Experiencing the past through living history
By Leanna Haag
Learning and fun: What the History Center of Olmsted County’s fifth annual Living History Fair is all about. Boasting a past attendance of 2,100 guests, the event will take place from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on July 20 and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on July 21 on the History Center grounds on West Circle Drive SW. The fair offers families a memorable way to learn about history as they interact with period exhibits, live actors and hands-on activities designed to recreate iconic moments from the Civil War era.
In previous years, the Living History Fair spotlighted historical events from 1860 to 1863. To continue the chronological tradition, the theme for this year focuses on happenings in 1864.
Educational Programs Director Aaron Saterdalen explains that “living historians” will provide a large percentage of the historical information about this era. These present-day, dedicated volunteers will reenact roles from the period, answer questions and offer people a highly enjoyable and educational peek into the past. “This is their hobby,” Saterdalen says of the demonstrators. “(This is) something they have been doing for many, many years—something that they take time out of their day to do and at their own expense, as well.” The living historians will provide representations of both Confederate and Union infantry, artillery and cavalry.
Visitors will have the opportunity to watch a mock battle and can also participate in an authentic military drill supervised by a drill sergeant. Other attractions include period crafts such as broom making and fiber arts, demonstrations on the use of vintage tools, an 1864-style baseball game performed by the Rooster Vintage Baseball Club and much more.
WOMEN AT WAR
Saterdalen notes that several of the exhibits feature the contributions of Civil War women. “They were very involved with the war, whether it was from the home standpoint or actually physically involved with it,” he says.
Some women became nurses who aided doctors in caring for the sick and wounded streaming in from the battlefield. Others volunteered as part of the Soldiers’ Aid Society, which Saterdalen describes as an organization dedicated to providing basic supplies for soldiers. The members collected everything from knitted socks, shirts and food to simple pictures in order to send them to soldiers. “If (the women) weren’t involved with that,” the director continues, “then they were doing a lot of things on the home front—taking care of kids, taking care of the farm.”
Living historians will represent the women of 1864. See depictions of female presence by visiting the quilter, laundress, Soldiers’ Aid Society and homefront log cabin exhibits.
PLANNING A VISIT
As Saterdalen confirms, the fair makes learning about history fun and easy for guests of all ages, and planning a visit is just as simple. After purchasing a $10 admission ticket for all visitors over age 12, you will be able to park near the History Fair site and ride a people-mover to a fair checkpoint. Once there, Saterdalen recommends obtaining a site brochure. “The area that we have out here is large,” he warns, but the brochure will contain all the initial information—from a schedule of events to a site map—that visitors need to know.
Almost 95% of the fair takes place outdoors, so Saterdalen encourages families to bring whatever they need to make their visit as enjoyable and productive as possible. Suggestions include strollers for younger children, sunscreen or other protective gear, comfortable walking shoes and an umbrella in case of rain. More than anything, however, Saterdalen hopes that visitors bring open and willing minds. “(If visitors) come away with learning one or two things from their experience here, whether it’s through a hands-on experience or just by watching or seeing something, that would be a huge thing for what we are trying to accomplish out here.”
Leanna Haag is an intern writer for Rochester Women magazine and is a senior at Saint Mary’s University Minnesota.