juillerat covers Lake, Siskiyou, Modoc and northern Klamath counties.