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Posted: 01/30/13

RELISHING RELICS. Above, Romeo Historical Society President Sue Kane stands with a portion of the items on loan from local collections for the society's latest exhibit, "The War of 1812 and the Peach Festival<Are you kidding?" that runs from January to April. The items, dating back as far as the late 1700s, symbolize changes seen in American culture and how, despite being former enemies, Americans bought items from England following the war.

(Observer photo by Chris Gray)

Relics tell the story of
War of 1812 in exhibit

Observer Staff Writer
      Discover the connection Romeo shares with the "forgotten war" and what life was like during those times.
       The Romeo Historical Society presents "The War of 1812 and the Peach Festival<Are you kidding?" from Jan. 22 to April 16 at the Romeo Arts and Archives Center.
       Presentations will be held at 7 p.m. on Feb. 5, 7, and 19, March 5 and 19 and April 2 and 16.
       Richard Beringer, museum curator, said he and four other researchers dug up all the information and history presented in the exhibit, including backgrounds on 30 Macomb County and Romeo soldiers.
       One veteran in particular, Michael Bowerman, stands out as being one of the more influential soldiers for Romeo. For his role in the Battle of Lake Erie, he was given 80 acres of land in the Romeo area and decided to plant peaches.
       "Romeo was nothing but French settlers, if there were any, and Indian camps around here during that time," he said.
       To enhance the exhibit, furniture, china and art from the time period have been brought together from two local collections to give a better grasp of what life was like before, during and after the war.
       "There was a big change in culture and government," Beringer said. "You can't find that stuff around Romeo. Romeo furniture tends to be more Victorian era, and this is pre-Romeo, so you're really getting a feeling for what people had in their parlors."
       The items date between 1790s and 1840s. Richard Daugher, a local historian, said the items show the pre-war influences of the British Empire and the transition to Greek Revival styles inspired by war hero Andrew Jackson.
       "There is a lot of symbolism that ties in with the domestic changes that are occurring in the 19th century either before or after the War of 1812," Daugherty said.
       He said the interesting part of the war was that America and England were enemies, but once the war ended the Americans were eager to purchase items from their former foes.
       "The joke is, here is Americans fighting the British, and when it's over we rush back to them to buy everything they're making," Daugherty said.
       One example is a convex mirror on display that has an eagle decorating the top, an icon of the United States despite the mirror being made in England.
       Amidst the cabinets and tea sets, one of the smaller relics is one of the most interesting. Daugherty said what looks like a small piece of wood is actually a chunk of George Washington's original casket from when he was re-interred.
       "Apparently, the wooden casket he was in began to crumble and people picked up the pieces as they fell," Daugherty said.
       Also noteworthy is a card table that belonged to Washington Irving, an American author and diplomat famous for penning "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" and "Rip Van Winkle."
       "It represents the transition toward a heavier kind of design and definitely reflecting French Napoleonic ideas that had gone to England and then America," Daugherty said.
       There is even a brick from the original White House, which was attacked and set on fire in 1814 during the Burning of Washington.
       Beringer will hold presentations on the war, while his wife and fellow curator, Joan, will present information about the furniture and other items.
       Sue Kane, Romeo Historical Society president, said the society is grateful to the donors of the collections for loaning the artifacts.
       "It's nice to be able to tie furnishing and pottery into a lesson that you're giving," Kane said. "It brings history alive, more so than just coming in here and showing you a film you can see on PBS."
       This year continues the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, which lasted for 32 months.
       Doors open for viewing at 7 p.m., with presentations scheduled from 7:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. The programs are free but donations are welcome. The Romeo Arts and Archives Museum is located at 290 N. Main Street.
       Call (586) 752-4111 for more information or to reserve a presentation for groups.

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