June 14, 2013

‘Frozen in Time’ at Cowtown to re-create 1870s Wichita

Baseball games, weddings and a murder case involving arson.

Baseball games, weddings and a murder case involving arson.

That’s what was happening in Wichita in the summer of 1874, although some of the events seem ripped from today’s headlines.

The staff at Old Cowtown Museum discovered the historical occurrences while putting together “Frozen in Time,” designed to be a re-creation of typical day in 1870s Wichita. Featuring about 80 costumed interpreters, it plays out at Cowtown on Saturday.

“Everybody takes on a real first-person character and pretends to be that person,” Jacky Goerzen, Cowtown’s volunteer coordinator, said. “It gives them a chance to really get into character.”

Goerzen said researchers used old city directories and newspapers, ancestry.com and other sources “to find out as much about that person as we can. It’s been a lot of research.”

Attendees can stroll among Cowtown’s dusty streets, restored buildings and the historical interpreters as the latter go about their day. Hot dogs and other snacks will be available, and a drink cart offering water and sarsaparilla will make the rounds.

Some events are happy, some not.

Characters portraying B.W. Aldrich and Annie Stone will marry. Aldrich went on to become a mayor of Wichita.

One of the city’s first baseball teams, the Wichita Red Stockings, will take on another squad using equipment and rules from the period.

“There was an actual baseball game at this time,” Goerzen said. “We found an article” about it in The Wichita Eagle, which began publishing two years earlier.

Volunteer Christina Ashton will portray Susan Moore, whom Aston describes as a laborer’s wife throwing a birthday party for one of her four children that day. After walking to Cowtown’s general store for eggs and other ingredients, Ashton will bake a cake from scratch on a wood-burning stove.

Ashton played a similar role during last year’s “Frozen in Time” event, which portrayed the coming of the railroad in 1872. “It was actually a very good cake and we had a good time,” she said.

Other characters will re-enact the funeral of a 17-year-old boy, Charles Maddux, who died of pneumonia. “There was a bit of an outbreak that year,” Goerzen said.

Because there wasn’t “a whole lot of undertaking” in Wichita in those days, the coffin will be laid out in the family’s home, then carried to the church for a funeral. Maddux was the son of John Maddux, who had been a prominent captain in the Civil War.

Volunteer Jim Lamb will portray W.C. Woodman, founder of one of the city’s early banks. He’ll be in heated discussions with other characters portraying townspeople.

“In those days there were a lot of disgruntled farmers because they couldn’t get a decent loan when the cattlemen were getting good interest rates,” Lamb said.

Like other early bankers, Woodman was originally a storekeeper who started lending money on the side before opening a bank in 1871. Originally from Valley Forge, Pa., Woodman remarried after his first wife died in childbirth. He was active in politics, though not as prominent as some other bankers. Lamb will dress in “upper middle class” clothes of the period, including a vest, derby and — if it’s not too hot — frock coat.

There will also be a debate over capital punishment sparked by a murder case involving a defendant named J.W. McNutt, who confessed to burning a business with a man inside to collect insurance money.

No one had been hanged in Wichita since its incorporation in 1870, Goerzen said, possibly due to a backlash from the violence of the Civil War.

“Wichita had a reputation for being kind of a wild and crazy place, but it really wasn’t,” she said. “It may have been for a little while, but overall, the town wasn’t as bad as its reputation has been.”

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