Reenactors to bring history to life at Dover Days Festival

By Mike Finney
Posted 4/29/24

DOVER — Bringing history to life in downtown Dover has been a longtime passion for Tom Welch, a historical interpreter for the state of Delaware.

Mr. Welch said the city is oozing with …

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Reenactors to bring history to life at Dover Days Festival


DOVER — Bringing history to life in downtown Dover has been a longtime passion for Tom Welch, a historical interpreter for the state of Delaware.

Mr. Welch said the city is oozing with history; however, it is often a forgotten history.

He is hoping to bring the city’s historic past back to the forefront at the 91st Dover Days Festival on Saturday.

Mr. Welch has formed a group of reenactors from the history of Dover as part of “History on Stage” – sponsored by the Friends of Old Dover — whose characters will march in Saturday’s parade, walk the grounds and speak to attendees at the festival, while four will take to the stage from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday on The Green to share their stories with the attendees.

“I met with Chris Cooper, who is the chair (of Dover Days), and Ron Barisano, who is the director, and they said, ‘Well, we like it but we have to take it down to the committee,’” said Mr. Welch. “Then they presented it, and the committee liked it, so we had a go.

“I think Dover’s going to be really proud of this.”

Among the four characters who will be taking to the stage at The Green on Saturday are: Harriett Tubman (portrayed by Delores Blakey), Allen McLane (Mr. Welch), Warner Mifflin (Michael Richards) and Bishop Richard Allen (Ed Jackson).

Mr. Welch pointed out that all of the reenactors who will speak about the lives of their characters for 15 minutes apiece on Saturday are all more than 80 years old, except for Mike Petit de Mange, who will introduce the speakers.

“Everybody here, there’s not a lot of stage training with this group, but there’s history interest,” Mr. Welch said. “I have no stage training either, but I have been doing it self-taught for years.

“I’m very excited about watching the whole project unfold.”

Mrs. Blakey said she has been impersonating Ms. Tubman for many years but hasn’t done so in almost a decade.

She laughed and said she was once pulled over for speeding while in costume several years ago, but the officer did not want to be the person to give Harriett Tubman a ticket, so he issued a warning.

“She was quite a person to do the things that she did – going through the swamps and the rivers and the lakes,” said Mrs. Blakey. “And to the people of Delaware, they were a savior, because of all the Underground Railroad places. They wouldn’t have made it from Maryland all the way to Pennsylvania without having some kind of help.

“It’s a good history lesson for those people that really don’t know (Delaware’s history). Maybe they just moved to Delaware or have any concept over what Delaware has done for this nation. It’s a great thing.”

Mr. Richards is new at this whole re-enactment thing. But he said he is ready to put his best foot forward.

“I’m somewhat excited about this. I’ve never done this before,” he said. “I’ve never portrayed somebody, and especially from the Colonial period. I still have a lot to learn, I think, and I tried to brush up on Warner Mifflin, the person I’m impersonating.”

Mr. Mifflin was an American abolitionist and an early advocate of reparations for slavery.

Rosemary Staniszewksi will be portraying Elizabeth Battell, owner of the Golden Fleece Tavern, where Delaware’s Convention to ratify the U.S. Constitution was held.

The Golden Fleece also served for 14 years from 1777-1791 as the meeting place for the upper house of the Delaware General Assembly, known since the time of William Penn as the Legislative Council.

Mr. Petit de Mange will introduce each character and provide some history on them. He said while it will be a learning experience, it should be a great addition to Dover Days as it will give a nod to the city’s history.

“This is a first-ever for this group and we’re pretty excited about it,” Mr. Petit de Mange said. “Our leader Tom Welch has put a lot of effort into this, getting it ready and kickstarted and pumping enthusiasm through everyone.

“He’s a man of detail and a man of history, but we’re all real excited about the opportunity to share some local personalities from several hundred years ago with the public.

“I think people will find it quite interesting with such right local history right here that helped form the state, helped form the nation, and it’s real important to help get that message out.”

Dover Days will kick off on Friday night with a variety of food trucks, a free performance by the Milford Community Band’s 40 members bringing patriotic and audience favorite music from 7 to 8:30 p.m.

Their performance will be followed at dusk by Brothers Pyro, Inc. who provided fireworks for last year’s Dover Days Festival and July 4 celebration.

The Dover Days celebration picks up on Saturday with the state’s largest parade at 9 a.m. from Pennsylvania Avenue and will come down State Street.

The stage and reviewing stand will be in front of PNC Bank on the corner of State and Loockerman streets. Reviewing stand guests will include Dover Mayor Robin Christiansen, local celebrities, and Dover Air Force Band Wing commanders, all in colonial period clothing.

In addition to bands, the parade will include floats and displays from local organizations, businesses, schools, veterans, non-profits, churches, activity groups, and candidates and elected officials.

The festival will include over 120 vendors on State Street with special activities for children and families, including inflatable bounce houses; a tethered hot air balloon; sandcastle building; balloon animal makers; street performers with juggling, balance and crazy antics; water gun fun games and trackless train rides.

Maypole dancing on Dover’s Historic Green by area middle school students will reenact colonial activities. It will take place after the parade between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.

Staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at 302-741-8230 or
Follow @MikeFinneyDSN on X.

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