Civil War re-enactors will re-create Lawrence, circa 1863, during the weekend.
Last weekend, Civil War Union soldiers walked up and down Massachusetts Street, while over at the Eldridge Hotel, 701 Mass., a band played old-time favorites as women and children listened and took in ice cream during the social hour.
The event caused incoming students and other visitors to stop and take notice, which is exactly what Civil War re-enactors strive for -- the authentic look of historical characters.
"We want to convince people that this is real," said Alan Van Loenen. "We work to make a first-person impression."
Van Loenen is dressed in the 1863 military uniform of a Civil War Union private and does an amazing job of looking cool and collected in the 90-degree heat.
"It's all wool," he said with a laugh, "but that's part of the re-enactment. They wore wool, so we wear wool."
Restaging historical events is a trend that is growing, as more and more history buffs put down their books and take up realistic artillery and equipment.
As part of the living history organization, Civil War re-enactors try to duplicate the look and feel of actual combat troops from that era.
Van Loenen is part of the third battery of light artillery that falls under the command of the Eighth Kansas Infantry. The battery is made up of 50 to 60 participants who put on six or more such re-enactments each year.
As part of the Civil War activities going on in Lawrence during the week, Van Loenen's group is setting up a military encampment on the Free State Farm north of town this Saturday and Sunday. The event is free.
Visitors at the site will see re-created civilian and military encampments with wagon rides, demonstrations, a military dress fashion show and battle skirmishes scheduled. The re-enactors also will hold a formal dress ball in Lawrence.
Though he's very serious about his hobby, Van Loenen also wants to have a good time with it.
"It's a high for us because we're also actors, and we enjoy telling people the history," he said.
The groups serve various functions. They stage battle re-enactments, try to retell living history as vividly as possible, and they put in public appearances for charitable organizations.
Van Loenen had no idea how many people participate nationally, but last year at Gettysburg, Pa., more than 25,000 re-enactors in Union and Confederate garb showed up to restage the actual battle conditions.
"If you like comradeship, camping out and history, then chances are you'll like this," he said.
Authentic through and through
Van Loenen's uniforms are handmade. The weapons the infantry carry are scale versions of the originals. The cannons Van Loenen's artillery group uses are authentic replicas -- and they are pulled by mule-teams once on site.
The re-enactors can get into the event as deeply as they want, Van Loenen said. "Hard-core" re-enactors will sleep on the ground and eat military rations during a military restaging, and many of them will "galvanize," which means they maintain uniforms and equipment for both the Confederate and Union sides.
Staging a battle is always a highlight for any re-enactor, and they take numerous precautions around their weapons.
The canons fire black-powder only. There are distance limitations on how far they can be fired, and at national events the battery must prove they know how to drill and handle misfires, along with undergoing safety inspections.
But that makes it all worthwhile to Van Loenen.
"When we see the kids, and the astonishment in their eyes as we explain the canon to them and how it works, that's a real high," he said.
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RESTAGING A WAY OF LIFE
What: The fourth annual Civil War on the Western Frontier
When: Now through Aug. 29
Where: Re-enactment of early Kansas settlers and military is at the Free State Farm/Victorian Veranda Country Inn, 1431 North 1900 Rd. Other events are held throughout the city.
Featuring: Re-enactors will establish military and settlers authentic encampments. Wagon rides, demonstrations and military skirmishes are scheduled. Other activities in Lawrence include tours, fashion shows and discussion groups. Call 749-5011 for more information.