FORT LARNED — Visitors to Fort Larned National Historic Site on Dec. 8 were treated to a recreation of a Frontier Army Christmas.
Staff and volunteers brought the fort to life with holiday scenes from the 1860s, using the historic setting to help visitors see how Christmas would have been celebrated on a frontier Army post by people far away from family, friends and “civilization”.
On officers’ row volunteers Gay and Lloyd Choitz portrayed an officer and his wife hosting a Christmas party in their quarters, complete with holiday decorations and foods.
Sam Young, another volunteer represented a bachelor officer in the quarters next door who was enjoying his own Christmas celebration.
In the enlisted barracks, several volunteers and park staff provided holiday food for the visitors as part of a scene where some officers’ wives brought holiday cheer to the soldiers.
The food included traditional holiday desserts along with some warm soup and hot drinks such as apple cider, coffee and eggnog served by volunteers Cathy Weber and Linda Thom.
Volunteer “soldier” Bill Weber kept the fires going in the kitchen and mess hall.
In the blacksmith shop, Park Ranger Pete Bethke demonstrated blacksmithing.
Park Ranger Ellen Jones helped the young visitors make snowflakes in the post hospital and decorate a Christmas tree for the evening activities.
Visitors for the afternoon could either explore the scenes on their own or take a guided tour with one of two volunteer guides Susan Ploger and Linda Bethke.
The tours ran from 1 to 5 p.m., after which the activities switched to a holiday party in the hospital ward room.
Volunteers Chris Day and Janet Armistead played holiday music for caroling and dancing; Marlin Matkin, a long-time fort volunteer, provided games and dancing instruction for the visitors with the assistance of another faithful volunteer, Christine LaRue.
Just like today, Christmas for those at frontier army posts in the 1860s was a highly anticipated event.
People planned for months in advance, mostly to get the special ingredients they needed to make favorite holiday foods. Different from today’s celebrations, however, decorations were usually minimal and people normally exchanged only one or two gifts each instead of the many gifts found under most present-day Christmas trees.