Grant helps Civil War muster expand, attract new talent

The Van Raalte Civil War Muster is back and, with the help of a two-year, $51,000 grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and Hope College, will reach even more people.

“It allows us to bring the muster to a higher level,” event Chairman Rick Veenhoven says of the grant.

The theme for this year’s muster is the Underground Railroad. Re-enactors will depict Harriet Tubman and President Abraham Lincoln.

Big talent

The grant has made it possible for the muster to attract talent of national renown. 

Actor Fritz Klein has performed as Lincoln in 38 states as well as internationally. He performs at the new Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum as well as many other venues around the country.

He portrayed Lincoln for the National Park Service’s recreation of Lincoln’s Inaugural Journey, travelling from Springfield to Washington, DC. in 2011, and performed for some 5,000 people en route. He has also portrayed Lincoln for National Geographic, Discovery, the History Channel, feature films, and the award-winning film at the Lincoln Home National Park “Journey to Greatness.” 

Although Klein bears a striking physical resemblance to Lincoln, it is his attention to historical accuracy, acting ability, and humor that helps him relate to the audience who walk away feeling they have been in the presence of the 16th president, himself, organizers say.

The historic 160-acre park was once the farm of Benjamin Van Raalte, Civil War veteran and son of Holland founder A.C. Van Raalte.

The city-owned property includes the original Van Raalte farmhouse and barns and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Bull Run and more

The 12th annual muster will feature re-enactments of the first battle of Bull Run as well as two days filled with impressions of historical figures, performances, medical scenarios, period-style vendors and a Civil War-era church service. Organizers cancelled the muster in 2020 due to COVID.

The camp opens to the public 9 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 18. Military drills and performances by impersonators will start shortly after.

As part of the “There’s No Place like Home” initiative, a 42-month, $800,000 grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Hope College humanities faculty and students work with Holland leaders in the nonprofit sector to address “wicked problems” such as food insecurity, affordable housing, health care access, climate change, education equity, social mobility and civic culture. 

Underground Railroad talk

Established in February 2020 and administered by the college, the Mellon grant is geared, in part, to bring educational experiences to Hope College as well as the wider Holland community. A Friday evening lecture at Hope College will highlight the Underground Railroad and Michigan’s significance in the freedom movement.

Ashley Jordan, former senior director of development at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, and newly named president and CEO of the African American Museum in Philadelphia will speak alongside Hope Associate Professor of History Fred Johnson 6-9 p.m. at Winants Auditorium in Graves Hall, 236 College Ave.  Those who attend are asked to wear masks.

Johnson points to contemporary unrest — movements and counter-reactions — as one primary reason people should look back to the Civil War.

“If you don’t know the cause, finding a solution is going to be all the more difficult,” he says. “To see history as it happened, gives us a better insight. The hope is with those tools available, we can make better decisions in the crises we are facing today.”

The first three community-based Mellon partnerships were awarded and announced in the spring of 2021 and included projects with Community Action House, the Holland Museum, and Ready for School.

The muster received the largest of the three grants in this round. The college is also partnering with Ottawa County Department of Parks and Recreation to explore the connection between nature and artistic expression and  First Assemblies of God Church on an oral history project that will consider the 2014 traffic death of Jonathan Bracamontes and the concepts of the sacredness of human life and healing and reconciliation.

Read more articles by Andrea Goodell.