Recreating the Past Group Brings History to Life by Reenacting Early 1800s

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Byline: Faisal Mohyuddin Daily Herald Staff Writer

Time is a river perpetually flowing, and members of the DuPage Valley Settlers like to swim in that river.

For them, the rhythm of its current connects the past to the present, linking them to the people who first settled along the river.

As a hobby, the group of part-time history buffs artfully and authentically gives history a face by portraying the first European American pioneers and homesteaders who settled in Northern Illinois in the early 19th century.

"We have an interest and love of history," said Arthur Mate of Arlington Heights, a longtime member of the group. "And we have an interest in carrying on the old skills and crafts of the original settlers."

All members reside in or near the DuPage River Valley, an area that cradles the city of Chicago. In addition to Arlington Heights, they live in Palatine, Niles, Wauconda, Berwyn, Cicero, Willow Springs, McHenry and Richmond.

Mate likes to think that the DuPage (pronounced Doo-Poj) Valley Settlers complement the perforated history that is often taught in schools, filling in the holes by bringing the past to life.

"We talk more about the way we prepared wool to be made into yarn, the way we prepared fish for cooking, what age women married, how we traveled and what we did when it rained," he said.

"We are showing that the people who were doing these things were everyday people like us, that history is not just about dates and dead presidents."

In order to genuinely connect to the history and experiences of the people they portray, every member of the group strives to become an authentic pioneer through reading, research and reenacting.

After years of exploration and practice, Mate adopted the persona of Artemis the Tinker, a fictional itinerant laborer and peddler who served as the resident, all-purpose handyman of a hamlet.

"I work over an open fire with tools commonly used in the 1830's: pincers, tongs, tomahawks, soldering irons," he explained.

"I make tin cups, repair pots and make fish hooks - very simple everyday acts that a blacksmith or a tinsmith would do."

His wife Diane, another long-time member, becomes Diantha the Weaver during reenactments, a common female identity for the times.

She weaves patterns of fabric as they were done 200 years ago, whittles wooden figurines and is skilled in using native herbs for cooking and healing.

"I have all the skills to survive out here," said Diane, referring to the temporal living conditions homesteaders found in the Midwest, a place where life was often tough.

She said that the struggle to survive created a sense of democracy within a homestead.

"Because we had subsistence living, both men and women did not have specific roles," she said.

"Everybody had to be able to do everything, including children. …