2012-07-07 / Top News

Fort Mackinac Relives 1880s Independence Day

By Andrew Marlan


Niall Farley, an 1880s Fort Mackinac interpreter, shows Fort Mackinac visitors one of many instruments used to successfully load a 19th century cannon during the fort’s Fourth of July celebration. The cannon, he said, was very inaccurate for the soldiers to use, only hitting its target one in three times. The six-pound cannonball would go about as far as half of one mile. Niall Farley, an 1880s Fort Mackinac interpreter, shows Fort Mackinac visitors one of many instruments used to successfully load a 19th century cannon during the fort’s Fourth of July celebration. The cannon, he said, was very inaccurate for the soldiers to use, only hitting its target one in three times. The six-pound cannonball would go about as far as half of one mile. Thousands of people came from all over the world to celebrate the Fourth of July on Mackinac Island. Fort Mackinac was filled with visitors who were interested in seeing what Independence Day and life in the fort was like during the 19th century. Fort Mackinac offered rifle-firing demonstrations, cannon firing demonstrations, a history tour, a children’s tour, games, music on the grounds, court martial reenactments, and finished with a 38-gun salute in honor of the 38 states that made up the United States Union in 1788.


Brett Yzquierdo (left) and AJ Churchill playing patriotic tunes that were heard during an 1880s celebration for the Fourth of July. Brett Yzquierdo (left) and AJ Churchill playing patriotic tunes that were heard during an 1880s celebration for the Fourth of July. “I’m always excited to see where people come from,” said Fort Mackinac interpreter Piotr Buniewicz. “I’ve figured out that the rare states that people come from are Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts … of course we’re always looking out for southerners who might get offended by us referring to them as traitors,” he joked.

“Most people see these wool uniforms that we’re wearing and think we must be dying” because of the warm temperatures, said Fort Mackinac interpreter Niall Farley. “They’re actually not that bad.”

Many families came to the fort decked out in matching red, white, and blue shirts in the spirit of Independence Day. Many gathered around the cannon at the top of Fort Mackinac to hear the power of the 19th century cannon weapon and witness a small portion of what the sound and recoil would have been like. The cannon uses three ounces of gunpowder using a ball of aluminum foil instead of the traditional six-pound cannonball that would have been used in the 1880s. Niall Farley and Andrew Warren, interpreters at Fort Mackinac, taught the visitors how to clean, prime, load, and fire the cannon, designed to shoot up to a mile. Mr. Farley said that this measurement was completely inaccurate because it would only shoot about half a mile to where the Mackinac Marina harbor starts.


Girl Scout troops from southeastern Michigan raise the American flag with 38 stars, symbolizing the 38 states that made up the union in the 1880s. The flag was raised during the singing of the national anthem, accompanied by fife played by Fort Mackinac interpreter Brett Yzquierdo Wednesday, July 4. Girl Scout troops from southeastern Michigan raise the American flag with 38 stars, symbolizing the 38 states that made up the union in the 1880s. The flag was raised during the singing of the national anthem, accompanied by fife played by Fort Mackinac interpreter Brett Yzquierdo Wednesday, July 4. “As a state park, we’re not supposed to fire cannons,” said Mr. Farley. “But we do fire in celebration and special holidays such as today, the Fourth of July.”

There were 70 to 90 soldiers stationed at Fort Mackinac during the 1880s and the interpreters helped visitors to the Island understand what life was like back then for soldiers and children during a brief 30- minute history tour.

A music demonstration followed the tours on the fort grounds. Brett Yzquierdo, A.J. Churchill, and Ryan Stephens played the fife, drums, and bugle on the grounds for a musical demonstration. Mr. Yzquierdo told the audience how each instrument was used to signal the troops in one way or another during everyday activities, as well as guarding the fort.

A 38-gun salute concluded the special Fourth of July celebration at Fort Mackinac a few hours before the Grand Hotelcatered All-American Picnic was served on the grounds. An announcement was read before the firing naming each state during the 1880s United States Union.

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