Explosive demonstrations enliven Civil War history

No, it wasn’t all black-powder guns and cannon fire at this “living history” lesson. See what else these middle-school kids learned, as actors recreated life in long-ago Parkrose‚

Crag Flynn shows the items most solders carried with them. “Remember, they were living in a time when most people wouldn’t go more than fifty miles from home. Going from Parkrose to Portland was a strenuous, day-long trip.”

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Walking the dirt street of long-ago Parkrose, it’s like we are stepping out of a time machine, and into the old Wild West, on April 27.

Unlike dry history lessons taught from a book, students from Parkrose Middle School are seeing history being brought alive‚ along with the smells and sounds of the old west‚ on the grounds of Rossi Farms.

“We like doing this because we get to fire the black powder guns and cannon,” quips Craig Flynn.

“But really‚ is a fun, educational experience for the kids. By dressing and acting the parts, kids get an idea of what it might have been like in the Civil War era much more vividly than they would get from reading a book, or even seeing a movie,” Flynn adds, as he takes a break from his demonstration.

Flynn, and his town full of soldiers, farmers, and farm wives, provide a full immersion experience helping the students understand what Parkrose pioneers went through in their everyday lives.

Dressing up Parkrose Middle School student Ricar Ross in clothing of the era are Tanya Little and Linda Steffen.

The well-dressed lady
Along the boardwalk, Tanya Little and Linda Steffen show the way a lady was expected to dress in the Civil War era.

“It took at least a half hour for women to dress,” Little tells the students. “And, they couldn’t do it alone. If women didn’t have a servant, they relied on their mother, sister, or a friend to help the dress for the day.”

They did wash their undergarments on a regular basis, she adds; but the outer garments got washed only once a year.

“Does anyone have an idea what the primary cause of death was then?” asks Steffen.

It wasn’t tripping, nor dehydration, she says. “It was fire. Even though the women weren’t wearing their ‘hoop skirts’, they did have on all their petticoats. Think about it. If a woman turned around, too closely to the open-flame cooking fires‚ either outdoors, or at the hearth‚ their garments would catch fire.”

Captain Rick Spooner and Benjamin Sanford explain how Civil War solders were outfitted for battle.

Off to war
At another station, Captain Rick Spooner holds up a small box of ammunition.

“At first, the commanders didn’t issue repeating rifles to their troops,” instructs Spooner. “If the solder could fire rapidly, he’d just waste valuable ammunition instead of taking careful aim. Even after the government issued repeaters, ammo was limited.”

Lynn Zimmerman-Stevens demonstrates the finer points of real camp cooking.

Real home cooking
“If one wanted to enjoy a hot meal,” says Lynn Zimmerman-Stevens (who, in real life, is a speech pathologist with Parkrose Schools), “it didn’t come out of a microwave oven.”

Set up to cook in front of the Jail, Zimmerman-Stevens is making split-pea soup. Although the students see the wholesome ingredients that go into the camp-cooked soup, few are willing to sample her pottage.

“Because meals had to be prepared completely ‘from scratch’, obtaining the raw ingredients, preparation and cooking took up a good portion of a woman’s day,” she adds.

This sharply-dressed mounted solder attracted many students.

On mounted patrol
Staying in character, a mounted solder says he’s Lt. Ken Morris, 10th New York Cavalry.

He’s riding “Pistol”, an 18-year-old Morgan Cross horse. “I’m in the Union Army. We fought in Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania between 1861 and 1865.”

Even though the shots fired were blanks, most students cringed and plugged their ears as a team demonstrated the “rapid-firing cannon drill”.

Students, and their teachers agree: The living-history lessons provided by these history re-enactors are ones they’ll long remember.

© 2007 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News Service

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