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Published: Wednesday, 9/27/2006

Monroe prepares for weeklong event in honor of Custer

BY BENJAMIN ALEXANDER-BLOCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Mary Jo Stoyanovich adjusts the tables at Village Bistro in preparation for a period tea party. Mary Jo Stoyanovich adjusts the tables at Village Bistro in preparation for a period tea party.
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MONROE - For the first time since the creation of Custer Week in 1998, the festival will have a full week of activities instead of just weekend events.

Custer Week this year will be Sept. 30 through Oct. 7.

John Patterson, president of the Monroe County Convention and Tourism Bureau and the driving force behind this event, said he hopes it will become a nationally recognized festival.

"When I got the job as the president of the tourism bureau, one of first things I asked was, 'Why would folks want to come here?'" said Mr. Patterson. "I have been places all over the world, and if you mention Monroe, there are three things people will generally think of - La-Z-Boy, Custer, and, possibly, Monroe shock absorbers."

"Custer is certainly something that we need to capitalize on for our publicity. As you know, he's a bit of a controversial figure - folks either love him or hate him - but I am of the belief that there is no such thing as bad publicity," Mr. Patterson said.

Custer, an Ohio native, lived in Monroe for 26 years before dying at the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876, when he was 36 years old. The controversial cavalry officer is known for underestimating the size of an Indian village in Montana, and without waiting for reinforcements, moved in and attacked. His 7th Cavalry was wiped out by Sioux and Cheyenne Indians.

In Monroe, roads, schools, and businesses are named after him. A statue of the general on horseback is in the city's center.

A portion of Monroe is even informally referred to as "Custerville."

"Historians recently are paying much more attention to the idea of commemoration. Why and in what ways do we resurrect the past?" said Francis Blouin, a history professor at the University of Michigan and the director of its Bentley Historical Library. "So in the case of Custer and Monroe ... it is to use Custer and his fame as a way to find distinction and pride in Monroe as a community today."

Steve Alexander of Monroe has been a Custer fan since he was 3. Recognized by Congress and the Michigan and Ohio senates as the foremost "living" Custer historian, Mr. Alexander has portrayed Custer in more than 20 A&E and History Channel re-enactments. He even lives in Custer's former house at 703 Cass St.

"Actors might do a lot of research on the characters but they are limited by the script," he said. "Before I put on my buckskins, I have done so much research that I can almost speak from living experience. I metamorphosize into General Custer."

On Tuesday night, visitors are invited to "Dine with the General and Mrs. Custer" at the Monroe Street Grill on 2 West Front St. Mr. Alexander and his wife, Sandy, will be in period attire and will address the grill's patrons during an authentic prairie dinner.

"Our goal is to bring education not just to local residents but to people from outside of the region as well," said Sandy Alexander, president of the Custer Week Organization Committee.

Contact Benjamin Alexander-Bloch

at babloch@theblade.com

or 419-724-6050.



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