If you go
Old Florida Festival
When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
Where: Collier County Museum, 3331 U.S. 41 E.
Admission: $5 for adults, $2 for students and free for children 8 and younger.
Ten thousand years of history will come to life in the span of a weekend.
The Old Florida Festival features 70 historical actors interpreting the eras from the time of prehistoric Paleo Indians to World War II. It takes place on the 5-acre grounds of the Collier County Museum in Naples from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are $5 for adults, $2 for students and children 8 and younger are free.
“A lot of people don’t realize that history can be interesting and fun,” said David Southall, curator of the museum and organizer of the festival. “What we show them is that history is a really interesting story and it’s a story about us.”
The 21st annual festival will have 30 themed areas, including Civil War, Seminole Indians and Spanish conquistador camps scattered across the pathways of the museum’s backyard. Southall said every historic actor is an expert on his roles and the periods he represents. Festivalgoers are encouraged to visit each camp and ask questions.
“They all want to share their knowledge and interact with people,” said Southhall who also serves as an actor for the festival. “For these historians, it’s not just about battles and shooting off guns, it’s about fully portraying the lives of these people from the past.”
But there will be battle re-enactments for those who like action. Throughout the day, visitors can watch scrimmages between Seminole Indians and Spanish soldiers as well as between the British and American armies. Visitors have the chance to explore a Sherman tank, and there will be a real cannon fired.
“When people hear the loud boom, it’s unmistakable,” said Southall who has worked for the museum for 10 years. “They know the Olde Florida Festival is going on,”
Tim England, an actor at the event since 2003, fired off that cannon many times before. Every year, the born-and-raised Brit acts as a grenadier, a specialized British soldier trained in throwing grenades. England said he gets a lot of interesting questions about his heavy, red wool coat and big bearskin hat.
“Most people want to know if it’s hot,” England said with a laugh. “Kids want to know if it’s hard to go to the bathroom. My answer: The same way I would normally. I’m always happy to answer. I enjoy stimulating young minds and the best way to do that is with interaction.”
Also at the event will be a dozen crafters and traders, setting up shop at their Suttler’s Row. Blacksmiths, candle makers, leather tanners and others will be creating and selling their wares. There will even be an an old-fashioned root beer stand and an 18th century candy-maker, concocting old world sweets.
For those who have a more modern palate, standard festival fare of hot dogs, hamburgers and kettle corn are available. In addition, a real Nanticoke Indian and a Shakespearean theater group will perform at the outdoor amphitheater.
Southall compared the weekend’s festivities to a real life version of “Night at the Museum.”
“It’s a Florida history museum come to life,” Southall said. “The festival is unique, amazingly educational and fun. You can learn things here you’ll never learn anywhere else.”