Ted and I did something totally different on Wednesday night. We had been invited to attend “An Evening at Fort Mackinac”. The special event was open to the public, but as Mackinac Associate members, Ted and I could attend for free. We go to the fort a lot! We’re there usually once a week for lunch, I shop at Sutler’s Store at the fort, we’ve taken our grandchildren and children there, we attended the wine and cheese party for associate members, and of course there was Matthew’s special birthday flag ceremony. For us, becoming an associate member was well worth the nominal cost, and it paid for itself before we had been on the island two weeks.
The purpose of the evening was to give attendees an opportunity to see what life was like in the 1800’s for the soldiers and their families who lived inside the gates of the fort. We were divided into groups of 5-8 people, and we rotated through the various “stations” of fort life.
The first station our group was assigned was “Sentry Beat” atop the fort walls. We were issued our rifles, and our group took lower and upper positions on the fort wall. It was our duty to make sure we weren’t attacked, to make sure no soldiers tried to go AWOL downtown, and to make sure no fires broke out in the wooden structures. In the 1800’s, the threat of fire was always a serious concern, and water buckets were kept throughout the fort – just in case. At intervals, the sentries at the highest point would shout, “All is well!” Then we would shout, “All is well!” Then the head sentry would shout, “All’s well all around!”
Ted, being the eagle eye that he is, reported that a soldier was leaving the fort – probably heading downtown for some fun. The soldier was stopped, and he claimed he was just making sure the sentries were on the lookout. We doubted that story, but he was allowed to return to the fort.
Our next station was “Military Drill” on the Parade Ground. We were issued guns again, but these were a lot lighter than our sentry guns. The soldiers at the fort were drilled and marched on a regular basis to keep their skills intact. We were supposed to learn to “right march” and “left march” and “about face” and “right column right”, etc. I did not get a lot of pictures of this – mainly because I was laughing too hard to work the camera. We looked pretty hilarious!
The next station was “Afternoon Tea and Laundry” in the Officers’ Hill Quarters. We listened in on a conversation between two officers’ wives about the gossip around town in the 1800’s, including which soldier one of their servants was meeting after hours, who wasn’t wearing a hat with a brim wide enough to protect her face from getting tanned, and which servant had stolen a petticoat. In other words, gossip hasn’t changed a bit over the last 200 years.
We left the tea party and went back behind one of the officer’s homes where two servant girls were doing the family laundry. We learned that these girls also could pick up extra money by offering to wash the single soldiers’ dirty clothes. Washing in those days was quite a job and included beating the clothes with a wooden mallet and scrubbing dirty cuffs on a scrub board. Then the clothes were slung over the fence to dry.
Next was “Leisure Time” by the West Blockhouse. A soldier talked to us about the baseball team called the Never Sweats that was formed in the 1880’s. Playing baseball gave the soldiers something to enjoy, and they made trips to the mainland in the 1880’s to play other teams. The soldier’s wife showed us some of the simple games that the children on the island played during that time period. Sports! Games! They had said the magic words to Ted!
Next we visited another soldier’s wife in the Officers’ Stone Quarters who was mending her children’s clothes. She talked about how wonderful the post was in the summer with all the space and exciting adventures for the children. She also spoke of the hard winters and how lonely the post was during those times, with no visitors coming and going.
Our last stop was a visit to the Post Canteen, where in the 1800’s beer was $.05 a glass. It was funny, I thought, that the soldier that was telling us about the fun to be had at the Canteen was the same one Ted had “caught” leaving the fort earlier.
The entire group had a wonderful evening, and next year the park plans to continue this event.
I had to notice, as we were going from station to station, the marvelous views that the soldiers then – and the tourists now – have from inside the fort. It is one of my favorite places on the island – maybe that’s why we spend so much time here. I had never been up there that late in the evening though, so I took a few pictures from a few different vantage points. I hope you enjoy!