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Re-enactors haul the cannon. Photo: Joseph Andriano
Re-enactors haul the cannon. Photo: Joseph Andriano

Remembering the troops, recreating history at America's fort

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Fort Ticonderoga is "America's fort" perched on the New York side of Lake Champlain, it was instrumental in the American Revolution and other early wars. Now, it's a historical site that comes alive with reenactments and music.

Sarah Harris visited Ticonderoga last Memorial Day and sent this report.

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Reported by

Sarah Harris
Reporter and Producer

Then they shoot it. Photo: Joseph Andriano
Then they shoot it. Photo: Joseph Andriano
Memorial Day is the first nice day in a while. Tourists in sunglasses and shorts wander around the fort. And the re-enactors look like they’re starting to get a little warm in their period clothing. I  catch up with Stewart Lilie, director of interpretation at Fort Ticonderoga, who’s wearing a tricorner hat,  blue breeches, white kneesocks, buckled shoes, and a tan coat.

"Right now I am dressed as so many New Englanders who were here in 1775," he explains. "I’m dressed in good old fashioned farming clothing which these guys brought with them when they were called up to serve as citizen soldiers in 1775."

Stewart says Fort Ticonderoga was one of the first places American soldiers served – and the first place they came to remember.

"Even while the American Revolution was going on and this place was no longer militarily significant, it was one of the places that veterans and their families would come back here and try to teach 'em a little bit more about what Ticonderoga meant during their service."

Mike Etson leads the fife and drum band inside the fort.  During the school year, he teaches first grade at Ticonderoga Elementary. But for the past 37 summers, he’s helped local high schoolers learn traditional tunes.

The fife and drum band strikes up a tune. Photo: Mary Frances Harris
The fife and drum band strikes up a tune. Photo: Mary Frances Harris
"My job is pretty much the same as an 18th century drum major. I recruit and train all the fifers and drummers, the music for the regiment, we play all documented music from the 18th century." 

The band strikes up a patriotic tune. It's jaunty — the fifes trill and drums rumble. 

Mark Donahue, a 17 year old from Ticonderoga, plays the drums. He has bright red hair and freckles and is wearing green old fashioned coat. This is his third summer working at the fort.  

"It’s just fun, you get to play music all day. Marching in the parade gets you in the spirit of things. We’re representing the people we’re honoring so it ‘s a good time."

The celebration goes on – with tours, with music and a cannon demonstration.

At first, the small cannon doesn’t go off properly — just a paltry noise and puff of smoke. The reenactors try again, and this time, it works. Little kids cover their ears as a test charge produces a huge bang. And that's nothing compared to the big cannon. 

Ultimately, says Mike Etson, Memorial Day at Ticonderoga honors all American soldiers. 

"The sufferings that were endured by those soliders 2.5 centuries ago were no different those in our current armed forces. It really helps me stay in contact with the reasons why America is as great as it is, and having a brother that served overseas it also kind of makes that very special connection."

And after the day’s festivities, it feels like summer is off to a real start. 

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