Historical Memory

We are on our last day or two of vacation; we will be back to work as usual on Monday. (Well, I will.  My professor husband will continue to be a gentleman farmer/scholar for another month or so before the fall semester begins.)  We, however, are making our way back to our home in the Midwest, stopping for a day or so in the town in which I grew up.  I grew up a stones throw from an historical fort, Fort Niagara.   When I was a kid, my siblings and I could climb on our bikes and ride over to the Fort to go for a swim, or play soccer (There is an extensive summer and travel soccer league that is housed at the state park).  There was a distinction between the Fort and Old Fort Niagara.  One we could enter for free (as long as we were not driving) and the other had an admission fee and was a historically preserved to the eighteenth century British military fort.  The entire state park was an active military fort up through World War II (when it housed German POWs), but for my historical memory, it was always just that park by the Niagara River and Lake Ontario where we would go swim and play.  One of my favorite things to do when I come for a visit is take a walk through the park along what they are calling a “nature walk.”  Basically, it was a drive into the Fort that is no longer open to cars.  It is a lovely wooded avenue that overlooks the Niagara River.  You can see more of the State Park here.

I became more aware of its historical significance when I began working there as a teenager.  I wish I could say I got to be an Interpreter at Old Fort Niagara, but alas no, I worked in the Trading Post, or the gift shop.  The cool jobs were the Interpreters, but the majority of those were occupied by men and high school boys.  They were the reenactors who dressed as Kings 8th Regiment of Foot (basically the Red Coats).  There were a couple other military positions occupied by tour guides, but again, I was not one of them.  The only positions women “interpret” were the cooks and those were coveted positions that a sixteen year old high school girl did not get.  Despite the presence of all the tourists (they do get in the way, all those people), the best part of working for the Fort were the reenactments.  While the fort is preserved to the eighteenth century British occupation, there has always been an effort to include the French and American possession, as well as respect the Native American presence at the fort.  From the Trading Post, my coworkers and I could get glimpses of the Fife and Drum, War of 1812, and my personal favorite, French and Indian War reenactments.  Say what one will about reenactments (and as a professional historian, I have heard them all), they can be awesome to observe.  The people who participate in them take what they do very seriously and they are exceptionally well-versed in the period and historical figures that they, well, reenact.  History literally came alive for me as I watched the siege of Fort Niagara in 1759.  (I also got a kick out of seeing the reenactors in town in historical attire attending Mass or going to the drug store.)

This morning, I took a stroll through the Fort along the “nature walk” towards the historic Fort.  I passed the old Officers Quarters and neared the old cemetery. As I approached the drive toward the Old Fort, I saw the tents of the reenactors (historic ones of course) and their early-morning campfires.  This weekend is the French and Indian War Encampment.  It tickled my nostalgic heart to see this camp site, right across the street from a handful of soccer fields.  A little bit of historical memory for me.

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