Read the latest dispatch from the What's It Wagon

11 Jul 2010 Gettysburg

19 Feb 2002 Olustee

27 Jan 2002 Alafia Mountain Man Rendezvous

19 Jan 2002 Brookesville Reenacment

21 Feb 2001 Battle of Olustee 2001

27 Jan 2001 Alafia Mountain Man Rendezvous

19 Jan 2001 Bitter Weather Makes Reenacting A Chilling Experience

23 Oct 2000 Hunsader's Revisited

16 Oct 2000 The Photographist

04 May 2000 Off to the Ancient City

31 Mar 2000 Cow Cavalry Wedding at Hunsader's Farm

21 Feb 2000 Front Lines at the Battle of Olustee, Florida

12 Feb 2000 Return From The 1840s

19 Jan 2000 Mountain Man Rendezvous, Alafia, Fla.

19 Jan 2000 Brookesville Raid Reenactment Brookesville, Fla.

03 Jul 1998 Mountain Man Rendezvous, Fla.


19 Feb 2002

Dear Steve, Here's the latest from the front. Could we post this on the site?

It wasn’t as easy to go off to the reenactment at Olustee near Lake City as it has been in the past. Doug, my apprentice wasn’t going with me. He’s a great help off loading the wagon and setting up camp. Considering the wagon weighs probably around fifteen hundred pounds, it can be kind of a challenge to whip that thing into place in and among the thickly planted pine trees.

The ride up to Olustee wasn’t too bad. There were about three and a half hours worth of traffic dodging semis and fast moving tourists headed back to Ohio or where ever.

I pulled into registration and was approached by a fellow named Eric, who’s in charge of handling the vendors called sutlers in Civil War terminology. “Where’s your tax number, Fritz? You know you can’t set up without your tax number.” I had remembered to bring eighty photographic plates, wooden camera, antique tripod, metal headstand, box of business cards, assorted pieces of vintage clothing, numerous hats and other paraphernalia. Yes, somehow or other the tax number was in a book back at the plantation.

Eric was kind enough to speak to the local sheriff who would have me sit on the sideline and rot. He said he had the old applications from last year at home and he would bring the number back that evening. So therefore I could set up. I vowed to go into town and get a temporary number just in case he didn’t remember that all important number and did so later.

With the help of veteran sutler, John Bogarty I managed to maneuver the trailer into tight quarters. The bolts on the trailer gate were loosened and the wagon rolled with heavy pushes from behind into place. I propped the trail which Browny, my imaginary horse, would have used to pull the heavy wagon against the carriage side. Out came the barrel, massive tripod, table, desk and other camp furniture. It was Thursday afternoon. The weather was bright and cheery but there were only fellow sutlers to look at, talk to and complain about the lack of customers to. Why we all have to be in place two days before the reenactors arrived few can explain.

The next morning I visited the Lake City historical museum. We got to see pictures of local Civil War soldiers and Yankee rifles which were stolen by the local Southerners during the army occupation of the town and thrown into the town lake. There they had laid buried in the muddy bottom for one hundred twenty five years or so, only to be fished out when the lake was drained for cleaning and restoration. The rifles were more or less intact preserved by the mud. I remember when our current senator, Bob Graham, dressed in Confederate officer’s uniform, presented the rifles cleaned and restored back to the city. It was a proud red neck moment. Local rebels had whipped the Yankees one more time.

Friday afternoon I swung from the wagon and set up as usual. The scene looked much as it might have 140 years ago. The Olustee reenactment is held on the actual battle field where the Rebels defeated the Federal forces sent out from Jacksonville in February, 1864. It was a surprising late war victory for the doomed Southerners. But they whipped the Yankees fair and square. There’s supposed to be several ghosts still seen from time to time of fallen soldiers, but so far in the twenty years I’ve been going to this reenactment, I’ve never seen them, but I have heard their late night howls.

I bought a marvelous period straw hat from Dirty Billy, the haberdasher and was proud to sport it throughout the event. I visited with sutler friends, watched the reenactors coming in, and prayed for good business along with the other merchants.

Saturday morning I was in camp and up to greet the troops as the marched to colors. I hold my camera on its tripod by the side of the road. I hollered out as the troops marched by, “Get your image struck before you die! Last chance this side of the pearly gates. Pin your name on the back of your jacket. If any portion of your body is recognizable, I can ship your image home with the body. Imagine the look of surprise on your momma’s face when she opens the coffin box to see a picture of you as you were in life!” It’s gallows humor but the soldiers all love it, and hoot and holler at me swearing mock revenge. It does however let them know I’ll be ready throughout the event to strike their image and make a dollar.

Saturday was fairly busy. The customers came steadily, but there was no rush. I was beginning to think the problems that plagued our economy were going to hit me as well. Many of the other sutlers were complaining too. Then we all got slammed. The soldiers returned from the commemorative parade in town, and customers came forward all wanting to have their image struck with their comrades and pards. I did individuals, duos, trios and in fact, whole companies. I posed them formally and informally, with weapons, their children, their wives and sweethearts, all in traditional poses. My camera was smokin’! When the sun finally set that afternoon, I had gone through an entire box of plates and knew I would sell out of all my plates once again.

Sunday morning was more of the same. Following colors. (the flag raising ceremony), fellows came from the Confederate camp to help me carry my box of plates and other materials into their camp to do more unit pictures. Posing them in camp is so realistic looking. It is what inspires me to keep taking pictures. The work is hard because each soldier needs to be posed precisely as the original soldiers used to appear. It means I really have to have studied the ancient images in order to do the set ups quickly. Modern reenactors aren’t as patient as the soldiers from days gone by. They want the job done quickly and efficiently, but also to perfection. Again, Doug’s assistance was missed. He knows how to pose the men almost as well as I do, and is usually there to help get the job done.

During the afternoon, soldiers came with wives, families and sweethearts for their portraits. The camera continued to focus in on these people until an hour after the battle was over. Then came the job of packing up. Getting the van with the trailer back to where the wagon was ensconced was a trial, but was accomplished with greater speed than anticipated. A horrible moment came when the wagon was being hoisted back onto the trailer. The cable pulling the wagon snapped and the wagon rolled quickly back to the ground! I anticipated having to spend the night on the field until I could go into town and get another cable and some wire cutters.

Fortunately I know the park ranger. A passing police officer on a patrol bike radioed him, and Frank, the park ranger, brought a device known as a “come along” to the rescue. It took some struggling, but the old wagon finally was coaxed and pushed into place. By five thirty I was on the rode back to Safety Harbor. I was tired but happy. The weather had been perfect. I sold out to the last picture frame I had, and my wallet was full. Exhausted and ready for a good night’s sleep, I pulled the covers over my head around 11:30 that night, satisfied that another Olustee reenactment was behind me. That’s all the news from Sunny Florida. Sincerely, Fritz

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