Reenacting Season, 2012: Grant Park, Galena, IL

As I sit waiting for a Skype call from a prospective employer with 90s music playing in the background, I figured I’d begin an ongoing series about my reenacting events for the year. And, the first event of the year was…? The U.S. Grant Pilgrimage in Galena, IL this past weekend. Founded by Virginia Carroll and Ruth Turner in 1955, the Pilgrimage started as a week-long event which has since its inception brought thousands upon thousands of Boy Scout groups to Galena for over 50 years.

According to the event’s website, the theme for this year was “Through Perseverance, Victory”. Overall, this weekend saw thousands of people wander through the nearby Grant Park (right below the Grant House), interacting with just over a dozen military reenactors from the American War of Independence, the American Civil War, the French and Indian War, and the War of 1812 as well as a few different women from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Personally, this event was my first of the season. My close friend and I drove down Friday night and got to appreciate the beauty that penetrates the western part of Illinois. After we arrived at the park site, we spent a pleasant evening reacquainting ourselves with old friends and becoming quickly comfortable with new ones. It was nice to fall back into old habits relatively quickly, that of exchanging stories and extending conversation late into the night. Finally around midnight, Abby and I passed a cold and miserably wet night in this cabin:

Looks cozy, doesn’t it?

This cabin, originally built in 1851 and occupied until 1967, provided not only a shelter for the night but also a job early the next morning. Abby and I both ended up helping to interpret the cabin to not only the scouts but other tourists who ventured out into the rain as well. I remained in the cabin, huddled in a borrowed Continental wool coat, and briefed groups about the cabin’s history (though I had never seen it before), and depending on the group, other information such as the difference in women’s clothing between the Revolutionary and Civil Wars and the uses of various implements. It was a nice change of pace from previous events since I was doing interpreting of a historic site beyond just reenacting my own “Nell” persona. It wasn’t something I had done since I interned at a local historic farm, helping to conduct site tours.

After that, probably around 10:30-11am, the rain still had not dissipated. But I ventured outside to check on the rest of camp. Still huddled under my coat, I next manned an apothecarist’s stand, with all sorts of lovely medicinal tools and herbs. Here was another way of interpretation…all the while thinking on my feet. People came up to me and asked about the display, and at first I told them my friend would be right back. After a while and the affirmation said friend needed to warm up, I decided to divulge the little knowledge I had about medicine during that time period. I began with a discussion of the four humors then proceeded to talk about blood-letting and medical innovations which still proved relevant in today’s society. It served my purpose, and I found out (not for the first time) I need not have worried about the display; I knew more than most of the adults did.

And finally, my role progressed to my reenacting persona of Nell, the fun-loving tavern wench/”woman on the ration”/overall jolly companion to the soldiers, both Continental and British alike. To me, the most interesting part of the weekend was the variety of roles in which I found myself. If this had been a strictly AWI event (rather than a timeline one), I would have remained in character most of the time when interacting with the public. But, I was allowed a little more fluidity due to the small number of reenactors and my ever-evolving role at the time.

Needless to say, the highlight of the weekend came in going to an Italian restaurant in downtown Galena in period clothing. Yet again, people were either vastly amused or vastly interested in what we were doing. I’m sure the high school girls clothed in prom dresses felt very, very over-dressed when compared to the other women. Plus, the serenade of an accordion and other drunken conversations on the main street proved to be “music to the ears”. What a great weekend!

More photos from the event:

French and Indian Camp
View of camp
River in Galena
Grant’s house and surrounding buildings

Now, I’m not entirely sure of my next event, but I’ll keep you readers posted. As always, I appreciate any feedback, questions, comments, shares, etc. 🙂 Until next time!


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