Keeping it Civil: Milton House to host Civil War Living History Days this weekend

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Jim Dayton
Wednesday, May 17, 2017

MILTON—Kari Klebba insists there's a difference between a historical reenactment and a living history event.

Visitors who attend a reenactment are observers watching a play unfold. But a living history is participatory, allowing visitors to have conversations with actors and learn what life was actually like during a certain time period, she said.

Klebba, the executive director of the Milton Historical Society, made the distinction while previewing Civil War Living History Days. The third annual event will be Saturday and Sunday at the Milton House campus and North Goodrich Park.

“Living history is so different from a reenactment. It is as though the past has been brought through a time portal and is interacting with you,” Klebba said. “You actually become a part of history with an event like this.”

The event is free and designed to be family friendly. A donation box will be available for those who wish to tour the inside of Milton House, she said.

Civil War Living History Days actually begins Friday with special programs open only to area students. Klebba is expecting more than 2,000 kids from local schools to attend.

Middle school students can be a tough age group to reach, but the kids often walk away “inspired” by the event, she said.

After the school ceremony Friday, guests who pre-registered for a special dinner will dine with an actor portraying Abraham Lincoln. The dinner will feature Lincoln's favorite meals presented by Northleaf Winery.

Saturday's events will include a pancake breakfast in the morning and a concert at 6 p.m. by Gary the Band. A send-off ceremony will conclude the weekend's events Sunday.

Cannon firing demonstrations (using an authentic cannon) and other reenactment performances will take place throughout the weekend. The event's activities will revolve around this year's theme—abolitionism and the enduring impact of slavery, Klebba said.

She believes Civil War Living History Days will help people of all ages gain a new perspective of the time period and learn how it connects to modern societal issues.

“We are trying to encourage a conversation and discussion on how the Civil War was truly a turning point in America's history,” Klebba said. “So many of the issues we are dealing with today from social, economic and political standpoints actually find their roots in the Civil War and the Civil War era.”

While Klebba might be biased in promoting the event, she isn't the only one who believes in its significance. It earned the Public Program Award from the Wisconsin Historical Society, and the event received a grant from the Wisconsin Humanities Council to bring in more actors.

Several reenactment groups will attend to make the event as authentic as possible. The actors are obsessed with period authenticity, knowing details such as proper button style, Klebba said.

Preserving historical authenticity is what takes history out of the classroom and improves people's understanding, she said.

“You can never truly know unless you were there living it,” she said. “But this is as close as you can get. This is the window we can provide to a very specific time period.”

Those who have attended have offered positive feedback, with Klebba describing their outlook as “fascination.” Some of those people have immediately asked when the next year's event would take place after the current one had ended, she said.

Ultimately, Klebba hopes this year's visitors have similar reactions and come away with a deeper appreciation of a historical era that remains relevant today.

“The (conversations that are) going to be most impactful are the ones that understand where we've been,” she said.
“I hope people take a broadened perspective, deeper understanding and certain amount of pride in how far we've come and how far we have to go.”

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