Illinois Governor Pat Quinn has reopened state parks and state historic sites ordered closed by his ousted predecessor, Rod Blagojevich who is facing prosecution on federal corruption charges.
In Southern Illinois, the reopening comes just in time for Fort de Chartres State Historic Site to put its huge, annual Summer Rendezvous on the schedule for Friday and Saturday, June 6th and 7th, 2009.
The summer rendezvous with hundreds of reenacters, craftspeople, and others has a major economic impact on nearby Prairie du Rocher and other communities in Randolph County. It brings in tourists from throughout the region to enjoy the weekend pageantry where colorful uniforms and flintlocks mix with tents and teepees clustered around the replica of the old stone fort which was once the colonial administrative headquarters for the French in Illinois.
Each day begins at 10am with an Opening Ceremony and the Posting of Colors in which marchers, and flag-bearers particpate, the beat set by the fife and drum music. Inside the fort on the grounds are the crafters who demonstrate traditional crafts the people of the time might do, such as the making of velvet, churning butter, or chair-making. The main stage is also inside the fort and will feature musical entertainment throughout the weekend.
The fort cannot contain anywhere near all that's going on, however. Clustered outside the main gate, which is guarded by 18th century French Marines, is an array of vendors booths offering fabrics, period clothing, scented candles, leathergoods, wooden shoes such as the French colonial farmers used, and other items. One regular vendor shows off cannon that he manufactures for such events.
Clustered beyond the vendors area the tents and teepees where the "buckskinners" and other reenacters are bivouacking for the weekend, their trade blankets laid out in front of their shelter, a pot of beans or coffee suspended over a small nearby campfire.
There are also informative displays of various kinds with some year-to-year variability depending on availability. That has included an array of Indian shelters both full-size and in miniature.
Another event featured a portrayer of a "Black Robe," a French Jesuit priest/explorer, who gave lectures in the fort abou the French explorers of the Mississippi River Valley.
Behind the fort is the River Gate Food Court which offers traditional foods, including old-fashioned homemade root beer.
The event also features flintlock and musket competitions as well as competitions for mortars and cannon. Chief among the groups that volunteer to assist at the event is the fort's own flintlock gun club, Les Coureur de Bois du Fort de Chartres, or the Woods Runners of Fort de Chartres. The gun club members, in period costume, handle various tasks during the rendezvous, including registration, setting up the primitive camping area, and performing as dog soldiers (an Indian term; police).
The fort, of course, has its own museum which is worth a tour for a background on French settlers of the Mississippi River Valley.
The Fort de Chartres (pron: deSHART) Summer Rendezvous is the largest gathering of 18th century reenacters in the Midwest and it's return will be welcomed by regular visitors who may have been concerned that the rendezvous would not be held this year.