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Frontier Days getting more real

June 04, 2000|By DON AINES

FORT LOUDON, Pa. - The carnival atmosphere that once accompanied Frontier Days has become a colonial atmosphere in recent years, reflecting the era when the fort site was at the fringe of the North American frontier.

"When we first started it, we did carnivals to raise money, but that's not acceptable at a state historic site," said Anna Rotz, president of the Fort Loudon Historical Society.

A few yards away, a screaming Shawnee war party fired muskets and took a family of settlers hostage.

"The Mary Jemison Story" was the centerpiece of the 26th Annual Frontier Days Celebration, the story of a 15-year-old girl kidnapped by Indians in 1758 from her family farm somewhere near Chambersburg.

Jemison, played by Amanda Akers of Mercersburg, Pa., was sold to a Seneca Indian family at Fort Duquesne, near present-day Pittsburgh, according to John L. Moore, the Northumberland, Pa., man who wrote and directed the pageant.

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She became a Seneca Indian and lived 75 years with the tribe, he said.

Moore based the pageant on a biography by James Seaver, who interviewed Jemison in 1823 when she was 80.

"Almost all the words Mary Jemison speaks in the pageant are words she spoke to Seaver," said Moore, who played Seaver.

Several family members were killed outright, but the survivors were taken on a trek that brought them near the colonial outpost the next day, according to Moore.

The pageant was something of a family affair for Amanda, whose parents and two brothers were among the 17 cast members.

Sitting on a bale of hay in the shadows of the stockade before the play, Jon Andrus attracted the attention of curious youngsters. With his shaved head and face adorned with war paint, and a silver ring in his nose, he played "Iron Eyes," a Shawnee raider.

Andrus said he played a Huron Indian in "Last of the Mohicans," a Daniel Day-Lewis film. A stunt coordinator and owner of a blasting business, the Chambersburg man also had a role in the film "Gettysburg."

"We may try to have a play every year," Rotz said as Jemison's story unfolded with the fort as its backdrop.

One source of material could be the most famous event at Fort Loudon, an uprising against British troops during the French and Indian War. Hollywood mined that subject in 1939 with "Allegheny Uprising," starring John Wayne.

Events such as Frontier Days often attract Civil War re-enactors, but they don't usually have English accents. Jef Savage and his wife Nancy Walker, a native of Fort Loudon, recently moved to the area from London.

"On any given year there are about 1,500 re-enactors in Great Britain," said Savage, who gave presentations on the lives of Civil War artillerymen.

He said an international re-enactment held in Yorkshire every two years attracts re-enactors from Australia, New Zealand, France, Germany, Russia and other countries, including some Americans.

Walker, a former professor of early dance at the Royal College of Music in London, took on a different role for Frontier Days. She demonstrated the intricate art of making English bobbin lace, the delicate ruffs, collars, cuffs and other sartorial adornments one sees in Elizabethan portraits.

"In the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries a man had to wear lace, too," she said.

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