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History event a collage of periods

Re-enactors from several wars gather at Perth store

July 19, 2010
By AMANDA WHISTLE, The Leader-Herald

PERTH - An M1 Garand semi-automatic rifle, grenades, a small U.S. Army-issued Bible with a metal book jacket, rosary beads, a radio and a gas mask - all original artifacts from World War II and likely carried by young men who were drafted into the war in their late teens.

Peter Zemken, a re-enactor who was dressed as a U.S. Marine from WWII on Sunday, stood by the traveling exhibit laid out on a blanket. Each artifact had a story that Zemken, whose relatives fought in WWII, was happy to tell.

"It's very rare to get all these things together because a lot of them [soldiers] didn't come home," Zemken said.

Article Photos

The Leader-Herald/Amanda Whistle

Revolutionary War era re-enactor Erwin Splittgerber, left, plays music with two members of Rural Felicity, a band that plays music from the 18th and 19th centuries. Bill Frueh, center, and Toni Lasher, right, sing along with him Sunday at the sixth-annual Living History Weekend on Route 30 in Perth.

This year was the first year that WWII re-enactors were at the Living History Weekend on the grounds of Pickett's General Store on Route 30.

Re-enactors spanning wars from the 18th century to the 20th transformed the grounds into a window to the past on both Saturday and Sunday.

Zach Swank of Johnstown was dressed as a German soldier of the Wehrmacht, the unified armed forces of Germany from 1935 to 1945.

He wore the necessary party pins, and original weapons.

"We don't do this to glorify war; we do this to keep history alive," Swank said.

Swank, 18, has been a Civil War and Revolutionary War re-enactor since he was 6 years old. He said he's scheduled to ship out for basic training with the U.S. Marines soon. His father also is a Marine, he said, and he can trace his family's military history back to the 18th century.

"We get WWII veterans thanking us for keeping their story alive," Swank said. "I can't believe they're thanking us. They were actually there. They fired real bullets."

Jack and Roberta Dropper, of Hagaman, said they love these events because each re-enactor is like a living history text book.

"You can ask them just about anything [about the period they're re-enacting], and they actually know the answers," Roberta said. "We love history. It's just neat to see them dressed up in the military garb."

Paul Karabin, who owns Pickett's General Store, said the free event has grown since it started six years ago. This year, it included entertainment by two members of Rural Felicity, Toni Lasher and Bill Frueh. The band plays 18th- and 19th- century music. Sometimes they play with antique instruments, such as an old wooden fife.

Karabin, whose likeness to Confederate Gen. George E. Pickett is uncanny, right down to the beard, said the event started with Civil War re-enactments, complete with a cannon firing, but it has grown to include the other re-enactors.

"It used to be just Confederates -those Union blue bellies never showed," Karabin said.

Erwin Splittgerber was dressed in Revolutionary War era clothing. He had a tent set up that flew the Grand Union Flag, which depicted hope for reconciliation between the Colonists and the Crown.

Splittgerber, whose ancestors were Onondagas, said he has more fun depicting British soldiers and sympathizers.

"I spent years defending my country and the citizens," he said, noting he served in the military and in law enforcement. "Can't I be the bad guy once in a while?" he said.

Perry Steele, who said his fifth cousin was Gen. George Custer's wife, Libby, was dressed in Union colors. His great-, great-grandfather, Lyman Steele, fought with Union Gen. William Sherman.

"My viewpoints are with the South, but I wear blue because of my ancestors," Steele said. "The war wasn't fought over slavery. That issue was going to die anyway. The federal government got more control than it should have, and now it has the control that it does today."

For David Henderson, of Gloversville, who dresses as a Civil War soldier, re-enacting is a way to get in touch with his ancestry. He's been interested in re-enactments almost his entire life.

"It's just something you want to learn more about and really understand," he said.

Amanda Whistle covers Montgomery County news. She can be reached at montco@leaderherald.com.

 
 

 

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