Don’t Call It A Re-Enactment — On May 12 Maywood Was A Stage For Living History

Tuesday, May 15, 2018 || By Elizabeth Abunaw || @maywoodnews 

Featured image: Living historians dramatize Civil War history on the corner of First and Lake in Maywood on May 12. | Courtesy Laura Rogers 

Replica flags? Check. Period pieces like guns dating to the mid-19th Century? Check. Actors dressed in historical clothing? Check. Abraham Lincoln? Check.

Besides the heavy traffic and savory fumes from nearby Burger King and McDonald’s restaurants, community members had few barriers to imagining themselves transported to the year 1861 during the annual Civil War Living History, held May 12 at the corner of Lake Street and First Avenue in Maywood.

For around four hours, Company H of the 10th Illinois Infantry set up camp, complete with tents and a campfire, on the south lawn of the historic Home for Soldiers’ Widows — the historic structure built in 1924 to service the needs of elderly Civil War widows and orphans.

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Former Maywood trustee Michael Rogers, Tom Kus, Vicki Haas, Mike Dawson, Kevin J. Wood, who portrays Lincoln, Maywood Trustee Henderson Yarbrough and Maywood Village Manager Willie Norfleet Jr. | Courtesy Laura Rogers 

Throughout the morning and afternoon, “soldiers” ranking from private to captain mixed and mingled with close to 100 people of all ages — many from Maywood. There were even visits from a private from the United States Colored Troops 29th Infantry and the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln.

But don’t call this scene a Civil War re-enactment. A re-enactment is the recreation of a particular battle. Although there were plenty of rifles on display, no one took up arms.

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Kevin J. Wood as Lincoln in Maywood on May 12. | Elizabeth Abunaw 

And despite the fact that a retinue of camping supplies were on display, this was not an encampment, since the “company” was not staying overnight. According to Vicki Haas, who has been coordinating this annual gathering since 2015, it’s called a living history for a reason.

Haas said that she first encountered the living historians who were in attendance on Saturday at Graue Mill and Museum in DuPage County. Drawn to their encampment at the 150-year-old grist mill and homestead, she asked if they could be persuaded to take their role-playing on the road. They relented and the rest is, well, history.

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Civil War-era soldiers tend to a campfire during a living history on May 12. | Courtesy Michael Rogers 

With almost a dozen men clothed in Union Army uniforms, women in hoop skirts, and the 10th Infantry flag flying, the historical happenings on the lawn were difficult to miss.

Manuel, an Uber driver, had several rides that brought him to the western suburbs that afternoon and saw the living history as he was driving.

“I see this here and I had to pull over,” he said.

Manuel and other visitors chatted Civil War history with historians like Bob Winter, who portrays a first lieutenant. A longtime history buff, Winter joined Company H in 1989 because he wanted to teach others about the Civil War. 

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Lincoln with Union Army soldiers on May 12 in Maywood. | Courtesy Michael Rogers 

Company H members do more than pretend to be Union Army soldiers. They do first-person history, portraying actual people who served during the war. The group elects people to a rank, then each historian chooses a soldier, making use of rosters in Illinois state archives to determine who they will play.

Jerry Bliss, who has been with the company for 19 years, is currently embodying Private Edwin Estabrook, one of the first 70 men to enlist in April 1861. When asked why he chose Estabrook, Bliss said that he was drawn to the fact that his alter ego was an ordinary man. He survived the war, returned home to Sandwich, Ill., and had a family.

Beyond their replica uniforms and antique rifles, the performers were a veritable encyclopedia of Civil War knowledge.

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The living history on May 12 even included dramatists eating and talking by a campfire. | Elizabeth Abunaw 

Luther, who lives in Joliet, stopped by to portray a private from the 29th Infantry, an African American unit. Not only did he take pictures with guests, but he also shared stories of how much of what we know today, like the temporary insanity legal defense, was born of the Civil War era.

Soldiers weren’t the only historical portrayals that day. Kevin J. Wood made an appearance as President Abraham Lincoln. Bearing an uncanny resemblance to the country’s 16th president, a Republican, Wood recited speeches, praised the acting of Edwin Booth (the elder brother of his assassin) and recounted how Andrew Johnson, a Democrat, wound up as his running mate in 1864.

During the Civil War, soldiers were allowed visits from their families when they reached a safe camp. Rachel Davidson kept the tradition alive by joining her husband, who portrays a Company H corporal, in the living history event. A teacher, Davidson said that she considers the living histories excellent ways to maintain public interest in our country’s history. VFP 

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