July 23, 2016

Partly sunny

Fairgoers can touch the past with Civil War re-enactors

The 105th Ohio Volunteer Infantry of Civil War fame has set up camp at the Medina County fairgrounds.

But members won’t be fighting any Rebels this week.

Don VanMeter of North Jackson, commander of the regiment, has been a Civil War re-enactor for 28 years. But this week he’s a teacher rather than an actor during his first visit to the Medina County Fair.

“Hopefully it’s not the last, because these are some very good people,” he said. “They’re very conscientious of education.”

Don VanMeter, a Civil War re-enactor from North Jackson in Mahoning County, talks to Bridget Campbell, 5, and Maxwell Andrich, 8, about artillery shells at the Civil War living history exhibit at the Medina County Fair on Wednesday. (GAZETTE PHOTO BY DAN POMPILI)

VanMeter’s outfit has set up a Civil War infantry encampment complete with pup tents, larger wedge, or “A,” tents, and an officer’s tent, complete with canopy. The area between the two rows of tents is a military regulation 15-foot “community street.”

There also is a display with Civil War artifacts.

VanMeter, a retired steelworker from Youngstown, is a Navy veteran who served during the Vietnam War. He got involved with Civil War re-enactments through a side business selling Civil War artifacts. Many of his customers were re-enactors who “drafted” him into the 105th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, he said.

He since has become a commander in charge of about 60 men.

Wednesday, he stood behind the display table answering fairgoers’ questions about the Civil War and showing them real weapons of the era, Confederate money and other artifacts.

VanMeter said the presentations are historically accurate.

“The biggest thing is correctness and documentation,” he said. “Anything we tell people has to be documented and accurate.”

The “living history” exhibit will be at the fair all week.

VanMeter and his wife were at the encampment the first three days of the fair. But other members of the regiment are expected later this week.

VanMeter said the 150th anniversary of the war has increased re-enactment interest and his unit participates in many restaged battles, including Gettysburg, First Manassas and Antietam this year. He said each battle is re-enacted as close to the anniversary of its actual date as possible.

“History determines what we do each year,” he said.

Although more of VanMeter’s regiment members will take their turn educating fairgoers, there will be no actual battle re-enactments at the fair.

VanMeter and Haneberg said both space and safety were considerations.

The Civil War encampment is at the south end of the fairgrounds, behind the Community Center.

Fair Board President Conrad Haneberg said the board tried to use the space as a family entertainment area. But he said none of the exhibits they’ve placed there so far have “clicked.”

Haneberg said he met VanMeter’s group in January at a convention of fair and festival professionals in Columbus and asked him to come to Medina.

“We thought it would be interesting and educational, and a good fit, because education is still one of our goals,” Haneberg said.

Contact reporter Dan Pompili at (330) 721-4012 or dpompili@medina-gazette.com.