Feast of Strawberry Moon brings area history alive

Stepping under a sign that read "On the Banks of LaGrande Riviere' transported visitors 300 years back in time. Harbor Island was transformed Saturday with military tents, wooden furniture, campfires and re-enactors dressed in period attire - all reflecting the 18th century-era of the Tri-Cities area. The 11th annual Feast of the Strawberry Moon drew thousands of visitors.
Lydia Coutré
Jun 13, 2011


“Grand Haven, being at the mouth of the biggest river in Michigan, has a lot of historical significance,” re-enactor James Mulder said. “And one of the things that we try to do … is point out to people (that) there’s a lot of history here.”

Dennis Swartout, director of the Tri-Cities Historical Museum, said this year was one of the bigger camps with a little more than 65 individual campsites.

“The event itself really replicates the fur trade period,” Swartout said. “... We’re very authentic in the way that we present it — with the re-enactors and the merchants and the military that are true to that period.”

Julie Sarge has been a part of the festival for a few years, but started a new demonstration this year to teach people about healing methods. In her research, Sarge said she noticed similarities between European and American Indian healing methods, which inspired her.

“I like the idea that we’re working with multicultures,” she said. “It’s not just one culture — it’s a coming together of different cultures.”

Kevin Spence, 20, of Holland has been doing re-enactments with his family for as long as he can remember, which he said has taught him a lot.

“(In) history books, reading in school, any mistake I can pick up,” Spence said.

Kevin’s father, Bill Spence, said a love for history is what got their family involved in re-enactments. Hours and years of research go into their outfits and gear, as well as “money as far as purchasing the correct cloth, looking for the correct patterns, looking for the correct materials, talking, traveling, reading, looking at pictures, going to museums, and trying to represent the era here when the French-occupied Michigan,” Bill Spence said.

Bill Spence said they realize they can’t actually live the exact same way as people did in the time period, but they do everything they can to get as close to it as possible.

“If you do a research paper for college, you do the research, you do the writing, you get your factual data,” he said. “We’re doing it not only in our writing, but also in our equipment and our outfits.”

Mulder said accuracy in facts is extremely important.

“Nothing could be worse than telling the public the wrong thing,” he said. “We not only show them by the way we live, how we cook , how we dress, sleeping in the tents, things of that sort, but we have to know facts.”

Swartout said the mission of the Tri-Cities Historical Museum is not only to preserve and collect history, but also to present it to people of all ages.

“You can only learn so much by reading a book about local history or Michigan history,” he said. “But there’s no probably better way than to have a living history event such as ours, where you can actually see how people lived and how they dressed and the way they cooked their food and all the variety of elements that went into living back in that time period.”

Tami Ray of Grand Haven said she home-schools her children, and the Feast of the Strawberry Moon is a “good educational adventure for the kids.” Ray said what makes the event great are the people who “take time to explain things and kind of (make) you feel like you’re actually part of that period.”

Amy Springstead of Spring Lake said she brought her 2-year-old daughter, Kate, to the festival to teach her about their heritage. She agreed that it’s the conversations with the re-enactors and demonstrators that sets the event apart from others.

“They’re really into history, and they’ve all got stories to tell,” Springstead said. “So every year you get here, you find different stories.”


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