Fairfield's history celebrated on the field, in the tavern
Kevin Costner's character in the movie "Field of Dreams" summoned professional baseball players back from decades past to play the game in his cleared cornfield.
The Fairfield Museum and History Center couldn't muster the same kind of magic to coax old-time players from the surrounding brush Sunday during its annual Fall Festival, but organizers brought back the America's national pastime as it was actually played in the sport's early history.
Hundreds of people watched morning and afternoon games between the Newtown Sandy Hooks and the Gotham Baseball Club of New York, groups of aficionados of vintage baseball traditions.
Hundreds more attended the festival to learn about early American crafts, agricultural practices, aviation and archaeological finds on the grounds of the historic Sun Tavern, once visited George Washington. They viewed displays of antique carpentry and gardening tools, rode a pony and participated in children's craft projects.
Ryan Tenezaca, 5, of Fairfield, enjoyed trying the hands-on farming equipment, including a water pump, a drill and a machine that removed the kernels from a corn cob.
At the baseball game, an observant Noah Schaper, 7, of Fairfield, said, "They have bare hands, and the umpire has a different uniform, and the bases are like pillows." The players had no gloves or safety equipment, and the ump wore what looked like suit pants, a vest over his shirt and a bowler hat during the game that employed the rules from 1864 and replicated 19th Century bats and balls.
"I'm interested in the history of baseball," said John Garber, of Westport, who watched the game with his children Matthew, 10; Harry, 12, and Emily, 15. "They're about as good at fielding as the Mets," he added, and not in a complimentary way, despite being a fan of the New York team. "All kidding aside, it's a lot of fun to see the game at its roots. It's more emphasis on fielding than home runs."
"I like to see the rules and how it was played," said Robert Galusha, 9, of Fairfield. Even though his brother Patrick, 7, prefers football, he enjoyed watching the vintage-style game too.
Janet Firmery, of Darien, said the players and observers on the sidelines were having a great time, and she marveled at the age range of the players and the audience.
Throughout the grounds of the museum, visitors could view and try other facets of early American life, from the Colonial era through the early 20th Century. Wyatt Whiteman portrayed a man who packed up his belongings and headed west during the gold rush of 1849. He demonstrated candle-making on a wood-burning stove.
Ralph Harrison sat under a tent selling his beeswax candles and brought with him some bees from their hive. A clear container allowed viewers an inside peek into the honey-making process.
Andy Kosch, director of the Gustave Whitehead Aircraft Restoration Project, had on display his replica of the 1901 plane fashioned by the region's early aviation pioneer, which he purportedly got aloft in a Fairfield fight at least two years before the Wright brother's attempts at flight, and flew a greater distance too. "We keep telling the story and showing the evidence," Kosch said. "Little kids should learn about aviation and history and that some people don't get credit even when they're first."
At a table outside the Sun Tavern, Rob Wallace explained artifacts that were excavated from the grounds. On display he had pottery shards made by early Fairfield settlers and local Native Americans, a jackknife, nails, Spanish coin, pipe stems and stoneware. Wallace said the annual festival brings together local residents to learn about their local history and to get them interested in the museum and history center.
Michael Jehle, executive director of the museum, said the festival connects people to their local history. "It's a great community event." he said.