Historic Interpreters at Fort Mackinac loading a bronze cannon.

Opening Fort Mackinac

Soldiers marching on the Parade Ground at Fort Mackinac.

Historic interpreters learning to march during training at Fort Mackinac.

Every year tens of thousands of guests will visit Fort Mackinac and experience the sights and sounds of the fort, from its beautiful views of the harbor and village below to the sounds of rifle and cannon firing demonstrations and the presence of the historical interpreters. Each year these interpreters bring something a little different, not just in their charm or style but sometimes by the way they approach the great history of Fort Mackinac. This year is no different. Our interpretative staff has been hard at work these last few weeks learning not only the classic programs of Fort Mackinac but a few new programs too.

Historic Interpreters at Fort Mackinac preparing to fire rifles.

Training with Springfield 45-70 Rifles.

Before their arrival on Mackinac Island, the interpreters spend many hours reading from various sources to learn the history of Fort Mackinac. Once they arrive, they immediately set to work, using this knowledge in training and practice sessions before working in front of the public. They spend many hours getting acquainted with the Springfield 45-70 Rifle, the focus of our rifle demonstrations, and its importance in the U.S. Army’s evolution to a much more modern military in the late 19th century. They will also spend a few hours marching and drilling on the parade ground, just as the soldiers of the 1880s would have, making sure they can replicate these maneuvers for the many guests participating in our Rifle and Drill Program every afternoon.

Historic Interpreters at Fort Mackinac loading a bronze cannon.

Learning how to load and fire the iconic Fort Mackinac cannon.

The interpreters will also learn how to present our cannon firing demonstrations, speaking to the cannon’s ceremonial role at Fort Mackinac, marking the beginning and end of the soldier’s day. These “salute shots” were also fired for holidays like Memorial Day – known then as Decoration Day – and the Fourth of July. Interpreters will also spend the necessary time learning how to safely load and fire the cannon for our demonstrations, which is a high point for any interpreter, whether new or returning. The interpreters will spend even more time going through our many walking tours and programs, ensuring they can present these programs engagingly and accurately. This is especially important with our new programs, like the Soldier’s Equipment and Quartermaster Storehouse program and, later this season, the Dress Parade Program and Evenings at Fort Mackinac walking tour.

Fort Mackinac staff working in an office space learning about the fort and its history.

A peek behind the scenes – being a Fort Mackinac interpreter isn’t just work at the fort.

For all the time the interpreters spend out in the fort practicing, they spend double the time inside, reading and studying material and learning the best practices of historical interpretation. All of this is done to provide our guests with the best possible experience with the hope that they feel comfortable and engaged and walk away with a feeling that their time at Fort Mackinac, as with any of our sites, was worth it. Public interpretation can lead to a lifetime interest in history and the world. We hope you will be able to join us this year and experience the many programs with offer. Click here to learn about tickets. 

She Lived Here, Too: Fanny Corbusier

The Fort Mackinac Soldier’s Barracks in the 1880s.

  For a brief time, from April of 1882 until September of 1884, Fanny Dunbar Corbusier and her family lived at Fort Mackinac. She and her family thoroughly enjoyed their time on the island, which was already a tourist destination. While living on Mackinac Island, Fanny and her family took advantage of the island’s natural beauty and social scene to engage in activities familiar to modern visitors.

  Fanny was born in 1838 in Baltimore, but also lived in Louisiana and Maryland as a child. She was an active part of her church, wherever she lived. Public service was important to her and she served as a nurse during the Civil War. At the age of 30 she met and married William Henry Corbusier, a military contract surgeon. He was one of many northern soldiers occupying Mobile, Alabama with the army after the war. Together, they enjoyed a 49 year-long marriage and raised five sons. The marriage plunged Fanny into the transient life of civilians attached to the army, moving from station to station as William was transferred to different posts.

  At various times, Fanny and the family lived in Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, the Philippines, the Dakota Territory, Wyoming Territory, Kansas, Colorado, Virginia, Indiana, California, New York, Nebraska, Alabama and of course Michigan. Their extensive travels were facilitated by regular long-distance train trips. The growing national railroad network allowed the army to move troops (and associated civilians like Fanny) quickly and easily around the country.

  Within the small, close-knit army community, William’s position bestowed a level of social prestige upon Fanny. Officers and their families were generally quartered in larger, nicer homes, separate from the enlisted soldiers. Fanny had, and expected to have, servants to help her with cooking, laundry and other chores. She hired a nurse to assist with her first baby and at various times employed off-duty soldiers, Chinese workers, and Indigenous people to work in her household. Fanny hired a woman named Carrie Greatsinger to work as a nurse for the children before moving to Fort Mackinac.

The Hill Quarters at Fort Mackinac.

  Regardless of where she lived, Fanny took the education of her children seriously. As a child, she attended the Hannah More Academy in Maryland, where her mother was principal. While raising her own children, she made sure that they always had access to education. At Mackinac, her younger children attended classes in the Fort Mackinac reading room, where Sgt. Fred Grant and Pvt. Crawford Anderson served as teachers. In addition to school, while on Mackinac Island Fanny also “sent for all of the histories and romances of Mackinac that were ever published” and read with her family about Alexis St. Martin, Dr. William Beaumont, and John Tanner.

  Fanny and William shared a lifelong interest in nature and spent time observing “the superb moonlight night” during their winters on Mackinac. In the fall they ”saw the island in its best array. The woods were gorgeous in the vari-colored trees and shrubbery, and then the aurora borealis in all its splendor would sometimes be seen.” Fall on Mackinac Island is still one of the most beautiful sights in Northern Michigan.

  Fanny Dunbar Corbusier left Mackinac Island in 1884 after experiencing it in much the same way as countless others of the past and present. Her life only brought her back one more time in 1892. She visited with old friends and went for “lovely drives” to see what had changed. If you would like to learn more about the experiences of Fanny Corbusier and the other women who called Fort Mackinac home in the 18th and 19th centuries, check out our website for details on how to visit. Also consider joining Mackinac Associates, a friends group that makes it possible for us to interpret Fanny’s life as well as countless other facets of Mackinac’s rich history.