Historic reenactment at Metropolis, Illinois
Saturday, Dennis and I traveled back in time a couple of centuries. We went with the kids to The Encampment, a historic reenactment at Fort Massac State Park, along the Ohio River in southern Illinois. This annual event draws thousands of people to enjoy costumes, music, demonstrations, merchandise, and food from the period of 1757-1815.
The weather was blustery. Sometimes, rainclouds covered the sky. Occasionally, the clouds parted and bright rays of sunshine broke through. A cold, damp wind blew all day. Over lighter layers, I wore a long cloak that I made several years ago for medieval reenactments. It has a warm "wooly" lining and a hood, so I was comfortable and only a century or two out of style.
We had an interesting chat with a shepherd in colonial garb: Steve Riddle, who raises Border Leicester sheep at his farm in Worden, Illinois. Outside the pen, he had tethered a friendly, docile sheep for passersby to pet, and he was standing by to supervise.
Riddle explained to us that Border Leicester sheep originate from the border regions of England and Scotland. Border Leicester wool is a favorite of hand spinners because of its long, silky fibers. "Leicester" is usually pronounced "Lester" in modern America, Riddle said, but it is pronounced with a long "i" on the other side of the Atlantic.
The shepherd's wife, Tracy Riddle, spins and dyes the wool. I bought a little tin of amaretto-flavored lip balm at her tent. The main ingredient is lanolin, a byproduct of wool processing.
Later we saw the shepherd and his border collie taking the sheep across the grounds. I think he and his dog were on their way to give a demonstration with the sheep.
Keely and I enjoyed the bobbin-lace demonstration of the Heartland Lace Guild. In bobbin lace, the threads are wound around small wooden rod-like bobbins, and the pattern is created by crossing and twisting the threads.
As each new row of the lace is created, it is spiked by pins to a paper pattern on a padded form to keep the lace straight and even. This pattern has 28 bobbins, and the lace is about 1-1/2 inches wide. I'll post more images of the lace-making in another article.
Mother Goose was entertaining a crowd nearby. She told the stories behind some common nursery rhymes and invited her audience to chant the rhymes with her. Her drum provided accent, rhythm, and humor as needed. The tent behind her held some of the puppets and other props she uses in her presentation.
I looked for lavender oil at a tent of herbal products. It was available in a miniature corked bottle of pure oil, and the carrier oil was available separately. The combination of herbal oil and carrier oil added to a greater sum than I wanted to spend, so we wandered on.
A company of redcoats walked by us. I'll bet their legs were cold under those kilts! They may have been on their way to do a demonstration, too. A lot was happening, and we couldn't see it all.
I seem to have more photographs of men in colonial garb than of ladies. Many ladies were dressed in costumes of the period, but most were also wearing cloaks or shawls. The guys were not as covered up -- and those red coats were very eye-catching.
The millinery tent was interesting. It would be fun to have a few outfits from this period, just so I could wear the hats and bonnets.
The simple felt hats in the image above (right) would be suitable for someone who wants to portray a laborer or farmer of the late 1700s/early 1800s. Sheepskins (chamois) are piled to the left of the hats.
The merchant under the "no allegiance sign and the fellow he is talking to are both wearing another style of garb that was popular at the Encampment. These garments are made of heavy, canvas-like fabrics and edges are fringed to serve as a trim. I was told that this detail is authentic to the time period. Merchants, fur traders, hunters, trappers, and frontiersmen were all wearing clothing of this sort. If anyone was wearing genuine buckskin, I didn't see him.
Native Americans were represented by several fearsome warriors. The fellow in gray had a nose piercing that enhanced his warrior personna. Later, I saw him talking to a toddler in a baby carriage who seemed to be his child, so he might have a softer side as well.
Some of the vendors were selling weapons that were more or less from the Colonial era. I saw bows and arrows, swords, knives, spears, staffs and canes. I don't know if any vendors were selling reproduction guns from the era or not. Some of tents were extremely crowded with men and boys, and I wasn't curious enough to push my way through.
The wooden boxes in the photo below are intended for reenactors. A close look reveals that modern screws and nails were used in their construction, but they pass the six-foot rule. (They're authentic enough that they look good from a six foot distance.)
Some shelters were empty. I suspect that some of the demonstrations decided to stay home. They may have been intimidated by the cool, blustery weather and the muddy condition of the park. This photo was taken at one of the day's sunny moments.
A spinstress (a lady who spins) was working in one of the shelters at the end of the row. I had never seen a spinning wheel in use before, so I was interested to see that the big wheel is actually one end of a pulley.
The spinstress held a small clump of wool in her lap and pedaled the wheel with her feet as she pulled and rolled the fibers into a string with her fingers. As the wheel turned, it rotated a mechanism that twisted the string of wool (to add strength and keep it together) and wound the twisted yarn on a bobbin. When the bobbin is full, the spinstress will wind the yarn into a ball or skein. Then the bobbin can be filled again.
Why, who's this in spectacles? Yes, it's Isaac in his furry aviator cap and a new set of colonial-style eyeglasses.
One of the Scout troops from the area was selling buffalo stew and buffalo chili, served in bread bowls. That sounded hearty and warming, so we got in line and soon had our food in hand. The food vendors were set up around the perimeters of a large paved area with picnic tables. If we had not decided on buffalo, we might have had roast turkey legs, roasted corn on the cob, kettle-style popcorn, wild rice soup, or fried cabbage.
Root beer is one of the traditions of the Encampment. The glass root beer bottles and jugs are non-returnable, but reusable. When you bring the containers back, you pay only for the root beer. Keely and Taurus have their own jugs from other years which they brought along. They gave us a little taste of their root beer. It is not a carbonated drink. The flavor was intense and familiar. It made me think that I hadn't tasted that kind of root beer for a long time.
The rain soon stopped, but we all agreed that we were ready to go We took the little tractor-drawn trolley back to the parking lot, enjoying one last look around the park as we rode. Isaac's first words when he got into our car were, "It's so warm in here!"
Would we go again? Absolutely yes! Even though it was cold, we had a great time. I've only told a few of the things we saw and heard. Even Dennis, who is notorious for wanting to stay at home, stated that he thoroughly enjoyed the day and wanted to attend again. I foresee this becoming an annual October excursion for us.