Gray skies ignored by true blue Civil War re-enactors
Rain canceled the cavalry charge, but it couldn't dampen the gun powder.
So the battle between the North and South went off as scheduled Saturday at the 23rd annual Civil War Days at the Lake County Forest Preserve near Wauconda.
The annual event, the largest Civil War re-enactment in Northern Illinois, brought together a tight-knit community of re-enactors who spent the day under threatening rain clouds while recounting the history of the war between the states and paying homage to the leaders on both sides of the conflict.
Period tents dotted the landscape as re-enactors built campfires and set up shops to sell 19th century goods. Some of them not-so 19th-century.
Johnny Reb and Yankee Doodle stood side by side in line for hot funnel cakes. Over in the nearby Gun Shop tent, two little boys sampled the wares by firing toy rifles at each other and falling to the ground.
Bob Benedik of Carpentersville celebrated his 60th birthday by portraying a sergeant mustering his men to move a limber (containing cannon shot and powder) behind an 1841 mountain howitzer.
Seven years ago, a buddy asked Benedik what he was doing for the weekend.
"I went out, put on the uniform, and I've been hooked ever since," Benedik said. "My wife makes all my clothes." This includes genuine jean wool at $27.50 a yard, hats that run from $110 to $200, some designed by Hollywood filmmakers.
"It's a lot of fun," Benedik said, "and it's important to tell the history. I'm hooked on it."
"And the explosions!" added a man nearby.
Elise Masciale, 25, of Palatine, had a different take on en-enacting the Civil War.
"It takes over your life slowly," she said. "You start off because you're interested in history and the war. Then you find out there's more to it."
"I know the military thinks it's all about the military. But there's a whole culture they left back at home when they went off to war. There's how the women dealt without their men, the lengths they went to for their men. They gave everything they had.
"You must remember that women did not have the vote at this time. They had very little power. Here in Chicago in 1863, there was the Sanitary Fair put on to raise money for the Army. The men were like, 'Aren't they sweet to do that? But nothing will come from it.'
"They raised $300,000. That is a staggering amount of money for the time. And the fact that women did that at time when nobody thought they could do that is very powerful for me."
(If true, that $300,000 would be worth more than $5 million in 2010 inflation-adjusted dollars, according to the Consumer Price Index.)
Dressing up as a Civil War re-enactor also had other benefits for Masciale. She met her significant other, Steve Kesner of Lockport, on the mock battlefield.
Of course, no Civil War scenario would be complete without the leaders: Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant and Abraham Lincoln.
They moved around the campsites, signing autographs and giving out historical information.
Thirty-year Wheaton residents Max and Donna Daniels have been portraying Lincoln and his wife Mary Todd full-time for the past 20 years.
"I was born in Alabama and grew up in Florida, so I had a Southern perspective on Lincoln," Daniels said.
Years ago, he tried writing a one-man show about the president, but gave up.
"Two minutes into the writing, I realized he is so boring. He didn't drink. He didn't cuss. He didn't smoke. As my wife said, he didn't have schtick."
So he and wife Donna, a longtime performer at Pheasant Run Theater, created a two-person program about the married Lincolns.
"For 20 years, we've been able to make a living at this," Daniels said. "Probably the most satisfying thing you will ever do is being self-employed. And it's the scariest."
The Civil War Days continues from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday, with the battle re-enactment scheduled for 1:30 p.m. For details, visit lcfpd.org/CivilWar or call (847) 968-3400.