Monday, April 15th, 2013
By William Kincaid
Descendents to help bring Fort Recovery's past alive
FORT RECOVERY - The living kin of combatants who waged war in the area more than 200 years ago will converge in the village next month as the opening salvo of what's shaping up to be a busy season at Fort Recovery State Museum.
A rededication ceremony is set for May 5 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Fort Recovery Monument, which sits on top of the largest tomb of unknown soldiers in the U.S. Descendants of Native American warriors and soldiers who fought in either the Battle of the Wabash in 1791 or the Battle of Fort Recovery in 1794 will swap stories about their ancestors in a roundtable discussion.
"Now some people have everything down, black and white, nitty gritty, from that 1791 time period to the present," museum director Nancy Knapke said about the 20 or so expected descendants. "Others, it's looser. But we're not saying you have to have everything black and white documented down to every last person's birthday in order to take part in this. For some of them, it's an oral history that's been passed down."
For instance, one attendee's ancestor joined a Kentucky militia to exact revenge on Native Americans who crossed the Ohio River and slaughtered his grandchildren and scalped who is believed to be his daughter. He later died in one of the battles.
John Winkler, author of "Wabash 1791" and "Fallen Timbers," will be the featured speaker. He also will lead a walk of the St. Clair battlefield, pointing out details of the bloody battle considered one of the nation's worst military fiascoes.
"Winkler describes the emotions and reactions of the St. Clair army, and in particular, its leaders as they realized that such a horrendous ending was coming to the army assembled on the high ground (Fort Recovery's Wayne Street)," Knapke said.
Curators also are in the midst of renovating the museum's third floor prehistoric area with a sizable donation from Brad and Brian Bubp in memory of their parents, Jim and Charlene.
"It will become much more of an experiential learning center in addition to the displays of a very large number of prehistoric artifacts," Knapke said.
A public dedication of the new floor will be held June 2, a day that also will feature an outdoor artifact and rifle show and lecture by Karim Tiro, the chairman and professor of Xavier University's history department.
Knapke, who took over as museum director in 2007, remains committed to booking the most knowledgeable history authorities as part of the summer speaker series.
"I want to keep the speakers within the realm of somehow being connected with our history here," she said. "I like it if they're authors because then people can read their books before or after and so they can become familiar with them."
In addition to Tiro and Winkler, other summer speakers will be educator Robyn Hage, author of "Peter Navarre, War of 1812, The Man Behind the Legend," and Larry Nelson, Bowling Green University history professor and author of "The History of Jonathan Alder."
The Ohio Historical Society handed over control and management of the museum to local officials in 1984 and has since used the museum as a model when turning over control of other state sites, Knapke said.
"When I talk to other sites, I give them a lot of encouragement and tell them that it was probably the best thing that ever happened to us because then all of a sudden, it's our museum, and our history, where before we just let somebody else take care of that," she said.
Museum staff and trustees work in collaboration with the Fort Recovery Historical Society in managing and generating funds for the museum.
"The community and the patrons ... support us really well," Knapke said. "I would say our (patronage) brings in over $10,000 a year."
Proceeds from admission, group tours and souvenir sales go directly into the museum account. The museum also receives money from fundraisers organized by the historical society and about $7,000 each year from the state.
Knapke estimates about 500 people visit the museum each month during the summer.
"The majority of the people who come through the doors on weekdays, and many on weekends, are first-time (visitors) or they were here as a child and they're bringing their grandchildren back," she said. "The new visitors are generally not local. We've had them from Brazil and Germany and every state in the union."
Donna Grube, executive director of the Auglaize & Mercer Counties Convention & Visitors Bureau, said visitors who frequent one place in the area often end up hitting other destinations, such as the Bicycle Museum of America in New Bremen or the National Marian Shrine of the Holy Relics in Maria Stein.
Many locals often take for granted the museum exists in their backyard, Grube added.
"A number of schools make visits here," Knapke said. "It's not as much as it used to be in the past just because schools have cut back on it. I think it's kind of a shame in some ways that more schools don't come because we're close ... and we certainly give a good experience to the kids that (is) tied closely with the state standards."
Winkler recommends visitors do their homework before going to the museum.
"Too often, visitors just get confused about ... the two battles and don't appreciate as they otherwise could what there is to see," he said. "The best way to benefit from a visit to Fort Recovery is first to spend some time learning about Wabash. Then, when you go there, you'll know enough to be amazed to see the exact places where things happened and the artifacts recovered from the battlefield."
The museum will be open May weekends and on Memorial Day, noon-5 p.m. From June to August, it will open daily between noon and 5 p.m. In September, the museum will be open on weekends and Labor Day, also noon-5 p.m. For more information about the museum, go to www.fortrecoverymuseum.com.
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