“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.)

Our Red-Haired Revolutionary: The Life and Times of George Rogers Clark

Welcome back to the Locust Grove Blog! Throwback Thursday seems like a grand time to talk about our favorite and most famous resident, General George Rogers Clark. GRC (as I’ll be abbreviating his very distinguished, but somewhat lengthy name) lived at Locust Grove from 1809 until his death in 1818. The “Our Red-Haired Revolutionary” series will focus on stories and facts about GRC that are a little more obscure and might not get mentioned on your tour of Locust Grove. But first, let’s see who we’re dealing with.

Well, hello there.

Well, hello there.

This image, of course, greets you as you walk into the Exhibit gallery at the Visitor’s Center. It’s been dubbed “Hollywood George” for obvious reasons. We have several different likenesses of GRC on the premises, but this is one of my favorites. It shows him in his prime, as he would have appeared during the American Revolution.

Some vital GRC statistics:

  • Born November 19, 1752 in Albemarle County, VA to John and Ann Rogers Clark. He was the second oldest of ten children, including Lucy Clark Croghan (7th of 10) and William Clark (9th of 10.)
  • Began a career as a surveyor in 1771 at the age of 19.
  • Built a fort on Corn Island in the Ohio River in 1778 , effectively founding the city of Louisville.
  • Also in 1778, he captured the British fort at Kaskaskia and Fort Sackville at Vincennes, IN, in what was then Illinois territory.
  • From 1782-1787, served as one of five Indian Commissioners for the Western territories.
  • Lived at Locust Grove from 1809 until his death on February 13, 1818.

Something I learned only recently about GRC was that in 1783, Thomas Jefferson, then governor of Virginia, asked George Rogers Clark  to explore the western United States. Of course, this was twenty years before the Louisiana Purchase and the Corps of Discovery expedition, headed by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, GRC’s younger brother. GRC would have been the perfect candidate for such an journey in 1783 , because of his recent, successful Illinois Campaign during the war, when he held Kaskaskia and Vincennes, and his position as Indian Commissioner of the Westward Territories. In 1791, Jefferson wrote of Clark, “No man alive rated him higher than I did […] We are made to hope he is engaged in writing the account of his Expedition North West of the Ohio; they will be valuable morsels of history, and will justify to the world those who have told them how great he was.” This is pretty high praise from possibly the most famous American red-haired revolutionary! It’s said that upon being informed of this remark, Clark began to weep.

If you’re looking to visit the site of GRC’s most famous victory, George Rogers Clark National Historical Park is located on the presumed site of Fort Sackville in Vincennes, Indiana. Or if you live in Louisville and you’re looking to pay homage little closer to home, George Rogers Clark Park is located on the site of the original Clark Family Homestead, Mulberry Hill. It’s a lovely spot for a picnic. But you know where else is the perfect place for a fall picnic? You guessed it–Locust Grove itself. We’ve got the picnic tables all set out for you. Come visit us soon! The Fall Antiques Fair is only 10 days away, so you can take home some treasures after you view ours.

Yours faithfully,

Hannah