With summer in full swing and the pandemic weaning, Fort Sisseton Historic State Park has many events planned for the sunny weather.
“This is a great way to experience history, look at it, touch it, hear it for yourself,” said park manager Ali Jo Tonsfeldt. “That’s what’s really cool about Fort Sisseton: It’s not just reading about it, it’s actually experiencing it yourself at these events.”
Here are some big events that Fort Sisseton is hosting in the coming months.
Northern Fort Playhouse
The fort is partnering with Northern State University to put on the Northern Fort Playhouse. Shows take place July 9-11, 16-18, and 23-24.
“You get a professionally put on show, and the music is always amazing,” said Tonsfeldt. “It blows my mind the abilities we have in northeast South Dakota with the singing and acting.”
She says that Friday night shows will have hors d’oeuvres, Saturdays will be a dinner theater catered by Hickory Street Kitchen & Cocktails, and Sunday shows will be accompanied by a luncheon.
Boys in Blue
Fort Sisseton has an art exhibit on loan from the Minnehaha County Museum: Boys in Blue: The Grand Army of the Republic: a Civil War Veteran’s Organization. It was an organization for veterans before the American Legion and before the Veterans of Foreign Wars. To bring in the local veterans, there are stories at the exhibit about heroes in Roberts County.
The play performance will be Oregon Trail by Bekah Brunstetter.
“If anybody remembers the old Oregon Trail computer game, it’s kind of based around that,” explained Tonsfeldt. “She gets transported into the game, and she ends up back with her great grandmother who rode on the Oregon Trail.”
The other show is a musical titled Don’t Hug Me by Phil and Paul Olson, who wrote this love story laced with comedy.
Stars, Strolls, and S’mores
Because Fort Sisseton lacks street lamps, Tonsfeldt says it’s a great place for their Stars, Strolls, and S’mores event that will happen on July 10.
“It’s going to be a completely black night,” she added. “We’re going to take a stroll around Fort Sisseton.”
Walking through the darkness, away from the light pollution of most of the nation, the stars will shine brightly down.
“You can always read history but to actually experience history, you don’t always get to do that.” -Ali Jo Tonsfeldt
“One of our employees knows Greek mythology and Native American mythology of the stars and the stories of what they meant to them,” said Tonsfeldt.
At the end of the stroll, the event will bring guests to a campfire, where Tonsfeldt says many want to hear the ghost stories of the fort.
“Of course when you get done, you have to have a s’more,” she insisted. “You’re here. It’s night time. A campfire and a s’more is just a part of life.”
To learn the most about the paranormal activity at Fort Sisseton, tour guides at the Lantern Tours are the best bet. The next tour is July 17.
About once a month, and more often in October, the fort hosts these.
“There’s no electricity and no lights in a lot of these buildings, so we take kerosene lanterns,” said Tonsfeldt. “It’s just like it was in the old days.”
The tour guide will share about various paranormal investigations’ results and delve into stories about ghosts on the grounds: some of which were first seen in the 1920s.
“People always tell me that history is boring. No, you took it from a history teacher who was bored of teaching history. Real history is cool.” -Ali Jo Tonsfeldt
“We’ve had people see things on our lantern tours,” she said. “They’ve seen something walking, yet nobody’s in the building.”
The paranormally curious can get their fill.
“We try not to make them scary, but it’s dark, you do have a lantern, and we’re telling ghost stories,” said Tonsfeldt.
From July 30 to August 1, Fort Sisseton will be populated with over 100 reenactors, transporting the fort back in time for the 1865 Military Reenactment. This is the event Tonsfeldt is most excited about.
“They dress up, they live in our buildings, they live and sleep in the bunks, they don’t take showers like they would have done in 1865,” said Tonsfeldt.
The reenactors are not able to step out of character. A few are designated to be able to remove their hats and answer guest questions before replacing them and resuming in 1865.
“People walk around and talk to them,” she said. “They love answering questions about what’s going on.”
She adds that the characters will not be able to discuss events from after that time as they have yet to live it.
Tonsfeldt says that some people went missing from the fort in 1865, so at the 1865 Military Reenactment, they will go missing and search parties will be looking for them.
“There’s actually punishment for pulling out modern technology,” said Tonsfeldt. “They take it very seriously.”
At the fort, there’s a wooden horse creatively named Woody. Any reenactor who needs punishment must sit atop his back and hold a sword straight out from their body.
“The sword they have to hold is six feet tall wood, and it’s very heavy,” explained Tonsfeldt. “They could sit on it from 20 minutes to an hour.”
Visitors get to watch as the reenactors live.
“You definitely realize how lucky you are today,” she said. “It puts things into perspective.”
The people in charge of the event do research to make sure the event is historically accurate.
Tonsfeldt added, “It’s coming alive here at the fort. It changes your view of what history really is.”
For more information, visit gfp.sd.gov.