“We’re still family, and we’re still having fun”: A Reenactor Remembers

As the days grow shorter and the first frost blooms, our thoughts at Locust Grove turn towards Christmastide, our annual holiday open house that celebrates the joy of the season with the warmth of friends, family, and the warmth of historical fireplaces. Our merry band of intrepid interpreters are preparing busily for this year’s event on December 4 and 5, and I can’t wait for you all to see what is in store! Many of our interpreters have been in the Costumed Interpreters Corps for years, and several have graciously agreed to share their memories and stories with our blog readers. Today, Sharron Hilbrecht recalls the changes to our interpretation program and her favorite parts of bringing history to life. Take it away, Sharron!

 

Sharron Hilbrecht as Fanny Fitzhugh, Christmastide 2014.  (Photo courtesy of Heather Hiner, Fox and Rose Photography.)

Sharron Hilbrecht as Fanny Fitzhugh, Christmastide 2014.
(Photo courtesy of Heather Hiner, Fox and Rose Photography.)

I finally knew I had made it one afternoon about 5 years after I started re-enacting at Locust Grove. I had a room full of school children who had come to visit during the anniversary of the Voyage of Discovery. I was in the Grand Parlor sharing the story of Fanny Fitzhugh and how she and her family felt when William came home from the West.

“We cried!” I said. “We were so relieved! We didn’t know if he was dead or alive, and when we found out he was alive, well, you should have seen us whooping and hollering! We couldn’t wait to see him walk through the door.”

“How long was he gone?” one student asked.

“Three long years,” I replied.

“How did you know he was safe?” asked another.

“We got word from a messenger,” I said. “We weren’t sure when he would arrive back in Louisville, but we were just excited that he was alive!”

More questions followed. The whole time, a young boy watched me intently. He raised his hand for a question.

“Um…When did you say you were born?” he asked tentatively.

“I was born in 1773,” I replied.

I could see the math wheels turning in his head…2006 minus 1773…His eyes grew wide. “Wow,” he whispered in awe, “you look really good for your age!”

Sharron Hilbrecht with Cheryl Adkisson and Sue Rogers.

Sharron Hilbrecht with Cheryl Adkisson and Sue Rogers. (Photo courtesy of Sharron Hilbrecht.) 

I started reenacting in 2000, missing only two years during that time; one for the birth of my daughter and another year when my schedule prevented me from participating. I’ve played Diana Gwathmey Bulitt, Sarah Hite Pearce, and most recently Frances Clark O’Fallon Thruston Fitzhugh, who is by far the most interesting one of the three. I’ve devoted countless hours to research, learning about the Clark and Croghan families and all the extended relatives who belong to them, and just recently discovered a letter written by Fanny to her son, Benjamin, about her other son, John. I’ve refined my sewing skills, and over 16 years, I’ve gone from a borrowed green corduroy gown to a Regency-esque dress of muslin covered with polyester sheer curtain fabric to a period correct ball gown of silk complete with a matching turban and feathers. All in all, I’ve made 10 dresses over the years, some more successful than others, but all to the best of my knowledge at the time. I currently have enough fabric in my stash for 3 more dresses, but don’t tell my husband!

I’ve appeared as Fanny at local schools learning about Kentucky history. I’ve been on hand at weddings, both real and pretend, fundraisers, market fairs and antiques markets. I’ve been around for Fourths of July and welcomed home the Corps of Discovery. I’ve had all three of my children participate with me as members of the Clark and Croghan families, and I’ve watched them learn the love of history by living it. I’ve connected over the years with my fellow reenactors, and they have become an extended family to me and my children. I have developed a passion for Locust Grove and the people who lived there that far surpasses anything I ever thought I’d feel when Dan Klinck asked me in 1998 if I’d be interested in helping plan the 250th birthday celebration of George Rogers Clark. It was there that I met Martin Schmidt and Jennifer Jansen, who both encouraged me to join the reenacting family. I am so glad I did!

Sharron with her son, Kyle, as Edmund Croghan, and friend and mentor Martin Schmidt in 2004.

Sharron with her son, Kyle, as Edmund Croghan, and friend and mentor Martin Schmidt in 2004. (Photo courtesy of Sharron Hilbrecht.) 

Reenacting has changed a great deal over the last 16 years. People have moved on. Some of our family have died: Maggie the Cook, Peggy Chenoweth, our beloved William Croghan. Some have grown up and gone to college: the first Charles and Nicholas (actual twins!), Ann and Eliza, most recently Michael and Kaitlyn Adkisson and Julia Bache, as well as so many others who are too numerous to mention. Each departure leaves a hole in our family that is hard to fill, and I grieve their loss, for they are truly part of our family.

Kyle and Claire Hilbrecht 2005

Sharron’s real-life children have also served as interpreters! Here are Kyle and Claire in 2005. (Photo courtesy of Sharron Hilbrecht.) 

Claire and Emily Hilbrecht 2010

Sharron’s daughters, Claire and Emily, in 2010. (Photo courtesy of Sharron Hilbrecht.)

Our clothing standards have improved, as mentioned above. When my son first started, his tailcoat came from the costume stash upstairs, which had come from a Sam Meyers fire sale. Today, we use period correct fabrics and patterns, and I will say, we look pretty amazing! A far cry from Sam Meyers!

Sharron mends a torn ruffle as Fanny Fitzhugh. Currently, she and many members of the cast sew their own period clothing for their roles. (Photo courtesy of Heather Hiner, Fox and Rose Photography.)

Sharron mends a torn ruffle as Fanny Fitzhugh. Currently, she and many members of the cast sew their own period clothing for their roles. (Photo courtesy of Heather Hiner, Fox and Rose Photography.)

It’s been hard to change as we up the standards of interpretation. I liked how we did things and the way we made room for all the important family members, even if they were probably living in St. Louis at the time. We tend to think of history as cut and dry: This is what happened, and that’s the way it was. I was comfortable with what I knew and I was good at it and it was easy. I didn’t want to admit that what we know to be true may not actually be so. An uncovered letter here or a missed footnote in a research paper there can change the facts and put a new spin on reality.

But we are better now. We have learned that to teach history, we have to continually examine the past, to look for clues to prove what we think is right is actually right. History is messy. It’s inconvenient. It’s ever-changing, and that’s hard for people to reconcile with what they learned in school.

Yes, a lot has changed in 16 years, but we are still family. We are still having fun. And we still look good, even at 242.

The 2014 cast of Christmastide! Stay tuned for more from the 2015 cast! (Photo courtesy of Heather Hiner, Fox and Rose Photography.)

The 2014 cast of Christmastide! Stay tuned for more from the 2015 cast! (Photo courtesy of Heather Hiner, Fox and Rose Photography.)

We’re going to Kentucky, we’re going to the Fair: A Weekend at Locust Grove’s Market Fair

Fall is one of the best times of year to visit Locust Grove, so what better way to see the house and grounds than during the lively festivities of Market Fair! This year’s event was a tremendous success, full of wonderful performances, engaging demonstrations, dozens of vendors of all sorts of foods and goods, and of course, the faces of our friends who came out to the fair! Here are some of the highlights from the weekend.

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My favorite part of Market Fair is seeing the site come alive with the stories from the past and the people in the present who interpret those stories. It’s especially fun when Locust Grove plays host to animals! Spinner and Weaver Peggy from Loom Hall borrowed three sheep and brought them with her! I spent a lot of my weekend making friends with Juniper, Llama, and Cotton.

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Good morning sheep!

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An animated discussion about wool.

Wool at Loom Hall.

Wool at Loom Hall.

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Peggy was happy to talk wool, sheep, spinning, and looms to visitors.

Another new addition to Market Fair was an 18th century pony cart! Candy trotted Mattie the pony around the fair, cheering everyone up with the sound of the cart’s bells!

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Candy and Mattie pause during artillery demonstrations.

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Spot Candy and Mattie in this picture!

Crown Point Bread Company joined us again from New York, and brought along Carver, the resident bread dog. However, Carver was more interested in the wares of His Lordship’s Beef than bread and made every effort to befriend Steve and his team throughout the weekend.

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“Come on Steve, just one tiny taste?”

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Meat roasts at His Lordship’s Beef

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Carver’s human, Yannig, sold delicious rolls, loaves, and cookies, and always had long lines.

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The crew of His Lordship’s Beef!

For many people, Market Fair is a kind of family reunion, a time to spend time with friends and fellow reenactors from all over the country. Blacksmith Aubrey Williams came from Terre Haute, Indiana for the weekend, and shared a booth with Jim Carr, from the Hikes Point neighborhood of Louisville. Williams has been coming to Market Fair for about ten years, and enjoys demonstrating his forge to visitors, remarking that “people like you to make things.” Carr works in IT when not in the forge and got hooked on reliving history after visiting Market Fair a few years ago.

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Jim and Aubrey are truly talented smiths.

Silas Moore the Rat Catcher brought his apprentice (and grandson) Roscoe to Market Fair this year.

Silas Moore the Rat Catcher brought his apprentice (and grandson) Roscoe to Market Fair this year.

By day, Nathanael Logsdon is the director of Historic Tunnel Mill, and the proprietor of Taylor Rose Historical Outfitters. During Market Fair, he brewed my favorite beverage, coffee, along with tea and chocolate, as Hellringer and Kurtz. (The Kentucky Bourbon Pecan blend was delicious!)

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Nathanael was joined by his family and a giant copper coffee pot!

I also met a group of folks with another connection to George Rogers Clark–Barbara Lemmons and Gary, Liz, and Kyra Williams from Evansville, Indiana. Their home historic site is George Rogers Clark National Historical Park in Vincennes, and they enjoy coming down to Louisville to further celebrate the past and George Rogers Clark. As Gary, a graphic designer, said “George Rogers Clark was a very real person”, and learning more about him and other like him is one of the best part of reenacting. Kyra has been a reenactor her whole life–24 years, one month, and three weeks as of Market Fair!–and along with her mom, Liz, counts the shopping and the people as her favorite part of the event. My favorite part? Barbara’s ginger cookies.

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Gary, Kyra, Barbara, and Liz are Market Fair veterans!

Joining us once again all the way from Wisconsin were the Amazing Budabi Brother, Nick and Erik. According to Erik, they grew up as Amish gypsies, and were raised as ninjas. Put differently by Nick, they were born into reenacting and trained horses and oxen until they learned to juggle as teenagers to help them get girls. They quickly learned that jokes and fire make for a better show, and audiences seem to agree! What should we expect from the Budabis at next year’s Market Fair? “Elephants.”

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Erik often gets called Aladdin. Someone once told Nick he looked like the Hamburglar.

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We also had some wonderful musical performances by Jonathan Hagee the balladeer and Jack Salt and the Captain’s Daughter! You can go to our YouTube channel and check out some song snippets from these talented performers.

Market Fair wasn’t always pleasant, however. Some Patriot gentlemen began declaiming anti-British sentiments and reading aloud from Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, and brought out a dummy of the King. Two Loyalist gentlemen overheard, and the next thing anyone knew, the Regulars were on the move, and the Patriots were on the run.

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Mr. Paine has some interesting ideas.

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However, this Loyalist gentleman didn’t seem to appreciate them.

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Searching for those radical gentlemen.

Market Fair wouldn’t be complete without reenacting a few military drills and engagements.

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So, for one weekend, this old house rang with the sounds of forges and pony cart bells, cannon fire, sea chanteys, and good friends meeting old friends. What a lovely end to October–we can’t wait until next year! We love knowing what you thought of your historical experiences, so please share your stories and pictures with us, here on the blog in the comments section, or on Facebook. We certainly hope to see you again soon–for Christmastide! Thank you for spending time with us this autumn!

With sincere good wishes,

Hannah

 

 

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P.S. Check out even more photos from Market Fair below!

Additional photographs provided by Jeannie Vezeau, Gail Thompson, and Bob Boone.