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Last updated: Mon. May. 12, 2014 - 06:49 am EDT

Fort Wayne couple enjoys re-enacting, sharing joy of Civil War-era toys

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What: Muster on the St. Marys, a Time Line Event

When: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday

Where: Historic Fort Wayne, 1201 Spy Run Ave. Parking is available at Headwaters and Lawton Parks.

Cost: Free, but donations accepted

Information: 437-2836 or www.OldFortWayne.org

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Civil War re-enactor Gracie Grubaugh makes a surprising confession.

“I'm not a tent person,” she admits. “I like my electricity, hot water, and a nice comfy bed.”

The slender redhead and her husband Richard, both retired from East Allen County Schools, have participated in re-enactments for 20 years, displaying and demonstrating their collection of antique and vintage toys.

On Saturday and Sunday, the Grubaughs will be sharing everything from bisque dolls to primitive knucklebones (jacks) during Muster on the St. Marys -- a Time Line Event at Historic Fort Wayne.

Though most participants will spend the night at the fort, when the sun goes down Gracie plans to be tucked into her warm bed at home in rural Allen County.

Nothing for children

The Grubaughs were first introduced to re-enacting by son Josh.

“We started taking our son when he was a sophomore in high school,” Gracie recalls. “He was a soldier; we were watchers. We enjoyed watching the battles, but realized when going through the encampments that there were [no activities] specifically for children.”

They decided to explore the world of toys -- vintage, antique and reproductions. The couple got a tent, joined the 30th Indiana Volunteer Infantry (later transferring to the 44th Indiana Civil War Historical Association), and began assembling their collection.

With each new acquisition, hours of research revealed the item's history, function, and significance to the child.

“I have learned so much,” Gracie says. “I do my research so I am educating the public correctly. Children learn they can have a lot of fun with simple toys without batteries!”

The western frontier

Though 21st century Indiana is considered the mid-west, the Hoosier state was regarded as the Western frontier during the Civil War era. A sparse population, combined with fledgling commerce and transportation meant commercially manufactured toys were in short supply.

Children were expected to work alongside their parents, churning butter, tending to the animals, making bread, and pulling weeds in the garden. Most toys were made for a child to enjoy during rare moments when daily chores were complete. Many mimicked functional adult items such as tools, weapons, or household items.

“They didn't have a lot of playtime,” Gracie says, “so they valued the time they did have. Boys learned to shoot guns at an early age, and girls played with miniature wood-burning stoves, sewing machines, rug beaters, and washboards.”

“Some grandparents might have sent expensive toys on a canal boat from back east,” explains Richard, “... items such as dolls or glass marbles.” String puppets from Europe, such as the ever-popular Punch and Judy, appeared occasionally, but the predominant puppets were stick puppets, usually carved, whittled, or constructed by the children's father.

“Toys were made of ribbon, wood, lead, bone, or cloth,” Gracie continues, pointing to a bone doll from her collection that her granddaughter dubbed “E.T.”.

“During butchering time, the bones were boiled to get the meat off, and then thrown into the yard,” she says, explaining that young girls would select a large bone and construct clothing for their new “doll”.

“That is,” Richard laughs, “as long as the dog didn't get there first!”

The toys

Gracie loves her dolls.

“My original tin head doll from Europe is Civil War,” she says. “I have a bisque head (doll) and a sawdust and bean-filled baby -- Sammy.”

“My favorites are the Gee-Haw Whimmydiddle and the Do-Nothing Box,” adds Richard, describing how he introduces the Whimmydiddle to children by explaining the usage of “gee” and “haw” to direct horses to their right or left.

Original wood dominoes and checkers share display space with paper dolls, pick-up sticks, croquet, badminton, Jack-in-the-box and various books, games and puzzles.

“Gluckhaus is a gambling game,” Gracie explains, “and Knucklebones was where our game of jacks come from.'' (Gracie's game bones were retrieved from a turkey.)

Stump Wars, a competition using a rope, wood, and a log is very popular, says Richard. “The strategy is to get your opponent to fall off the log.”

“And the Game of Graces,” adds Gracie. “They love that! They'll play for hours.”

Richard, who taught woodworking at Woodlan High School, used toys to teach joint construction to his students. He uses patterns, old instruction books, and vintage toys as models to create reproduction toys, some of which are for sale.

“We sell Jacob's Ladder, ball-in-a-cup, Pecking Hens, yoyos and tops,” he says. “Tops were a big deal -- they would actually have top wars!”

A shared experience

Son Josh is now president of the 44th, and he and wife Kathryn (who collects Civil War sewing machines) are active re-enactors, says Richard.

“Our granddaughter helped churn butter,” says Gracie.

“And our grandson was a 'powder monkey' for a while,” adds Richard.

“This is something to share -- that we have in common,” he continues, smiling at his wife. “She enjoys talking about the old stuff, and I enjoy working with the kids. I'm just a kid at heart.”

“It connects us,” Gracie says. “I really enjoy educating people. The more I talk, the happier I am.”

“It keeps us young,” says Richard.

nsfeatures@news-sentinel.com


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