How re-enactors bring 'emotional impact' of Civil War history to Naperville
Naper Settlement is always a time machine to a bygone era. This weekend, it sets the dial back to 1863.
With Civil War Days, a tradition since the early 1980s, the historical museum welcomes re-enactors representing both sides of the Mason/Dixon line to set up camp, stage a battle and educate visitors about what life was like during the War Between the States.
The event runs 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday on the 12-acre grounds of the Settlement at 523 S. Webster St. in Naperville.
A cannon-fire battle is scheduled each day at 2:30 p.m. and a Sutler's Row allows people to shop for Civil War-era souvenirs and provisions.
The Battlefield Balladeers and 33rd IL Regiment Volunteer Band will bring banjos, harmonicas and antique horns to play the hits of the 1860s. The 1st Michigan Engineers and 17th Corp. Field Hospital will demonstrate how experts in the medical and engineering professions aided in the fight. And the U.S.S. Christian Commission will explain how a group of civilians helped feed and clothe soldiers during the war.
"Civil War Days continues to intrigue people by defying all sense of time," said Adison Glick, special events coordinator. The long-standing event, he said, transports people to "an important but bygone era in our nation's history."
Battle re-enactors take up arms out of a passion for that history and the historical figures who shaped the war.
Paul Wood of Wheaton has portrayed Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee for 19 years -- at least a dozen of them at Civil War Days at the Settlement -- and has studied Lee's life since he was a boy.
This weekend, he'll appear as part of the re-enactor group Grant, Lee, Custer and Company, which includes at least a dozen generals from both sides of the war. Even well into historical Northern territory, Wood said there is interest in Confederate soldiers and leaders.
"They were pretty much a free-spirited people ... They were known for being fighters," he said. "I think people kind of like their rebelliousness."
Wood said he acts as Lee partially out of personal interest -- Wood never met his grandfathers, but thought a picture of Lee he was shown as a boy looked like a grandpa -- and partially out of a desire to remember multiple perspectives on the war.
"We're showing respect for our ancestors, for what the men and women went through to make this country what it is," he said. "They all fought for what they believed in."
Fighters won't be the only ones brought to life during the historical festival; there will be political leaders and average Joes and Janes, too. New re-enactors this year include abolitionists Sojourner Truth portrayed by Pam Welcome and William Irving Kirk portrayed by Robert K. Kaplafka, Glick said.
Returning re-enactors Max and Donna Daniels will give skits as the president during the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln, and his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln. Librarian and re-enactor Laura Keyes will act as Mary Harlan, the daughter of an Iowa senator who was courted by Lincoln's son, Robert.
"Not too many people have heard of Mary Harlan," Keyes said. "That's why I hope they'll come to my presentation and learn more about her."
Wearing a hoop skirt and three layers of traditional undergarments, Keyes said she will keep her presentation historically accurate, even using replica tea cups to match the china pattern the Lincolns used in the White House. She'll also tell of Harlan's life experiences during the Civil War, such as going to the aftermath of a battle with her mother to tend to wounded soldiers.
"That would have been horrific for a teenage girl," Keyes said.
Hearing stories such as these can help visitors to Civil War Days imagine what it was like to live during the conflict by "meeting real people from history," Keyes said.
During the event, several Settlement buildings including the blacksmith's shop, the schoolhouse and the "Brushstrokes of the Past" exhibit in the basement of the Pre-Emption House will be open for browsing.
Glick said it all adds up to a historical time-machine ride worth taking.
"Civil War Days delivers history," Glick said, "with an emotional impact."
Civil War Days
When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, May 19, and Sunday, May 20
Where: Naper Settlement, 523 S. Webster St., Naperville
Who: Features more than 100 re-enactors including generals and political figures
Cost: $15 adults; $10 children 4 to 12
Info: (630) 420-6010 or napersettlement.org/civilwardays