Re-enactment sutlers are all business

September 11, 1997


Staff Writer

Blow the tin coach horn. The peddlers are coming to town.

Sutlers selling Civil War-era items began to arrive Wednesday for the 135th Commemoration of the Battle of Antietam.

In the 19th century, peddlers traveling by coach would announce their arrival in each town by blowing a three-foot-long tin horn, said Bill Hoover, who owns Village Tinsmithing Works of Randolph, Ohio.

Hoover, 58, set up a tent Wednesday to display his cookpots, lanterns, flasks and small tobacco tins, all made on period tinsmithing machines.


He didn't bring any horns, although he made two for the upcoming Steven Spielberg movie "Amistad," about a 1839 mutiny on board a slave ship traveling toward the northeast coast of America.

Another sutler, Tom Czekanski, already was in period costume Wednesday, sitting in front of his display of leather goods.

The New Orleans sutler looked every bit the 19th century leather worker, except for the Hormel chili he was eating straight from the can.

For Czekanski, being a sutler is a full-time job. Most of his business is by mail-order, although he likes to travel to re-enactments to meet his customers.

Some of the sutlers cater to spectators.

Dr. J's Medicine Show promises to cure everything that ails you.

"It'll put you at the Pearly Gates," barked John C. Brosom of Independence, Mo. "You don't even have to die to meet St. Peter. I won't lie to you. I may pull and twist your leg around a little bit."

People can belly up to the bar for a free sample of his barrel-kept root beer and cream soda. If they don't like it, they'll get their money back, he said.

For Brosom, 55, the business started as a fund-raising project for the Boy Scout troop he led.

"I want to put a smile on your face and a skip in your gait. As people come into my realm, I want them to feel life is worth living," he said. "I sell enthusiasm. I sell happiness. I sell BS."

There is no doubt the sutlers are here to make money.

But they're also there for the love of Civil War history. Most started with the hobby of re-enacting.

Andy Fulk, 38, got interested in re-enacting after he graduated from high school in Indiana.

He started selling buckles and camps and then got into making canvas tents. Now, he sells everything a soldier would need to outfit himself for battle and more including clothing, insignia, shoes, weapons and books.

Among the interesting things his Fall Creek Suttlery sells are louse combs, ostrich plumes for hats, drums, fifes, and bone toothbrushes with natural bristles.

Many sutlers try to sell items that are as authentic as possible. Even their display tents are made of canvas and wood, authentic except for its invisible waterproof treatment.

During the Civil War, sutlers traveled with each regiment. They sold liquor, soap, writing paper and other non-military supplies, Fulk said.

About half of the 100 sutlers expected for this weekend's event set up their tents on Wednesday.

Re-enactor registration also started Wednesday. About 200 had checked in by about 5 p.m., including some walk-ons. More than 11,000 have preregistered.

Intermittent rain added extra work for organizers, who had to spread gravel and mulch to fight the mud, said Don Warlick, re-enactor coordinator.

The Herald-Mail Articles