2009-05-30 / Top News

Fort Mackinac Continues 126-year Tradition of Honoring Fallen Soldiers

By Karen Gould

Historic house interpreters (from left) LeeAnn Ewer, Amy Pavlov, and Claire Herhold attend a Memorial Day tribute to fort soldiers at Post Cemetery. They are dressed as Victorian ladies who would have been wives of fort soldiers. A wreath, donated by Joan Slater and her family in memory of her father, Bob, a World War II veteran, was placed on an unknown soldier gravesite by Ms. Pavlov. Historic house interpreters (from left) LeeAnn Ewer, Amy Pavlov, and Claire Herhold attend a Memorial Day tribute to fort soldiers at Post Cemetery. They are dressed as Victorian ladies who would have been wives of fort soldiers. A wreath, donated by Joan Slater and her family in memory of her father, Bob, a World War II veteran, was placed on an unknown soldier gravesite by Ms. Pavlov. The sound of a drum cadence echoed through the woods along Garrison Road, just as it may have in 1883, during the first Memorial Day services held by Fort Mackinac soldiers on the Island. The sound of soldiers' boots on the pavement and the steady beating of the drum this Memorial Day, Monday, May 25, left residents and visitors in respectful silence as they followed the soldiers along the route from the fort to Post Cemetery.

"It helps us get in the same mindset of the 1880s soldier," said lead interpreter Geoff Woodcox. "They weren't just honoring soldiers buried, they were honoring people they knew. Friends.

"We are trying to honor veterans buried here on Mackinac Island, the same as the soldiers would have done in the 1880s," said Mr. Woodcox of Coldwater, who led six other interpreters in the march to the cemetery. This is Mr. Woodcox's fifth season as an interpreter at the fort.

Marching along Garrison Road as part of Fort Mackinac's Memorial Day services Monday, May 25, are seven interpreters. Dressed in uniform of the U.S. Army 23rd Regiment of Infantry that served at Fort Mackinac in the 1880s, the interpreters are followed by historic house interpreters and Island residents and visitors attending the early morning ceremony at Post Cemetery. Marching along Garrison Road as part of Fort Mackinac's Memorial Day services Monday, May 25, are seven interpreters. Dressed in uniform of the U.S. Army 23rd Regiment of Infantry that served at Fort Mackinac in the 1880s, the interpreters are followed by historic house interpreters and Island residents and visitors attending the early morning ceremony at Post Cemetery. In May 126 years ago, the observance was called Decoration Day, said Phil Porter, director of Mackinac State Historic Parks, who spoke during the Post Cemetery ceremony attended by about 40 people.

For the first ceremony, Captain Edwin Sellers paraded soldiers to the cemetery, where they cleaned the grounds and modestly decorated graves. Captain Sellers died in 1884 while serving at Fort Mackinac.

In 1885, under the organization of the Grand Army of the Republic, a veterans' support group, more than 1,000 participants from the Island, St. Ignace, and Cheboygan joined in the observance. That year marked the 20th anniversary of the Civil War. At that ceremony, said Mr. Porter, fort soldiers, civilians, and musicians were joined by women with floral arrangements. The flowers were placed at graves of Civil War veterans Samuel Stoner, Robert Slingerland, John Hughes, John P. Fires, and Charles Fischer. They also decorated the grave of Captain Sellers.

At right: Wearing a soldier's hat from Fort Mackinac, two-year-old Graham Stuart is in the spirit of Memorial Day as he and sister Maggie, 4, wait for interpreters to march to Post Cemetery for Memorial Day services Monday, May 25. Their mother, Sarah (not pictured) said the Chicago family is staying with grandparents Mary and John Davey, East Bluff summer residents. At right: Wearing a soldier's hat from Fort Mackinac, two-year-old Graham Stuart is in the spirit of Memorial Day as he and sister Maggie, 4, wait for interpreters to march to Post Cemetery for Memorial Day services Monday, May 25. Their mother, Sarah (not pictured) said the Chicago family is staying with grandparents Mary and John Davey, East Bluff summer residents. Early fort records are sketchy and contain information on only about 40 soldiers buried at the cemetery, said Mr. Porter. Many of the graves are marked "unknown soldier."

This year's wreath was donated by Joan Slater and her family in memory of her father, Bob Slater, who served in the U.S. Navy Medical Corps in the South Pacific during World War II.

These Island visitors arrived early at the Avenue of Flags entrance to Fort Mackinac to participate in the annual tribute. Pictured are (from left) Mark and Kathy McPherson of Simsbury, Connecticut, Colleen and Mike King of Rochester, Rocelle Clavero of Crown Point, Indiana, and Francis Mediana of Atlanta, Georgia. These Island visitors arrived early at the Avenue of Flags entrance to Fort Mackinac to participate in the annual tribute. Pictured are (from left) Mark and Kathy McPherson of Simsbury, Connecticut, Colleen and Mike King of Rochester, Rocelle Clavero of Crown Point, Indiana, and Francis Mediana of Atlanta, Georgia. The wreath was placed on the grave of an unknown soldier by historic house interpreter Amy Pavlov of Smiths Creek. She is spending her fourth season at the fort.

Joining her in the ceremony were interpreters Claire Herhold of Fenton and LeeAnn Ewer of Ladysmith, Wisconsin. Dressed as Victorian ladies, the three women said they enjoy working at the fort and representing the 1880s to visitors.

"We love it," said Ms. Ewer. "We get to talk to people about history. We get to talk to children and see them inspired."

Visitors attending the ceremony appreciated the glimpse into history.

"Since 1971, we've always found something new," said Mark McPherson of visits to Mackinac Island. He and his wife, Kathy, of Simsbury, Connecticut, were married on the Island at the Iroquois Hotel. The couple travel here two or three times each year.

"It is 917 miles from our driveway to the ferry dock," said Mr. McPherson.

Experiencing the Island for the first time was Rocelle Clavero of Crown Point, Indiana, who traveled with her friend, Francis Mediana, of Atlanta, Georgia. The pair enjoyed the ceremony and Mr. Mediana took many photographs. Ms. Clavero said friends from Traverse City recommended the Island visit.

Colleen and Mike King of Rochester visit the Island at least once a year. The couple said this is the earliest in the season they have made the trip, and they were not disappointed. They appreciate the history of the Island and wanted to participate in the Memorial Day observance.

"This is the kind of thing we look for," said Mrs. King.

The ceremony ended with "Taps," followed by a three-volley salute as interpreters fired blank cartridges into the air in honor of the soldiers buried at Post Cemetery.

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