Visitors to the River Preserve County Park Friday and Saturday stepped back in time — no time machine required.
The fourth annual Gathering at Five Medals was held Saturday and Sunday, and the event was a success, according to Matthew Schuld, museum manager for the Elkhart County Historical Museum.
“We’re hoping for a tally of 2,500 guests when the weekend is all done,” Schuld said Sunday afternoon.
The Gathering is a large reenactment of a settlement in Elkhart County in the 1760s, according to the brochure for the event. The reenactors portrayed French fur traders, military members and Native American inhabitants so the public can see what life was like more than 200 years ago, Schuld said.
“This is not your standard classroom-style teaching,” Schuld said. “We’re hoping this event will foster an interest in history.”
The gathering was informally started by a previous museum director and local reenactor Mike Judson, Schuld said. The event moved to the River Preserve park four years ago, and it has continued to grow each year.
Judson, who acts as reenactor liaison for Five Medals, said he helped come up with the original idea of the gathering to show early history of Elkhart County.
“This year, we’ve had a record number of participants and strong attendance,” Judson said.
In his tall top hat and period dress, Judson walked around the camp and greeted many visitors. Judson said that was his favorite part — making history come alive.
“I like greeting the public, and sharing our history with them,” Judson said.
The blacksmith is one of the most popular reenactors and demonstrations, Schuld said. Blacksmith Mark Thomas showed crowds how to use the forge and make such things as Dutch oven lid lifters and iron leaves with bronze detailing.
“I’ve been doing this for 15 years,” Thomas said Sunday. “I went to shows like this and thought it was neat. That’s how it got started.”
Thomas said his favorite thing to demonstrate is how to make a leaf because of the number of tools and techniques it requires.
“I heard the leaves were one of the things blacksmiths would demonstrate so they could show off all of their skills,” Thomas said.
Thomas, who is from Markle, Ind., said he does about 20 shows a year, with a season spanning February to November. Elkhart’s Karen Clifton also does around 20 shows a year, but with candle dipping, not blacksmith work.
“I like to let the kids do something,” Clifton said as she helped local children learn to dip string to make candles. “It’s nice to see them smile and see that they made something.”
Bert Scott and Dick Cicenas, both from Valparaiso, taught Gathering goers how to throw tomahawks throughout the weekend. Scott said the hardest part about teaching is getting people to overcome habits.
“Women especially aren’t used to throwing like this, with these muscles,” Scott said, demonstrating the throw.
The Thomas family was one of many families that came to take in the sights, sounds and smells of the 18th century reenactment. Parents Scott and Dawn Thomas said they decided to bring their children, Clayton, Abby and Matthew Thomas, after Abby attended the reenactment Friday during the school groups’ day.
“We live one mile from here, and we’ve never come,” Dawn Thomas said. “We decided to come after Abby said she had fun.”
The cannon demonstrations were a family favorite, according to the children, as well as the blacksmith.
“I like the soldier demonstration,” Clayton Thomas said. “We learned about rations and their equipment.”
Goshen resident Dee Strycker said she’s never attended before, but she was intrigued by the signs she saw along the road.
“I’ve never been here, and I wanted to check it out,” Strycker said. “It’s a beautiful day to come out, and this park is beautiful.”
For more information on the festival, visit http://www.elkhartcountyparks.org/GatheringatFiveMedals_2012.htm. Plans are already in the works for the fifth annual Gathering at Five Medals for 2013, according to the brochure.