history to life
'Walk Back in Time' festival puts
a face on the past
|Visitors to “A
Walk Back in Time” stroll
past a replica Confederate Army camp during the candlelight tour
portion of the living history event held in Mexico, Mo., in September.
The festival included historic camps, which recreated eight periods
of American history.
Imagine a scene where
a blacksmith steadily hammers red hot metal against an anvil. Nearby,
a weaver repeatedly pulls on a loom as he crafts a rug. Across the
way, an American Indian plays a mournful tune on a traditional wooden
flute while a mountain man chips away at flint to make an arrowhead.
Douglas MacArthur chats idly with Gen. George Washington. Confederate
soldiers and cowboys bedecked with spurs and six-shooters wander
among rows of vendors while a squad of World War II-era GIs toting
M-1 rifles slips through the crowd.
No, this is not the
back lot of a Hollywood studio. Welcome to “A Walk
Back in Time,” a living history festival and country fair sponsored
by the Audrain County Historical Society.
Blankenship of Rosebud demonstrates an American Indian drill
for a group of students who attended the event as part of an
educational program sponsored by Consolidated Electric Cooperative
The fifth annual
festival was held Sept. 22-24 on the grounds of the society’s
museum complex in Mexico. The unique event presents American history through
reenactments, demonstrations by traditional craftsmen and historical camps
arranged in chronological order to provide a walking tour of America’s
“We have eight
time periods represented. It goes all the way from the Korean War back
to Colonial times,” says Dana Keller, director
of the society. “All
kinds of people have Civil War reenactments or World War II reenactments
but it’s rare that you have this timeline. It’s so unique.”
any day, Mexico’s 12-acre Robert S. Green Park offers a treasure
trove for history buffs. The 1857 Graceland mansion provides a glimpse
of 19th century life among the gentry class. A restored country church
and one-room schoolhouse allow older visitors to relive their youth,
and the American Saddlebred Horse Museum delights equestrian enthusiasts.
Missouri Military Academy in Mexico learn about weapons used during
World War II.
But for three days
each fall, history comes alive in Mexico. Visitors to A Walk Back in
Time immerse themselves in the past as each few steps leads to another
“We want visitors
to follow the timeline,” says Paul
Baum, a historic reenactor who first proposed the idea of a living
history festival in Mexico and today recruits most of the participants. “They
start out right over here with the 1950s, the Korean War. Then they’ll
go back to World War II, then back, back, back, back.
go, they get deeper and deeper back in time. They’ll get
the feeling of the passage of time,” says Baum, who dressed
as an American Indian for the event.
While adults find
the displays fascinating, the event’s organizers give
special heed to attracting children. The opening day of the
festival is Consolidated Electric Cooperative Education Day. The cooperative’s
event brings nearly 500 students from area schools to the site
to tour the exhibits and learn about history.
portraying a Confederate artillery unit fire a cannon during
a simulated battle. Each day of the festival spectators watched
recreations of battles from the Civil War, World War II and the
1880's cowboy era of the American West.
amazing what it does to spark the interest of kids,” Keller
says. “For a child to walk through the steps and know
the chronological order of things makes such a huge difference. “It
makes so much more sense than when you give them bits and
pieces in some random order. It just puts it all in perspective.”
the event is exciting.
On both Saturday
and Sunday, combatants take positions beyond the park’s
historic buildings to engage in a series of simulated
battles. The Army of the North advances on a bedraggled unit of Rebs
while the acrid smell of black powder fills the air and the percussion
from a Civil War-era cannon sets off car alarms on nearby streets.
Later, a convoy of World War II vehicles rushes onto the grounds with
automatic weapons rat-tat-tatting a steady beat of suppressing fire.
Even the cowboys get in the act, recreating the gunfight at the OK
The staged battles
are especially effective in conveying the excitement of history, something
often lost in traditional lessons, says Baum, a retired school teacher
and a member of the Audrain County Historical Society’s Board
of Solon, Iowa, portrayed Gen. George Washington.
||Bill Hobbs of
Columbia, appeared as World War II Gen. Douglas MacArthur
very dramatic,” he says. “We
take these things right out of the pages of the history book and
off the chalkboards. They just come alive.”
Dressed in buckskins
and wearing a coyote pelt on his head, Gordon Welch represents a
less violent time in American history. An 1830s mountain man reenactor,
Welch says these events convey history in a way that books
and lectures cannot.
history just seemed to be a whole bunch of dates about wars and facts.
I didn’t understand the adventure of history,” he
reenactments you almost feel like you’re
back in history a little bit.”
event, which also featured an 1860s-style vintage
baseball game and a “human jukebox” performing
19th-century songs, brings a span of history
together in one place like few other festivals.
|Gary “Bear” Wilbur
pitched for the St. Louis Unions, an 1880s vintage baseball team.
||Kristyn Watts of Powhatan,
Ark., dressed as a member of the Women’s Army Corps.
do a few of these. But this is one of the
biggest and best ones I’ve
been involved with,” says Welch of
Wichita, Kans. “I’ve always
been surprised that a town of this size has
The fact that Mexico’s
event attracts nearly 12,000 people — roughly
equal to the town’s population — is
proof the community is dedicated to preserving
Each summer the Audrain
County Historical Society hosts a weeklong history
camp for school children. The society’s
mansion, historical records library and
related museums are open six days a week,
11 months of the year. In fact, the museum
complex is actually a city-owned park.
able to accomplish an amazing amount
of activities because of the support
we get from the city. It’s just
Although the historical
society has a paid staff of five, Keller says
success is due to the efforts of
history-minded members of the community. “We
have a great board of directors and
the caliber of the people who volunteer
here is just amazing.”
Visitors to the festival walk past Graceland, an 1857 mansion that
is the centerpiece of a museum complex operated by the Audrain County
the festival is a fulfillment of
the group’s mission. “We’re
a historical society. We’re
doing what we’re supposed
to be doing,” he
Keller, the society’s
director, says events like the
Walk Back in Time are vital if
the society is to continue connecting
the community to its past.
a community, we’re a
little less interested in history
than we used to be because
so many things compete for
time. Hopefully, we are presenting
history in a different enough
manner to draw them back into
it,” she says.
just those kinds of things
that will keep us alive.”
For more information, write the Audrain County Historical Society,
501 S. Muldrow, Mexico, MO 65265; phone (573) 581-3910; or log onto www.audrain.org.