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Published: Monday, 8/11/2008

Site with ties to Custer gets a state marker

BY MEREDITH BYERS
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Staff Sgt. Jennett Smithhisler, Senior Master Sgt. Phil Smith, and Staff Sgt. Kurt Dieringer play trombones at the dedication. Staff Sgt. Jennett Smithhisler, Senior Master Sgt. Phil Smith, and Staff Sgt. Kurt Dieringer play trombones at the dedication.
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TONTOGANY, Ohio - Steve Alexander and Paul Houser grew up on farms just like brothers George and Tom Custer.

The two historical re-enactors - who grew up two miles apart - were on hand for the dedication yesterday of an Ohio Historical Marker in Centennial Park in Tontogany, Ohio, near one of the Custer family's former homes.

"It's nice to recognize a piece of history," Mr. Houser said.

Mr. Houser portrays Capt. Tom Custer, who was awarded two Congressional Medals of Honor for twice capturing enemy flags in April, 1865, during the Civil War.

Captain Custer, of course, was not the most famous of the Custer brothers, of which there were four. Mr. Alexander portrays the better-known Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer, the controversial Army commander who died in the Battle of Little Bighorn - popularized as "Custer's Last Stand" - on June, 25, 1876. Tom Custer and Boston Custer also died in the battle against a coalition of Indian tribes in what was then Montana Territory.

Mr. Alexander has been recognized by Congress and the Michigan and Ohio senates as the foremost living Custer re-enactor and has portrayed him in more than 20 A&E and History Channel re-enactments and even lives in Custer's former house in Monroe, which has been restored to look as it did in the 1860s.

Mr. Alexander said he has been interested in the elder Custer since he was three years old. Mr. Alexander and Mr. Houser became best friends while attending kindergarten together in Jackson. They both shared a passion for Civil War history.

Paul Houser, portraying Capt. Tom Custer, and Steve Alexander, as Lt. Col. George Custer, sign autographs for, from left, Shawna Mazur of Monroe, Edie Olds of Bowling Green, and Bill Heiman of Tontogany and his wife, Barbara. Paul Houser, portraying Capt. Tom Custer, and Steve Alexander, as Lt. Col. George Custer, sign autographs for, from left, Shawna Mazur of Monroe, Edie Olds of Bowling Green, and Bill Heiman of Tontogany and his wife, Barbara.
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Mr. Houser was intrigued with the younger, and lesser-known, Custer brother upon learning they both shared a passion for practical jokes and catching and keeping live rattlesnakes. Mr. Houser joined the Air Force at age 18 and retired as a master sergeant with 20 years of service.

The quest for the memorial was spearheaded by Bernie Scott of Otsego, who coordinated the fund-raising efforts with the Custer Homestead Marker Fund, a subbranch of the Tontogany Festival Committee. Mr. Scott estimates the fund-raising took about six years.

The Tontogany Festival Cow Patty Drop raffle helped raise money. Organizations such as the Wood County Historical Society and several donors contributed to the funds, which raised the approximately $2,100 needed for the marker.

The marker identifies the former site of Emanuel and Maria Custer's homestead from 1856 to 1865. No trace of the building remains.

Jim Carter, president of the Wood County Board of Commissioners, was one of several speakers at the dedication.

"Even 150 years ago, people thought Wood County was a good place to live," he said.

"People right here in Wood County had a big part in the history of the United States."

Mr. Scott said the unveiling was "just like I imagined."

"It was very exciting to get some of my grandchildren on the stage," he said. "The whole thing was a dream come true."

The ceremony featured a performance by the 555th Air National Guard Band of the Great Lakes, a Swanton-based band that meets monthly to practice and perform. The band performs for functions in Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, and West Virginia.

Charles Mahoney of Temperance called the event "a great thing for the Custer family."

"It's a great thing to have the re-enactors," he added.

Jody Blankenship, manger for outreach programs with the Ohio Historical Society, said the event was "the epitome of history in the state of Ohio."

"The state's history is a compilation of local history. These markers provide a living textbook," he said, adding the state has about 1,200 markers.

Christie Raber, director of the Wood County Historical Society, which donated $200 to the fund, said it is "important to make sure the county's history is known."

Contact Meredith Byers at:

mbyers@theblade.com

or 419-724-6101.



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