History drives passion

Couple devoted to history bring Lewis and Clark to Hartsburg
Friday, April 9, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 6:41 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Hartsburg Mayor Nancy Grant and her husband, Mike Rodemeyer, spent three weeks retracing the route of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, but their adventure wasn’t just for pleasure.

The couple’s attention to re-enactments and historical details at interpretive centers is being put to use as they plan a festival in Hartsburg to celebrate the area’s first of a series of bicentennial celebrations to commemorate the explorers’ trip up the Missouri River.

Grant wanted Hartsburg to host the first Lewis and Clark festival in the area rather than wait for the arrival of the St. Charles Discovery Expedition, a group of re-enactors with three keelboats that will be passing through mid-Missouri in late May and early June.

Re-enactors being hired for the Hartsburg event were recruited by the couple during their trip last year, and Rodemeyer said their early timing allowed them to pick the best.

Stacks of books, maps and other literature piled high on Grant’s dining room table are only a small part of the planning and preparation she’s done for the festival, scheduled for the weekend of May 1 and 2. One of the books on the table, “Undaunted Courage” by Stephen Ambrose, sparked the couple’s curiosity, Rodemeyer said.

“The river goes right by our door, and the story needs to be told,” Rodemeyer said. He said his wife got the bug, and she wants to share it with her neighbors — and especially kids.

“She has done so much and she spends a lot of her own money,” Rodemeyer said, adding that Grant usually starts working on the festival at 4:30 each morning and goes until after 10 p.m.

Grant has been spending much of her time applying for grants, contacting re-enactors and planning events to fill the two-day festival in Hartsburg, which will be the first of several community events in mid-Missouri to mark the historic 1804 trip. She has even spent several thousand dollars out of her own pocket.

“This will be the first and largest Lewis and Clark event in this area and very comparable to Jefferson City,” Grant said.

Jefferson City is hosting the Discovery Expedition June 1 and 2. Other events will be held June 5 and 6 in Huntsdale and Rocheport, June 3 to 14 in Boonville, June 8 and 9 in Arrow Rock and June 9 to 12 in Glasgow.

Grant is no stranger to planning festivals. She’s been helping with the Hartsburg Pumpkin Festival each October since it began 14 years ago. “This will be a cultural event, and hopefully educational, whereas the Pumpkin Festival is commercial,” she said.

Rodemeyer said organizers are hoping to attract 6,000 to 8,000 people, similar to the crowd at the first Pumpkin Festival.

Grant said the event will make clear that President Thomas Jefferson sent the men to find a “northwest passage” by the portrayals of Sacagawea, who served as an interpreter and was the only woman on the expedition, Sgt. Patrick Gass, a military icon who served as a carpenter on the trip and others. Helping people relive the journey will be 1804 medicine, American Indian rock art, gunsmiths and food from the period.

Local farmers are offering their equipment and skills to the event. Farmer and resident Wayne Hilgedick and his son Terry Hilgedick will be giving riverside excursions by wagon to their land along the Missouri River. The excursions will take visitors within eyeshot of Bull Rock, located on the opposite side of the river directly across from Hilgedick’s land.

The large rock is a landmark mentioned in the explorers’ journals but was later named Bull Rock by local farmers, Grant said. “This will give people a visual sense of the land that was seen on the expedition.”

Wayne Hilgedick will be showing off some of the flora and fauna along the Missouri River that Lewis and Clark catalogued in their journals. “I will show people what they saw,” he said.

Local historians Roy Williams and Cliff Barker from Ashland will demonstrate their flint-knapping and bow-making skills. “There is nothing more rewarding than to put food on your table with a bow that you made, with a string that you made and an arrow that you made,” Williams said.

The Department of Conservation will be demonstrating the construction of dugout canoes; other historians and vendors will be demonstrating soap-making, basketry and American Indian storytelling.

Southern Boone County Elementary School is performing a musical play at the event. The children will also be teaching other youth how to make crafts from the period, such as clay canoes and journals.

There will be a special postal cancellation using a design that Rodemeyer created in the shop behind his home.

“I haven’t drawn anything since high school, and I’m 61 now,” he said.

Hartsburg Postmaster Dan Williams will be selling the cancellations at the festival along with Lewis and Clark stamps being issued by the U.S. Postal Service.

Grant is still receiving donations and has had to lower her expectations for the amount of money that will be available. She’s set a budget of $16,728, but said the event will go on regardless of whether that amount is raised.

In addition to donations, the festival received grants from the Columbia Visitors Bureau, Missouri Humanities Council, Missouri Arts Council and the Boone Electric Community Trust.

Lorah Steiner, executive director of the Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau, said her agency is supporting Hartsburg and Huntsdale festivals because no specific events are planned in Columbia and the bureau promotes events throughout mid-Missouri.

“These events put bodies in hotels, and that is our ultimate goal,” Steiner said. “Lewis and Clark is a big push for us this year.”

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