Past and present come together at 36th Annual Heritage Festival & Craft Show

Saturday, September 21, 2013 | 8:22 p.m. CDT; updated 6:52 p.m. CDT, Thursday, September 26, 2013
The 36th Annual Heritage Festival & Craft Show on Saturday and Sunday in Nifong Park helped modern visitors mingle with costumed actors to recreate, if only briefly, 19th century small town life.

COLUMBIA — John Colter, former member of Lewis and Clark's Corps of Discovery, unsheathed a glistening Bowie Knife and displayed it to his young audience.

"Wow, that's like a pirate!" exclaimed Will Struchtemeyer, 9, of Columbia. His friend, Joe Devoy, 9, was similarly impressed.

36th Annual Heritage Festival & Craft Show

Where: Nifong Park

When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

For additional information including a map and performance schedule, type in and search "Heritage Festival."

In a Scottish accent, Colter, as portrayed by a re-enactor decked out in puffy shirt and feathered hat, explained that such a weapon was necessary back in his exploring days.

"You had no ma and pa, no general store or whatever," he said. "Anything you needed you had to get it on your own."

The two young friends thought about that for a moment.

"What do you do when you wanna watch TV?" Struchtemeyer asked incredulously.

At the 36th Annual Heritage Festival & Craft Show, held Saturday and Sunday at Nifong Park, such questions are inevitable. After all, amid the 19th-century costume and old-fangled tools of various trades rushes a stream of young, 21st-century minds.

"What is an iPad?" Struchtemeyer asked. He was just having fun by this point.

"Are you even speaking English?" replied the pioneer.

Perhaps to change the subject, Colter picked up his flintlock, .50-caliber rifle. Again, the kids were rapt. He described its flint and steel firing mechanism.

"Hey Benton, this gun has a flint and steel! Hey Benton, this gun has a flint and steel!" shouted Struchtemeyer as he ran off to grab his little brother.

The man playing pioneer John Colter is Clint Winn, 56, of New Bloomfield. He has been involved in historical re-enacting for 20 years or so. After his crowd dispersed, he described how his loves for theater and American history had simply "collided into re-enactment."

Winn puts a lot of research into his work. The Scottish brogue he uses when speaking to heritage festival visitors was arrived at after Winn read that Colter's grandfather had come over from Scotland.

As for the questions he sometimes gets from kids, Winn seemed unfazed.

One question he gets asked a lot is, "When did you die?," Winn said, chuckling.

Over at the blacksmith's shop, Bernard Tappel, 63, of Osage Bluff, said interacting with curious, excited kids is the highlight of the job. 

"Most of 'em want you to make a sword," he said with a laugh. "That's the first question, 'Can you make a sword?'"

As he hammered a piece of burning red molten metal into the shape of a small leaf — he was making part of a key fob — Tappel said he has been blacksmithing for 35 to 40 years, although this was only his third year at the Heritage Festival.

He grew up about three miles from where he lives now. Back when he was a kid, there were still working blacksmith shops in the area.

Now, he owns some of the equipment that used to be in those old shops.

Tappel retired four years ago from a career in information technology and turned his former hobby into pretty much a full-time job.

He participates in five or six festivals a year and is active in the Blacksmith Association of Missouri, of which he was a founding member in 1983.

A different kind of metal is the name of the game at the Prospector's Camp where enterprising young gold seekers are offered "free panning lessons." Alaina Zelch, 6, and her brother Mason, 4, of Columbia, took up the offer to sift through pans of sand looking for anything glittery.

Astute beyond her years, Alaina, when asked what she was doing, replied, "Trying to find cool pieces that are not actually gold."

That did not quash the desire to find something that was not sand. When Mason discovered an especially shiny bit of something or other from his pan, Alaina's reaction was swift and assured.

"I want new sand," she said.

A fresh scoop of sand proved more to her liking.

"Whoah!" she said slowly, drawing out the word as she picked a choice piece out of her pan and dropped it in a plastic bag. Her not-actually-gold fever had subsided.

"I like it because it looks cool," she said.

The 36th Annual Heritage Festival & Craft Show will continue from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. In addition to historical re-enactors, the festival features musical performances, storytellers and numerous craft vendors.

Supervising editor is Stephanie Ebbs.        

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