June 29, 2005
General Ulysses S. Grant and his wife, Julia Boggs Dent, strolled arm in arm down the main street of Cascade Locks on Saturday.
Butch and Cheryle Mathias were joined in their period costumes at the annual Sternwheeler Days parade by a troupe of living historians.
The entourage included Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln, the Earp brothers, Annie Oakley, Pocahontas, Billy the Kid, Buffalo Bill and Jeremiah Johnson, among others.
The Freedom Bell Group not only marched in the downtown parade, they educated crowds at Port Marine Park all weekend.
For example, the Lincolns passed out handwritten copies of the Gettysburg Address that he delivered at a cemetery dedication on Nov. 19, 1863. Visitors of the show were also informed of a little know fact about Grant; that he had changed his name from Hiram Ulysses Grant to avoid the monogram HUG.
Allen Berg of The Dalles, who portrayed Johnson, proudly showed off the Freedom Bell that his parents found along the Oregon Trail in 1941.
Always a history buff, the younger Berg refurbished the one-ton bell that had been used for many years as a garden decoration in his parents’ yard.
He was helped in that endeavor by Lee Elmgren of Hood River.
The bell, which had been missing a clapper, was outfitted with a replica ringer made from a Civil War-area cannonball that Berg had run across in the field that is now Pamona Meadows. The bell was then mounted on an old horse-drawn wagon and ready for its public debut.
“I call it the Freedom Bell because that’s why our forefathers came here, to get that freedom,” said Berg.
He and partner Roberta Manley, who portrays Pocahontas, eventually hooked up with other history buffs to form the Freedom Bell Group. They now lead many parades, visit historic forts along the Oregon Trail and educate citizens all along the way about America’s colorful past.
Having the living history re-enactments at Port Marine Park helped make up for this year’s loss of the Mountain Men Rendezvous.
The Columbia Gorge Lion’s Club, which organized the festival, learned on Friday afternoon that the representatives of western lore would not be setting up camp on Thunder Island.
That news left a big hole in the program just one hour before the weekend opening. But that gap was aptly filled by the Freedom Bell demonstrations.
“I’m really glad that we had the Freedom Bell Group because we’ve always had the Mountain Men and they were missed by a lot of people,” said Martena Pennington, Lion’s treasurer.
She said the new attraction proved to be very popular and that act, combined with the good weather, brought a lot of people down to the park.
Once there, they could select from a variety of handcrafted items marketed by Gorge vendors and enjoy a wide sampling of foods.
“All in all I think it went quite well. We had a few worries but everything just worked out,” said Pennington.
Not only did local residents flock to the event, it drew many visitors — some of whom were just decided to stop in the rural community out of curiosity.
“We didn’t know this was going on when we came through town. I think it is really nice,” said Helen Wilks, who was traveling with her daughter and family to the Oregon Coast.
Another crowd pleaser at Sternwheeler Days was the entertainment provided by the Tri-Cities Steelband Association. Middle and high schoolers evoked a range of “island style” music from 55-gallon oil drums with a full chromatic scale of notes. The lively tunes filled the air and created a festival atmosphere.
The Lions have organized Sternwheeler Days since 1975, when it was first known as Portage Days.
The name was later changed to showcase the paddlewheel replica owned by the Port of Cascade Locks, which provided cruises and a salmon bake dinner during the weekend.