Gary Moore has presented comical yet fascinating niche history lessons at Chautauqua Institution every summer since 2011. But this year, Moore’s lecture turned into an account of living history as the world lives through a near-dystopian era of scarcity in the wake of a pandemic. So, what is the topic?
Or, more specifically “The History of Toilette Paper,” set to premiere at 3:30 p.m. EDT Friday, Aug. 7, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform as a part of the Heritage Lecture Series. Moore decided on this topic one year ago, with no idea that spring 2020 would be stricken with a nationwide toilet paper shortage, sparked by mass panic-buying of household essentials as the near future was uncertain. Moore used this tidbit as a new, timely segment in his presentation.
“Basically, I had two parts to the presentation,” Moore said. “One was the history of toilet paper, and the second part was alternatives to toilet paper, and what people have used for centuries. (Now) I have a third (part) for the toilet paper shortage.”
Moore’s relationship with the Institution began in 2011, when he presented on the history of the outhouse. A mutual friend of Institution archivist Jon Schmitz and Moore suggested this presentation for a week on global health, since Moore already had a presentation on the subject from his days as an agriculture professor at North Carolina State University.
“The reason I have such a lecture is — before I retired from North Carolina State University, I taught a course on the history of agriculture. In that course, we would talk about various government programs in agriculture,” Moore said. “During the Great Depression, there were a whole bunch of programs that were enacted. … There was a program where the Works Progress Administration built outhouses. It put people to work and it improved rural health.”
The lecture was a hit. Moore has presented it at the Institution, and other regional Chautauquas, several times in the years following.
“What happens when I give the outhouse presentation — and I give it quite often — people ask me about toilet paper. ‘What did they use in the outhouse for toilet paper?’,” Moore said. “So I (told Schmitz last summer) I would like to do a presentation about toilet paper. We did not know at that time how timely this topic was going to be.”
With this presentation, Moore hopes to educate people while also inspiring them to laugh at the absurdity of life.
“I have two objectives. One is to educate people — part of my job as an educator (is that) I want them to realize we’re in a third toilet paper shortage (and) history tends to repeat itself,” Moore said. “Then, in this time of crisis, (I want people) to laugh (and) realize life is too short to take seriously. I want to educate people, but also entertain.”
Along with his lectures, Moore writes a blog called “The Friday Footnote,” for agriculture educators across the country. In researching for his blog, he said he will fall down rabbit holes and stories that fascinate him and inspire him to write a corresponding lecture. Most recently, his blog research has inspired him to work on lectures about the Rural Electrical Administration bringing electricity to rural and farming America during the Great Depression, and the Soil Conservation Service’s work in the Dust Bowl.
Moore said he continues these lectures, especially at the Institution, because teaching is his ultimate passion.
“I enjoy teaching. I was a university professor for 47 years. I just really love to teach and this is an opportunity to teach,” Moore said. “I enjoy interacting with the people and the atmosphere of Chautauqua is great. I do speak at other Chautauquas, and each one has its own unique personality.”
This series is made possible with a gift from Jeff Lutz and Cathy Nowosielski.