'George Washington' among attractions at Fort Ligonier Days
It's been 254 years since George Washington visited Fort Ligonier. He'll make an encore visit next weekend in the form of actor Dean Malissa, the country's foremost George Washington historical interpreter.
The actor, who portrays the founding father at Mt. Vernon and in numerous film productions, will participate in the opening ceremonies of Fort Ligonier Days at noon Friday. He will then spend the afternoon at the fort, where he will pose for photos and speak informally to visitors about Washington and his life.
“It's a very engaging session for the people who come through here,” says Annie Urban, director of operations at Fort Ligonier. “You really think that he is George Washington.”
On Saturday morning, the actor will take part in the parade down Main Street. Other highlights of the two-hour parade include the U.S. Marine Band, the Penn State Blue Band, Shriners, equestrian units, local high school bands and floats.
Along with Malissa's appearance, activities at the fort include more than 100 living history re-enactors portraying frontier men and women, Native Americans, French and British troops, musicians and Highlanders. The Battle of Fort Ligonier will be re-enacted at 2 and 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Fort Ligonier Days was founded to commemorate the battle, a key engagement of the French and Indian War. More than 100,000 people are expected to attend the three-day event.
“Fort Ligonier Days occurs because of what happened at Fort Ligonier,” Urban says. “We hope that people coming for the weekend will make time to visit the fort.”
Aside from the historical activities, the festival is best known for its vast selection of fine quality crafts. This year, a bumper crop of 173 craft booths will be divided among four lots, with a free shuttle bus running a loop between them. Shoppers also will enjoy the sidewalk sales offered by area merchants.
Activities for children will be available at Kids' Corner in the side yard of the YMCA on West Church Street. Kids can jump in the bounce house, try their skills on the climbing wall and ropes course, have their faces painted, make various art projects and meet Miss Teen USA.
Twenty-eight food booths will supply something for every taste, from freshly made peanut butter to quesadillas, Transylvanian goulash, crab cakes, tacos, gyros, haluski, peirogies, hot sandwiches, chocolate and funnel cakes. Area churches and the VFW will offer sit-down meals.
Throughout the weekend, festival visitors can enjoy free concerts by The Stickers, Neon Swing X-perience, Girlz in Black Hats, The Crawdaddies, Full Kilt and others. Saturday's highlight will be an oldies street dance with music by Jimmy Ross & The Jaggerz, followed by fireworks at 8:45 p.m. The festival closes with a traditional carillon concert Sunday evening.
Shuttle buses will transport visitors from Ligonier Valley High School and Laurel Valley Golf Club to the festival area. Parking is $5 in each lot.
Holly Mowrey, the new director of the Ligonier Chamber of Commerce and co-chair of Fort Ligonier Days, is looking forward to upholding the festival tradition. Although Mowrey is new to her job, she is not new to the festival.
“I don't think I've missed one in 30 years,” she says. “I'll just be participating from the other side this year, and still enjoying it.”
Cynthia Bombach Helzel is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.