Historic Fort Mackinac: Q&A with a Fort Mackinac Interpretive Soldier

Some people who work on Mackinac Island tend bar or wait tables while others take care of guests in the many beautiful places to stay. But there are many other jobs on Mackinac Island, too. For example, you can work as a historical interpreter.

Here’s how one historical interpreter describes what it’s like to play the role of a 19th-century soldier at Mackinac Island’s historic Fort Mackinac:

A historical interpreter speaks on the grounds of Mackinac Island's historic Fort Mackinac

Q: How did you find this position on Mackinac Island?

A: I remember coming to Mackinac Island when I was about 8 or 9 and becoming fascinated with Fort Mackinac. The “soldiers of the fort” also left a big impression. I would return to Fort Mackinac as a reenactor for the “Civil War Weekend” one year, and the idea of becoming an interpreter became a very attractive idea. After graduating, I would get the chance to do just that, and I’ve loved the work.

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Q: What does a typical day look like for you?

A: Once I get to work and have my uniform on, it’s straight away to the next activity. If I am opening, that means preparing the cannon and helping a guest fire the opening shot or jumping into whatever rifle firing demonstration or tour we have going on next. There isn’t time to be lazy because even if I am not doing any of those things, there are plenty of guests coming into the fort to talk to and greet.

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A festival queen blasts the cannon at Mackinac Island's historic Fort Mackinac as a historical interpreter watches

Q: What is your favorite part about being a historical interpreter?

A: I think my favorite part of being an interpreter is making the history of Fort Mackinac and Mackinac Island relevant to our guests. Most guests probably come to the fort to see the rifle and cannon go off and capture a photo or two of the incredible views from the fort. However, they often don’t realize how similar they are to the tourists that visited Fort Mackinac back in the late 19th century. Or just how important Fort Mackinac was in our country’s history. Bringing these stories to life adds another level of enjoyment for people visiting Fort Mackinac. Being able to play a small part in that is a real honor.

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Q: What is one of your favorite moments from your work?

A: I think one of my favorite moments would have to be the Fourth of July celebration. We had a lot of guests that day, and a group of former interpreters helped us out. Being able to re-create what a Fourth of July celebration would’ve looked like at Fort Mackinac, with the reading of the Declaration of Independence, the toasts, the firing of rifles and cannons really added a festive experience to the holiday. It was something that I had never done before. Also, being able to end a long workday by watching the fireworks from the Tea Room made for a great experience.

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A group of historical interpreters stand in front of a building at Mackinac Island's Fort Mackinac

Q: What is the most common question you get from visitors?

A: That would have to be a tie between “Why do the buildings look the way they do?” and “Why are your uniforms like that?” Those questions highlight how unique Fort Mackinac is as all the buildings in the fort are original to the time of the 1880s at least, which is a pretty rare thing of itself. We are also one of the few sites in the country where people can see the dress uniforms of the United States Army in the 1880s. So, people can see a unique and transformative time in history for the army.

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Q: What do you like to do on Mackinac Island in your spare time?

A: I enjoy relaxing out on the porch of the Mission House with my friends and co-workers and exploring Mackinac Island. There is a great “porch culture” on Mackinac Island that really can’t be beaten. I also enjoy downtown Mackinac Island and experiencing all the great Mackinac Island restaurants and bars.

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A handful of historical interpreters line up for a demonstration on the grounds of Mackinac Island's historic Fort Mackinac

Q: Why should someone visit Fort Mackinac (or any of our historic sites) while visiting Mackinac Island?

A: I think people should visit Fort Mackinac and all of our other sites because there’s a different side of the Mackinac Island experience that you’d otherwise miss. Mackinac State Historic Parks gives you access to so many fascinating stories that can bring weight to your Mackinac Island experience that most other things can’t. There is excellent documentation, and many buildings and historical items are well preserved. I think visiting one (or all) of our sites gives people the opportunity to see the big, beautiful picture of Mackinac Island and why continuing to preserve this area is so essential.

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Jack Swartzinski is from Northville, Michigan. He graduated from South Lyon East High School in 2017 and graduated from Eastern Michigan University in the Spring of 2021 with a degree in Political Science and Public Administration. In his free time, he enjoys reading and looking at the views on the Straits of Mackinac.


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