By Mayara Sanches
Grand Ledge Gazette Reporter
GRAND LEDGE — The preparation for the Victorian Days, a cultural event in Grand Ledge, is underway, and many performers, venues — all around the city’s downtown street — and activities are reserved and set for the festival’s May 3 date.
Since the committee who puts on the event uses it to show residents the city’s historical background, many of the activities are the same as the previous years, but they always find something different that could bring more audience into the all-day event, like the Victorian Ball — a 2013s creation.
“It’s a historical festival, so when you come, you learned who lived in the era and their tradition,” said Shatzie Lee, a planning committee member.
Committee member Sylvania Dye said that Grand Ledge used to be Michigan’s third most popular city for tourists in the Victorian Days, because its ledges, the water and other historical buildings were unique.
Besides being a popular touristic destination back in the 1800s, Kalmin Smith, Grand Ledge mayor, said the event is an opportunity to teach current residents about their city’s past.
“It’s a little opportunity to live in the period and educate the community — and also for people who visit,” Smith said. “It’s one of the lower-key festivals in the city — not as big as St. Patrick’s Day.”
The Victorian Ball is a night event, where people coming — both men and women — dress in Victorian outfits and have a night of dancing at the Grand Ledge’s Opera House, which is located in the downtown area.
“There’s a string quartet who plays for the Friday night ball, which is quite authentic,” said Marilyn Smith, the committee’s coordinator. “So some things we have to reserve early on, like the Opera House for the ball, then reserve the island for the Civil War reenactment.”
On its 18th-year anniversary, the committee hopes to make the event bigger every year, meeting all year long to plan it. This year there are over 15 activities the residents can enjoy. The festival and activities are free.
One of the new attractions is called the Chautauqua, Dye said. The Chautauqua is a cultural tent with performers and speakers that educate the public about the Victorian culture.
“It’s kind of like a mini conference, where speakers come in and talk about different topics that are relevant to the Victorian era — educational topics,” Dye said.
One of the speakers in the Chautauqua will educate his audience about the healing waters of Grand Ledge in that era.
“Back in the Victorian times, there were springs here that had magical healing properties, Dye said. “They would bottle the water and sell it as a tonic, and they would also bathe in it for their healing qualities, and that was a big thing about Grand Ledge.”
A Civil War Firing Squad, an 1860s-rules baseball game, the May Pole Dance, and the Mustache Contest are among the activities planned, but Marilyn Smith said it is not always easy reserving all the spaces necessary for them.
“Contacting some people early on is essential to have some of these things happen, like reserving the boat, because they do rides — which is interesting this year because there is so much snow,” Marilyn Smith said.
Because of the unusual amount of snow this winter — still having snow on the ground in late March — the water can be higher than usual, which will interfere with boat rides.
“The snow is melting, and if the river is too high, it starts covering the (Grand Ledge) island, but luckily we use the high part of the island, so it won’t affect us,” Marilyn Smith said. “There are some situations we’re dealing with this year.”
Another complicated booking issue the committee has had, is that they were not able to book the Opera House on Saturday afternoon to display the famous High Tea — one of their most popular traditions.
“For the last two years, we’ve alternated with a prom to use the first floor to sell the tea until about 3 p.m., then they would use it, but this year a wedding beat both of us to it, and that is an all day event,” Marilyn Smith said.
The display of the various types of the High Tea will now happen at the city’s Scout Building, and Dye said the tea is sold in memory of former resident Nancy Block, who ran the Cats MEOW in Grand Ledge, an antique store.
Despite of having issues of booking venues and downtown areas, Marilyn Smith said the activities will run as usual — some just in other places — and the festival will still bring a lot of attention to the city’s Victorian past.
Contact Reporter Mayara Sanches (248) 464-2993 or firstname.lastname@example.org .