Saturday, April 22, 2000

Grant's birthday resurrects past

Historic figures alive at Georgetown fest

BY Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        GEORGETOWN, Ohio — Ulysses S. Grant, hero of the Civil War and 18th president of the United States, takes mustard and pickles on his cheeseburger.

[photo] From left, Ray Becraft (Gen. James Wilson), Mike Miller (Gen. Ulysses S. Grant), Ned Lodwick (Col. Ely S. Parker) and Pat Hornschemeier (Gen. John Rawlins).

(DICK SWAIM photo)
| ZOOM |

        His chief of staff, General John Rawlins, prefers a fish sandwich with tartar sauce, as does a staff officer, General James Wilson, with pasta salad on the side.

        Col. Ely S. Parker, the Seneca Indian who was at Grant's side from Chattanoo ga to Appomattox, has what the General of the Army has.

        You might think that all these historical figures from America's Civil War are long dead and gone; and more likely to dine on hardtack and salt pork if they were still vertical and breathing.

        But you probably haven't been to this Brown County village lately. If you had been there around the noon hour Friday, you would have found them all sitting around a table in the back room of Jimmy's Restaurant on Pleasant Street — living, breathing, and dressed from head-to-toe in full field uniforms, right down to the polished brass buttons on their heavy wool coats.

        People here are used to seeing them; especially this time of year, when Georgetown celebrates the birthday of its most famous resident, Grant, who lived here from the age of 3 until he went off to West Point.

What: Ulysses S. Grant Birth celebration.
When: April 28-30.
Phone: (937) 378-4222.
        For most of the year, they are better known to Georgetown residents as Mike Miller (Grant), the Brown County economic development director; Ray Becraft (Wilson), the village administrator and former mayor; Pat Hornschemeier (Rawlins), a lawyer; and Ned Lodwick (Parker), a Georgetown veterinarian.

        But during the Ulysses S. Grant Birth celebration — a three-day event that begins Friday, and ends Sunday, April 30 — the four become the general and three of his most trusted staff officers; and put into flesh-and-bone the black-and-white text of history books for the thousands who come to Georgetown each year for the festival.

        “We're doing it to bring Grant to life,” said Mr. Miller, who, with his neatly-trimmed beard and slight build, can easily pass for Georgetown's favorite son.

        Georgetown was only 4 years old in 1826 when a tanner named Jesse Grant moved there from Point Pleasant — 15 miles away on the banks of the Ohio River — with his young family, including young son Hiram Ulysses. The boy lived here until he left for the U.S. Military Academy, where he dropped the “Hiram” and became “U.S. Grant.” The Georgetown house was the place where the nomadic Grant lived longer than anywhere else during his lifetime; and it still stands on East Grant Street. It was restored in 1982 by wildlife artist John Ruthven and his wife, Judy.

        When the crowds come to Georgetown next weekend, they'll see not only Grant and his staff, but a Civil War battle near the Brown County Fairgrounds, performed by hundreds of Union and Confederate “re-enactors,” and, this year, Abraham Lincoln — in the person of Fritz Klein, a nationally-known Lincoln impersonator from Illinois.

        Friday night, at Georgetown's newly-restored Gaslight Theater, Mr. Klein and Mr. Miller will star in a state production that will feature musicians playing Civil War music.

        On Saturday morning, Lincoln, Grant and the staff officers will lead a “promenade"' through town, with the general showing the president all of Georgetown's historic sites.

        At Jimmy's Restaurant on Friday, the four “officers” ate lunch and talked about why they do this year after year.

        It is not just hometown pride, they say; they do it because in Georgetown, history is important. Understand the past, and you know the present and see the future.

        “What I like is going to schools and playing the parts,” Mr. Miller said. “We try to make it come alive.”

        Mr. Lodwick said children are particularly receptive to their per formances “because they can still handle the fantasy of it.”

        “When you come to them and say you're Ulysses S. Grant or Ely Parker, they believe it,” Mr. Lodwick said. “To them, you are who you say you are. And they get into it.”

        The four men came to choose their roles for different reasons. For Mr. Miller, there was the obvious physical resemblance and a long-time fascination with Grant, who, as a boy, had a talent for breaking wild horses in the village square.

        Mr. Becraft was attracted to Wilson because he was a civil engineer — a profession Mr. Becraft admires — and because “he didn't drink and he lived the longest.” For Mr. Hornschemeier, Mr. Rawlins was a natural because he was a lawyer, and a neighbor of Grant's in Galena, Ill., at the outbreak of the Civil War.

        Mr. Lodwick came to his part several years ago when he was camping with friends in Allegheny State Park in New York, near Parker's birthplace. After seeing a display at a local museum, he became fascinated with the well-educated Seneca Indian, who wrote out in long-hand the terms of surrender for Robert E. Lee at Appomattox.

        “We all try to learn as much about our characters as we can,” Mr. Lodwick said. “We try to be them.”        

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