|Michigan DNR photos|
Fort Wilkins will host four three-day Living History camps this summer for Future Historians, ages 10 and up. The students will dress in period-appropriate clothing and assume the roles of actual people who, during the summer of 1870, lived in the village of Copper Harbor and at Fort Wilkins, a once-active U.S. Army post built to keep the peace in Michigan’s Copper Country.
“If you walk up and ask them about life back then, they’ll pretend they are living in the past,” said educator Barry James, who administers the program at Fort Wilkins. “They’ll be portraying regular activities – whether hauling water with a yoke, washing laundry, sweeping the interior of a cabin, grinding coffee, or just playing games of the times such as blind man’s buff, stick and hoop, or snap apple.”
“If the public wants to see these kids in action,” James said, “they’ll be there from about 10 in the morning until 5 in the afternoon.”
The Future Historians will be participating within the structure of the concurrent 10-week Living History program that’s been operating at Fort Wilkins since 1976. Costumed interpreters – who are seasonal employees of the Michigan Historical Center, which interprets history at Fort Wilkins – portray members of the garrison the last summer the fort was active.
Garrisoned by U.S. Infantry from 1844 to 1846 and again from 1867 to 1870, Fort Wilkins was abandoned by the military on Aug. 30, 1870.
According to James, one of the biggest challenges for the interpreters is to stay in the character and mindset of the mid-19th century.
“Everything they say is based upon solid research and fact,” he said. “Nothing is made up. Even the least bit of gossip is based upon military records and newspapers of the period.”
The Future Historians Living History camps are scheduled for July 11-13, July 24-26, Aug. 1-3 and Aug. 15-17.
The youth program dates back to 1992, said James, who took over the program in 1996 and has been building it ever since.
|Photo from flickriver/upnorthmemories.com|
Kids and history are clearly a good mix. James said recruiting for the program hasn’t been a challenge at all, and Fort Wilkins has never had to advertise for the youth volunteers.
“We started with 18 role players in 1992, and that doubled the following year. The program now averages about 50 students dressing in costume each summer,” he explained. “In the end, they get a great sense of ownership for this wonderful historic site.”
James said that Future Historians has really grown into its own word-of-mouth history club – whether it’s the kids taking the program back into their schools or just telling other people about it. Even with its current run of popularity, James said Future Historians is always on the lookout for new members.
“What’s better than youth teaching youth about history – the real stories of Michigan?” James asked.
A state park since 1923, Fort Wilkins has Michigan history woven throughout its exhibits and attractions. Long a popular resort for outdoor enthusiasts, the fort is a well-preserved example of mid-19th-century army life on the northern frontier. Nineteen buildings make up the site, 12 of them original structures dating from the 1840s. The reconstructed buildings are based on archaeological and historical research.
Through Fort Wilkins’ exhibits, audiovisual programs and living history interpretation, visitors can explore the daily routine of military service, experience with soldiers’ families the hardships of frontier isolation and discover the lifeways of another era.
“Our exhibits team decided we had a chance to make a much stronger first impression for guests upon entering the park,” said James. “These upgrades will make a huge difference.”
In addition, the fort’s orientation program – “Beyond the Wilderness: The Fort Wilkins Story” – will be upgraded to an HDVD film with flat-screen projection to help park visitors better envision life during Michigan’s Copper Rush.
The project is funded in part by a Keweenaw National Historical Park Advisory Commission grant ($7,500) and a match by the Department of Natural Resources’ Michigan Historical Center and the DNR Parks and Recreation Division.
Learn more about Fort Wilkins, a historic gem set against the beautiful backdrop of Lake Superior’s rugged shoreline, nearly 600 miles northwest of Detroit, at www.michigan.gov/ftwilkins.
Fort Wilkins Historic Complex is part of the Michigan Historical Center, an agency within the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. Its museum and archival programs help people discover, enjoy and find inspiration in their heritage. It includes the Michigan Historical Museum, 10 regional museums, Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary and Underwater Preserve, and the Archives of Michigan. Learn more at www.michigan.gov/michiganhistory.