What’s new at Fort Mackinac?

It may not seem like it with so much snow on the ground, but summer is steadily approaching. With less than two months to go before Fort Mackinac opens for the 2019 season, we’re hard at work on two brand new exhibits which will greet visitors to the fort this summer.

The old animatronic figures removed from the North Blockhouse.

Filming segments for the new North Blockhouse experience.

For years, a dramatic light and sound presentation in the North Blockhouse, complete with animatronic mannequins, told the story of the British capture of Fort Mackinac on July 17, 1812. Those old elements were showing their age, so last fall they were removed to make way for a new program depicting the dramatic beginning of the War of 1812 on Mackinac Island. The new North Blockhouse exhibit will still present the tension, confusion, and drama felt by the unprepared American garrison as they awoke to find themselves at war with the British and their Indigenous allies, but will tell this story in an innovative new way. A new light and sound program, complete with dramatic voiceovers, an original soundtrack, and silhouetted figures representing the hapless American commander Lt. Porter Hanks and his soldiers, will be projected onto the walls of the blockhouse, plunging visitors into the moment that war reached Mackinac Island. We are currently filming the video segments using a green screen, which will allow the individual actors to be dropped into a composite program blending live action with text, images, and other special effects.

Design renderings for the new Office exhibit.

A more traditional, but still new, exhibit is also taking shape in the building that for years has been known as the Post Headquarters. Historically the administrative center of Fort Mackinac, new exhibits in this building will combine period settings and gallery spaces to tell the story of the post’s commissioned officers, their duties, and their relationship with the Mackinac National Park. The period settings will depict the offices of the post adjutant, who served as the personal secretary and assistant to the commanding officer, and the acting assistant quartermaster, who was responsible for distributing supplies to the garrison. The two gallery rooms, meanwhile, will incorporate a variety of historic images (many drawn from Phil Porter’s recently released book, The Soldiers of Fort Mackinac), artifacts from our collections, and exhibit panels. An updated version of the “Soldiers of Fort Mackinac” database, a searchable collection of service records for soldiers who served at the post, will also be included in the new exhibit. Finally, the entire building will get a new name. Based on archival research conducted as part of the exhibit writing process, the building will now be known as the Office, reflecting its most commonly used name in the late 19th century.

Design renderings for the new Office exhibit.

Work is progressing well on both the Office and North Blockhouse projects, and both will be ready to greet visitors to the fort this summer. We hope you’ll join us at Fort Mackinac in the coming months- the fort opens on May 2, 2019.

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