Locals partied like it was 1794 on Sunday at the first Whiskey Rebellion Festival organized by the Cumberland County Historical Society and Greater Carlisle Heart & Soul.
Part of the multi-faceted event was based at the Cumberland County Historical Society’s pocket park in Carlisle, where re-enactors were busy splitting logs, demonstrating period games and cooking corn mash for a batch of whisky.
Sam McKinney, of the Northern York Historical and Preservation Society, was tending to large vats of corn mash and boiling water over wood fires that would become part of a batch of whiskey. He later will add barley and rye to the mixture, then let it sit until the starches covert into alcohol, he explained. At that point, the mixture is screened to remove the grains and the liquid is placed in a still. In total, the mixture will yield a quart of whiskey.
“If done quickly, the process takes three days, but that’s really pushing it,” McKinney said. “It really should take about a week.”
The Whiskey Rebellion Festival was organized by Lindsay Varner, director of the Greater Carlisle Heart & Soul project. “With the 225th anniversary of the Whisky Rebellion only two years away, I figured, why not do something leading up to this,” she said.
The day began with a walking tour through Carlisle where participants learned more about those involved in the rebellion, the causes of the event and the role Carlisle played in its suppression.
The Whiskey Rebellion of 1794 was started by a group of farmers enraged about the government’s imposed 25 percent tax on whiskey. In response, President George Washington led a group of militiamen to western Pennsylvania to put down the Whisky Rebellion. Washington met and took command of the militia at the Carlisle Barracks.
On Sunday, a second walking tour featuring the taverns of Carlisle was conducted at 1 p.m. Other highlights included a reenactment at 11:30 a.m. of Carlisle residents marching with an effigy from the Old Courthouse to the historical society, followed later in the day by a Carlisle citizen’s address to George Washington, as well as Washington’s speech to the town.
Greg Leonard of Gardners, who attended with his wife, Erica, and son, Maxwell, 4, said his favorite part of the day was the re-enactment of citizens protesting the whiskey tax at the courthouse.
“I like seeing the people exercise their rights to protest the tax. That’s what I liked about it, seeing them rebel against tyranny. It relates to current events,” said Greg Leonard, referring to modern day taxes.
Nearby, the historical society’s G.B. Stuart History Workshop was open for children’s crafts and activities of the period, including handkerchief stamping, stereoscope viewing and pottery making, sponsored by Create-A-Palooza of Carlisle. The 1794 Whisky Rebellion at Comfort Suites on Hanover Street offered whisky tasting and live music, as well as a chance for visitors learn more about whiskey in 1794.
Rachel Illari, of Mechanicsburg, watched as her son, Daniel, 7, created a handkerchief art with ink stamps at the G.B. Stuart History Workshop. “We came to check out the crafts because Daniel definitely likes crafts,” she said.
Earlier, Daniel was checking out a stereoscope, an 1800s version of modern-day Viewmasters that worked with cardboard slides. Children also could create their own birth certificates using fracture, an early form of calligraphy.
Jason Illari, executive director of the Cumberland County Historical Society, manned a station at the pocket park that offered gumbis, a traditional German stew of cabbage, butter, onions, apples and sausage. He said the day appeared to have a good turnout, but it was “hard to judge numbers” because events were taking place in several different locations.
The Whiskey Rebellion Festival was part of the Cumberland County’s Heritage Festival that ran from Thursday to Sunday. More events are scheduled this week as part of Heritage Week. For a full listing of events, visit heritagefest.historicalsociety.com.