Friends Fest marks return of local reenactor

Friday, October 7, 2011
Historian and reenactor Michelle Martin in period dress during a reenactment at the Fort Scott National Historic Site. Martin will be the featured speaker during a dinner and fundraiser for the Friends of the FSNHS on Monday at the Liberty Theatre. (Submitted Photo)

An event on Monday at the Liberty Theatre will benefit a local organization that actively supports the Fort Scott National Historic Site.

Friends Fest 2011, scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. Oct. 10, is the third annual dinner and fundraiser for the Friends of the Fort Scott National Historic Site, a local nonprofit organization formed in 2009.

"We advocate for the fort in the community and represent the community with the National Park Service," Friends of the FSNHS President Reed Hartford said.

The purpose of the organization is to support and enhance the mission of the historic site in its interpretation of the military post's role on the American frontier from 1842 to 1873. To accomplish this, organization members engage in an active partnership with site administration and staff, a news release said.

During the past year, the organization assisted with several events at the historic site, including the Kansas Sesquicentennial celebration, a naturalization ceremony in May, Fourth of July activities and Gov. Sam Brownback's August announcement of Notable Kansans.

Hartford said the Friends organization funded the meal provided at the naturalization ceremony and paid for refreshments provided at the Notable Kansans ceremony.

"If we continue to grow and get more donations, we can get more and bigger projects," he said.

Last fall, the Friends received a grant from the National Park Foundation which allowed them to fund an essay and media contest for middle school students in eastern Kansas and western Missouri. The grant sought to familiarize the students with Fort Scott's history and role in the western expansion of the United States, Bleeding Kansas and the Civil War.

Winners and their classes received a trip to the FSNHS in March. As part of the grant, each middle school in the 41 counties of the Freedom's Frontier Historical Area received a DVD of the interpretive film, "Dreams and Dilemmas: Fort Scott and the Growth of a Nation."

The organization has been active in addressing concerns about the moving of the historic site's museum collection to the Kansas City area and the need for boundary expansion with congressional delegations, the release said.

FSNHS Superintendent Betty Boyko said the group has proven very valuable to the site.

"There are so many things they can provide us assistance with," she said, adding the group serves as the "community's voice in management of the park."

Boyko said the organization helps the site by providing volunteers that have helped pass out visitor surveys, work in the visitors center and with other special events at the site. The group also helps the site with publicity since the site can't use federally-appropriated dollars for that reason.

Two years ago, the group's first fundraiser dinner included the premiere of the historic site's new interpretive film. During last year's event, the organization honored the grassroots efforts of the citizens of Fort Scott which led to the preservation and restoration of the "Old Fort."

This year's event will feature dinner entertainment performed by Johnny Kendrick and the Branchy Boys. Colors will be presented by the VFW Olsen-Frary-Burkhart Post No. 1165 and the National Anthem will be sung by Taylor Bailey.

The featured presentation will be a talk titled "Local Women in the Civil War," given by historian and reenactor Michelle Martin, a volunteer at the FSNHS for 11 years. Martin, who left Fort Scott in 2006, is a former Fort Scott Community College history professor who now lives in Oklahoma.

In a presentation titled "I Thought This Place Doomed," Martin will talk about Emma Morley, a Civil War nurse at Fort Scott in 1864, and Morley's travels and her time in Fort Scott treating soldiers during the war. The title is a direct quote from Morley's diary.

Martin said she will also discuss the roles and experiences of women in Fort Scott during the war, including stories of women who disguised themselves as men to join the conflict.

Martin now owns her own historical consulting company and said she does consulting work "for TV and film." She continues to "do a lot of living history work throughout the Midwest" and has published two books and is working on a third, she said.

Martin said she is "thrilled and honored" to be chosen as the guest speaker for the fundraiser and to be returning to Fort Scott where she still has a strong connection.

"Fort Scott for me was the first place I had an opportunity to make good friends and lasting ties in Kansas," she said. "It was a time and place that is very important to me ... I rediscovered myself and my love of history. I really found my true calling in Fort Scott. I come back every opportunity I can get."

The Friends of the FSNSHS is a "fantastic organization" that is very supportive of the work done by staff at the historic site, Martin said.

Tickets for Friends Fest may be purchased at the Fort Scott Area Chamber of Commerce, the Country Cupboard and life+style. Doors open at 6 p.m., with dinner being served at 6:30 p.m. The program is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m.