*cue French accent
“Bonjour! My name is Celeste, and this is my sister, Monique. We are traveling from Detroit (pronounced Day-twa in French accent) to Frenchtown to visit our older sister, but it is unsafe for us to travel alone, so we are waiting for a large group to gather to make the journey together. In the meantime, please step into this nice madam’s house where we have stayed before beginning our journey. She will tell you about…”
I don’t really recall exactly what Madam Jeanne told each group, but it usually had something to do with how the River Raisin got its name, the current news in 1812 or 1813, or something about muskrats (did I mention our mascot is Major Muskrat?). So began my first ever Spirits of the River Raisin (Spirits) event at the River Raisin National Battlefield Park.
Spirits has occurred for the past 3 years at my park, and the event is in the evening, with campfires and lanterns lighting the path. Reenactors and actors dressed in period clothing are ready to tell the visitor about what happened on our battlefield 200 or so years ago, during The War of 1812. The idea is that the spirits of the people who used to live here were coming back to tell their story. All of the stations had historically accurate information, although some also discussed French folklore alongside actual stories. We provided trick or treating for the kiddos, a craft tent, ghost stories (for those interested), and refreshments.
I had the privilege of being a guide for a handful of the tours, and began my spiel with the dialogue above. My wool cape kept me warm, sometimes too warm, above my chemise, striped skirt, and blue vest. A mop cap completed the ensemble, and I felt ready to take on the journey to Frenchtown! It was such fun seeing the little children get into the story, or hide behind their parents because they didn’t know why I was dressed and acting so different. How I enjoyed poking fun at the groups, and saying things like…
“Wow, do you have no women traveling among you? Some of you have long hair, but you are all wearing pants!”
“You must be British?! Why else would you be wearing such a bright red coat! (or scarf, hat, pants, etc.) You had better stay in the middle of the group. There are some around these parts who don’t take too kindly to those like you.”
And lastly, the loup garou was on the hunt! (Can you see him in the picture below?) The loup garou is a werewolf in French folklore, and that night be had a sweet tooth! Obviously, the “loup garou” was not allowed to actually touch guests or take their candy, but he skulked around behind trees, and ran by groups when it got dark. Unfortunately, some of the children started throwing candy AT HIM to scare him away! It was certainly a night to remember.
So, next time you take a stroll around these parts, remember the many people who used to live and work in Frenchtown, the current site of the River Raisin National Battlefield Park, and visit the spirits as that come back to tell their stories every October.