RE-ENACTING THE PAGEANTRY OF THE PAST

Helen S. Edelman Staff writer
Section: LIVING TODAY,  Page: G1

Date: Sunday, June 22, 1986

The soldiers of King George will do battle against the forces of the Continental Congress and militias of the several states in Lincoln Park, in the heart of Albany July 18, 19 and 20.


Primitive conditions await longhunters, fur trappers, mountain men, voyageurs, rangers, buckskinners, and Indians of 1700-1840 who will come to barter, socialize and compete the same weekend on the secluded site of Steven's Farm Encampment off Delaware Avenue near the Normanskill Bridge. These Tricentennial Commission- sponsored dramatizations of rendezvous in Albany's first hundred years "are part of a mission to perpetuate and promote our military heritage with well-researched, accurately detailed reproductions of the clothing, equipment and lifestyle of the period," according to Bryan H. Gosling, coordinator for the Albany Tricentennial Historic Encampments and a member of the Company of Military Historians, Adirondack-Hudson-Mohawk chapter.


Suspended between pageantry and authenticity, flesh-and-blood spectres of long-ago Albany will temporarily populate it - town and countryside - as part of the yearlong celebration of Albany's Tricentennial.


For the first century of Albany's history, Gosling said it embraced "the epitome of civilized living, just as you see it in Schuyler Mansion, and longhunters oriented to living in the woods.


"There was a real contrast in the presence of these different classes of people and the city was a pivotal point of struggle in the New World with French, British and Dutch powers contesting the area."


Armies of the day traveled from their polished European environments to the wilds of the New World to camp and fight.


"Albany residents who visit the Lincoln Park encampment will have the unique opportunity to observe first- hand, and transport themselves, historical moments in Albany's history."


Approximately 325 military hobbyists from across the United States will come to Albany at their own expense to participate in the Lincoln Park enactment of the Brigade of the American Revolution.


"Staccato reports of 250 muskets and rifles rippled across the line of the Revolutionary War soldiers in the traditional feu de joie (fire of joy), followed by the roar of a battery of 18th century field artillery. As the smoke cleared, the massed fifes and drums played Chester, the unofficial anthem of the Continental Army, and the circle-of-13-stars flag was lowered by the color detail, marking another day's activity of the Brigade of the American Revolution," wrote David A. Horn in "The Dixie Gun Works Muzzleloaders Annual," 1979-80, describing a re-enacted encampment


Albany resident John Ansen, a member of the Brigade who cast his own cannon, is part of the event next month.


Robert Mulligan, another Albany resident, will be present as a soldier, a role he has played since 1964.


"I do it for one major reason," he said. "It's fun. And I learn an awful lot. I'll be sweating in a wool uniform with noise and confusion all around me in battle and suddenly experience or see something I've read about in some soldier's memoirs and, in the experience, understand why he bothered to write it down in his diary."


He continued, "I'm there in funny clothes, holding a gun, and people ask me questions. I like to preach and tell things to people that they want to learn."


He has also acted as a tradesman and a paymaster for the Brigade, researching and duplicating colonial money.


"I got a quill pen and a pistol and a Bible for people to swear on and paid the Brigade members $6.60 monthly," he recalled with a laugh.


"That's how I found out about corruption. As soon as there was money there was gambling and highway robberies. I learned a lot about 18th century bandits."


The soldiers will wear authentically reproduced uniforms, some of which were crafted by Ansen's wife, Dot, one of few American seamstresses certified to prepare the garments, in their presentations of drills, tactical demonstrations, musical reviews and exhibitions of crafts and skills of the 18th century.


According to Brigade Commander George C. Woodbridge, the organization is "an international historical society made up of men and women from all walks of life, dedicated to capturing the spirit of those times and presenting a living history for today's Americans of all ages so they may better understand their heritage."


Gosling emphasized that women and children, who traveled with soldiers during their travels to battle, will be included in the encampment.


"Women were always involved in protecting our freedom," he asserted.


The skirmishes will utilize only blank ammunition.


An 18th century military camp will be established and maintained in the park for the weekend and characters ranging from the Redcoats of King George, (frontier riflemen), to green- coated Tories (the citizen-soldiers of the militia), to the Hessian mercenaries in their tall miter caps.


Fifes and drums will call the soldiers into ranks according to military manuals of the period, Woodbridge said. "The high point of the day occurs when Washington's army collides with King George's forces in a tactical battlefield demonstration" Sunday, July 20.


Blacksmithing, leatherworking and woodworking will be demonstrated, portraying trades of the day to visitors. To complete the picture, campfollowers, whose critical roles included the washing and mending of clothing, tending the sick and wounded, and daily cooking, will participate in the animated tableau.


These activities will be presented by a special class of participants in the organization known as the Civilian Class, skilled in such 18th century crafts.


"The people coming will live in tents," Gosling said, adding that in the sole concession to modern hygiene, portable toilet facilities will be provided, but hidden, on the site.


"The tents will be set up in orderly rows, not a jumble, military fashion," he said. "This will all be done in the military spirit."


Individual squads will have fireplaces for cooking.


"It is a very stirring sight," said Gosling. "Smoke rolls, men charge and flags fly. The local chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution headed by William Glidden will be there in force for the special program. These are dedicated people who trace their personal lineage back to the revolutionaries."


Brigade members will join an anticipated crowd of 7000 marchers for the three-hour parade from the State Campus, at the intersection of Washington and Brevator avenues on Saturday, July 19, to head down Washington Avenue to the core of downtown Albany.


The brigade is also supplying a four- man honor guard contingent for the Tricentennial year to Mayor Thomas Whalen III to accompany him on official occassions.


"It took two years to recreate the guard," Gosling said. "The men had to send to Europe to have their costumes made and they replicated the equipment accurately as well."


At the moment, the Tricentennial Commission is negotiating with local fire and police officials to guarantee the events will be safe as well as authentic. For instance, campfires will be set up extensively on both the Lincoln Park and Stevens Farm sites and ordinances against public burning must be waived for the occassion. However, temporary restrictions will be in effect regulating the activities.


"We are steeped in history," said Gosling. "This encampment will promote awareness through a living history event."


At the site of the Tricentennial Rendezvous, deer and turkey are purportedly the only permanent residents of the wild preserve lands just minutes from downtown Albany which, for three days, will be transformed into an 1840s encampment site for 500 craftsmen, traders and hunters coming from as far away as Wyoming to set up teepees, lodges and lean-tos.


Organized by Charles Wheeler, a member of the Company of Military Historians, the rendezvous will feature tomahawk throwing, children's games, musket competition and massive trading among the "living history buffs," he said, traveling to Albany.


Additionally, the encampment "will provide the living color for the arrival of the canoists from Quebec on July 18 at 6 p.m.," Wheeler said.


The Stevens Farm population will join the Saturday parade as well.


"All the costumes will be handcrafted and are detail-oriented, created according to sketches of the period," said Wheeler. "The hobbyists invest their own money and time in the equipment and clothing."


Wheeler's budget for the elaborate event "was kept down at $4000," he reported. "And that includes a buffalo dinner for them on Saturday night."


Because of the wild nature of the farm land, Wheeler has arranged for peripheral parking for visitors and free shuttle buses to the site from the park and ride lot on Delaware Avenue in Elsmere and the McCarty Avenue state parking lot.


He added that the event would not have been possible without the donation of 400 yards of gravel and volunteer efforts of employees of Callanan Industries of South Bethlehem.


The city of Albany's Department of Public Works has also been working to improve access to the site, Wheeler said.


Latham resident Gerard Contois is one voyageur - travelers in the historic scene - who will be on site for the event. Wearing mocassins and traveling in a canoe, both constructed by his own hands, Contois has been participating in such re-enactments, he said, "virtually all my life."


A 40-hour per week employee of the federal government, Contois estimated he spends "at least 80 hours a week recreating history."


Contois, who is of French-Canadian ancestry, said the aim of such dramatizations "is to show pilgrims - people in street clothes - that those artifacts they find in the attic had a specific use. The clothing we wear wasn't bought in a market. We go out, shoot an animal, tan its hide, cut it to fit our bodies and hand sew it into clothing."


The menu of the rendezvous community, Contois remarked, "will turn some people's stomachs."


His own options for meals include beaver tail, bear and deer.


"I'm a fair blacksmith and I make tomahawks," said Contois. "I look forward to this opportunity for trading. There's a big investment for us in this. My canoe trip last year cost $3000."


Contois gives lectures, demonstrations and sets up exhibits on primitive living at his own expense.


Explaining why the investment of funds and energy is "all worth it - and really worth much more," Contois concluded, "because the past is at least as important as the future."