It was a lot of work to get everything ready. Because of the way my weekend landed, I was actually out of play the two days prior to the event, meaning I got out of a lot of the prep work.
This year, the park switched from kerosene lanterns to LED lanterns not just because they're more efficient but because they're safer, too. I got to check all of them, change batteries where necessary, then set them out along the tour route as prescribed. I'll spare you the details because I'm sure it makes for thrilling reading!
The program's theme was "Remembering the Forgotten," and it was about people who died at Fort Larned. Wagon accidents, freezing to death, fighting in the barracks, getting shot, child birth, sickness, etc. Each scene depicted a real person.
I played Pvt. Joseph Kuhn, a cavalryman in the 2nd Colorado Cavalry killed by Indians near Pawnee Rock, the landmark on the Santa Fe Trail. I was stationed with three volunteers by the dugout with a couple of fake horses. We were way out by ourselves on the farthest corner of the fort, but at least we had a campfire going. From our vantage point, after the tiny sliver of the moon dropped below the horizon, it was essentially blackness all around.
This is a rendering of approximately what I could see for the duration of the program.
We talked about how to set the scene before I gave my little talk about Kuhn and sent the tour on to the next destination. Knowing other stops on the tour were more dramatic, even though I portrayed the only soldier who died in combat, I felt our scene was most useful for setting up the tension that played out in the next scene. We decided one of the guys would stay with the campfire, two guys would act out tying up their horses while discussing their fears and uncertainties, and then I'd emerge from the shadows and tell them about Kuhn's untimely demise while holding my candle lantern.
"My name is Joseph Kuhn and I was a member of the 2nd Colorado Cavalry, Company H. In May of 1864, I was on patrol east of Fort Larned near a place called Pawnee Rock when all of a sudden we were attacked by Indians. My horse got shot out from under me, and I managed to get two shots off -- before they GOT ME. My partner escaped to Fort Larned and told them what happened. Lt. Ehle sent out a patrol to punish the attackers, but they didn't find anyone. To this day we don't know who attacked me. They sent the ambulance to retrieve my body and then buried me here in the cemetery."
While the light was working, the cenotaph in the cemetery was lit, giving it a spooky glow. After my spiel, I descended into the oxbow where our fire was going, symbolizing my descent into HELL MUAHAHAH.
Now that may not sound like a real thrill, but the idea that Indians could and would attack the army, and the unease the other soldiers indicated in front of the crowd helped set the stage for the next scene the tour group came upon. There, under the darkness of a moonless, starry sky, out of the shadows came Little Heart, a Cheyenne man approaching the sentry post. In the box, the sentry got increasingly alarmed as the man got closer and closer, shouting "Halt! HALT!" Then, BOOM, a rifle shot, and the Cheyenne man fell. Ranger Mike didn't have a hard time selling the frightened sentry, tapping memories of serving in 'Nam, and it was very dramatic. I snuck out to watch it several times!
The event went extraordinarily smoothly from our standpoint. A lot of people had very nice compliments for us. All in a day's work, really. When a good plan and good people come together, you get good results, and this was certainly a good event for the Fort. The program is so successful that not enough tickets are available. Unfortunately, time is limited, it can only be done one night because it relies so heavily on volunteers, and group sizes have to be limited for safety and logistics. The park almost needs to move to a lottery system rather than straight up reservations. I'd love to advertise it and say "Come on down!" but the truth is it's nearly impossible to get tickets!
The fun thing about it all was that it was interesting for me to see the fort in a different state. Being there in the dark with the candles and all the people definitely gave it a surreal quality. Not to mention I was pretty tired by the end of the night while visiting with friends that have been away for weeks only to appear for this one night then vanish again by morning. The evening was like my average nightly bad dream: a familiar place and/or familiar people with the twist that something about the situation is abnormal, yet acceptable in the context of the dream. Now that everything is put away and the post is back to normal, I'm left wondering if it was all a dream!