From a tanner stretching deerskin to World War II re-enactors, more than 1,000 Neapolitans and visitors walked through about 10,000 years of Florida history on Saturday at the Old Florida Festival.
In its 19th year, the event held in and around the Collier County Museum this weekend intends to be a living history to teach residents and visitors what occurred on the ground they live on and drive by every day.
“It’s really important in a community like this, with so many people not from here, to get them to have a connection to what happened here,” said the museum’s Curator of Education, Dave Southall, sporting a Civil War era blue cap, “to blend in.”
“The history of a place is its character,” he added, checking in on the Seminole War Fort. “You have to get people to take ownership and come together as a community that shares a history.”
To reproduce scenes from the state’s history, costumed re-enactors and hobbyists from around the state set up booths, tents, and props on the lawn behind the museum.
In a bit of revisionist history, a battle from the Second Seminole War took place Saturday a few hundred yards from the Collier County Courthouse.
Some children stood, hands over their ears to diminish the sound of the canon and gun blanks, fascinated with the mock 19th century battle between Native Americans and the U.S. Army.
Other young visitors bolted toward calmer scenes, like the Calusa hut complete with a shell mound, where “White Turtle Woman” Wynne Tatman explained how the Calusa hunted and used the resources in the area, like animal skins, in daily life.
Standing between three hanging alligator skins – two with the heads still attached – Tatman demonstrated to a dozen children how a blowgun is used.
“It’s so much fun to see the light come on in kids’ eyes,” she said after the show.
Born and raised in Florida, the former artist began performing at living history events around the state 17 years ago when she realized that “we are studying 500 years of Florida history in schools. What about the 15,000 before that?”
The motto she works by in the two to three shows a week she performs is: “People are not truly gone unless they are forgotten.”
Three local girls who likely won’t be forgetting Saturday’s lessons anytime soon had been at the festival since 10 a.m., and by 2:15 p.m. had only made it halfway through.
“I like books, but this is the real thing,” said 10-year-old Seagate Elementary student Isabella Dipasquale, standing near the apothecary tent.
She and friend Becca Barton, 11, showed off a deerskin pouch, baskets woven out of pine needles and feather ornaments, all purchased at the festival that morning.
“It’s going to be so cool when we study this stuff in class because I’ve actually seen it,” Barton said.
But the youngest of the group led by Isabella’s mother, Lisette, spoke the sagest when summarizing the day. She earned nods of agreement from everyone while snacking on a bag of popcorn twice the volume of a jumbo size at the movies.
“It’s about having fun,” said the youngest Dipasquale sister, Lucrezia, 7, between mouthfuls. “And learning and buying and eating.”
The Old Florida Festival continues Sunday, March 2, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Collier County Museum.