Reenactors bring 18th-century lifestyle to Fort Ligonier Days
By Nicole Chynoweth
Published: Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Saturday marks 255 years since the Battle of Fort Ligonier.
As Fort Ligonier Days commemorates the battle throughout the weekend, the fort will offer an array of entertainment with an 18th century-theme.
Fort Ligonier will welcome more than 100 British, French and Native American troops, as well as a blacksmith demonstrator, bread-baking demonstrators and Gen. George Washington.
“Fort Ligonier is the reason Fort Days exists,” said Annie Urban Fort Ligonier executive director.
To commence the history-filled celebration, George Washington, portrayed by Mt. Vernon's official interpreter, Dean Malissa, will appear at the festival's opening ceremonies on the Ligonier Diamond. He will be interviewed, in character, by Ligonier writer, editor, Fort Ligonier Days committee member and Fort Ligonier trustee Ralph Kinney Bennett at 12:15 p.m.
Bennett said the interview will focus on Washington's experiences and impressions as an officer in Ligonier in 1758, as well as his near-death experience in a fire fight close to the fort and his command of troops in the battle against French forces at Fort Duquesne.
“Some of the most profound experiences of Washington's life and experiences that affected him for the rest of his life occurred during the French and Indian War,” Bennett said.
Malissa will take questions from visitors regarding Washington and offer information about the founding father's time in Western Pennsylvania during the French and Indian War at 12:30 to 3:30 p.m. at the fort.
“I love portraying Washington at Fort Ligonier,” Malissa said. “That particular venue is a world-class venue in my opinion.”
He will also appear in Saturday's parade.
Malissa, who refers to himself as a “curious mix of 50 percent actor and 50 percent scholar,” spends countless hours studying Washington's life and various aspects of that particular time in history, such as architecture, engineering, farming, fishing, canal building, land management, world governments and even distilling whiskey.
“I have to know what his life was, his opinions, his world view,” Malissa said.
Malissa said Fort Ligonier was a central location of the French and Indian War, a “direct causation” of the American Revolutionary War.
He believes hearing stories associated with Washington and the founding fathers can benefit listeners.
“In this day and age, we as American citizens so desperately want to believe in our government and leaders again — we're having a really hard time doing it,” he said. “We all need to remember the stories, the soldiers that served Washington, the camp followers that served in the armies and the settlers in Western Pennsylvania. They were cogs in that great wheel that is the story.”
Another Fort Days participant invested in sharing the story of the 18th century is Ed Tutino of Shaler, who will conduct bread-baking demonstrations at the fort with his wife, Judy, on Saturday and Sunday.
“This is our first year at Fort Days doing the baking,” he said. “I have been a reenactor there for a number of years. This is the first year we get to run the oven.”
The couple have been reenactors for about 20 years, raising three daughters along the way. Tutino said they started bread-baking as a way to feed the children and keep them occupied.
This year, the Tutinos will utilize the fort's field oven, built of river clay, sand and straw. Fort Ligonier is one of a few sites that have field ovens available, Tutino said.
Tutino, who owns a collection of more than 30 reprints of 18th-century cookbooks, said he likes to dismiss a common misconception regarding 18th-century food during his demonstrations.
“People think of those foods as just smoked and dried foods,” he said. “I like to prove that they weren't. People actually ate pretty good food. On the frontier, you might have eaten lesser of a meal, but people in the cities ate pretty well.”
Tutino said he appreciates the opportunity to talk with visitors.
“We really don't want to forget our history,” he said.
Visitors will also have the opportunity to observe full-time blacksmith Jymm Hoffman of Ambridge executing his craft, with his assistants Bob and Tracy Stone, on Saturday and Sunday at the fort.
“I normally make hooks or nails, simple items that I can make pretty quickly,” Hoffman said.
A longtime reenactor and blacksmith, Hoffman belongs to numerous blacksmith associations and creates a variety of items out his Ambridge workshop, such as cooking utensils, lighting devices and tools.
As a volunteer at the fort for many years, Hoffman produced iron work for its buildings, cannons, wagons and rolling stock. He likes visiting Fort Ligonier because it is an “original historic site.”
“The site has taken great care in reproducing things as historically correct as possible,” he said. “I think it's very important that we learn our history so that hopefully we can avoid repeating the same mistakes, and it's a lot of fun.”
Like Tutino, Hoffman hopes to debunk misconceptions about the time period.
“As far as blacksmithing, there's a whole lot more to it than people realize,” he said. “Blacksmiths did a huge variety of work in the 18th century.”
In addition to the informative demonstrations and Washington's appearance, there will be artillery demonstrations at 1:30 and 3:30 p.m. and battle reenactments at 2 and 4 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, weather permitting, Urban said. She said there will be additional living history activities, such as a “Meet the Soldier” program, Divine Services on Sunday morning and a court martial reenactment.
For more information, visit www.fortligonier.org or call 724-238-9701.
Nicole Chynoweth is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-850-2862 or email@example.com.
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