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Bringing the pages of history to life for SCV students

Placerita Junior High School students enjoy 15th year of Civil War re-enactment

Posted: May 9, 2014 5:56 p.m.
Updated: May 9, 2014 5:56 p.m.

Ralph Keyes, dressed in the flashy uniform of a Zouave private, shows the blade of the bayonet on his musket while describing bayonet warfare during warfare between Civil War soldiers. Keyes spoke during a Civil War re-enactment at Placerita Junior High School on Friday. Signal photo by Dan Watson


Hundreds of students sat on the grass in front of Placerita Junior High School on Friday listening to a man in baggy red pants and a cap with a yellow tassel.

The flashily man was Ralph Keyes, a 59-year-old businessman from Glendora, attired in Zouave garb like that worn by certain military units during the Civil War.

Two other men and a woman also dressed in Civil War-era clothing joined Keyes in a re-enactment aimed at bringing Placerita Junior High students’ history textbooks to life.

And Keyes was certainly lively.

“They don’t have a march-through window at Starbucks,” Keyes told the students regarding the soldiers’ need of a canteen. “You’re going to fill this thing up and keep drinking because it’s all you got.”

Keyes and his partners demonstrated soldier life and women’s roles during the Civil War. And they did it five times on Friday for different sections of Placerita Junior High’s eighth-grade students, about 500 of them.

“(The students) have to know what our forefathers did to keep this nation as one,” Keyes said, “(to) prevent the thoughts and divisions that can divide again.”

The re-enactment was an extension of a three-week in-class study on America’s bloodiest war and included student presentations ranging from composing their own Civil War music to baking food from that era.

“They would have no idea what things (from the war) look like in person (without the re-enactment),” said Mallory Howe, an eighth-grade history teacher at Placerita. “We’re not firing off guns in class.”

Similar productions have taken place at Placerita for some 15 years, according to another of the school’s eighth-grade history teachers, Tim LeMaster. They were first organized by John Warling, a former history department chairman and Civil War buff and re-enactor himself.

LeMaster says back then the demonstrations included cannon, cavalry and an Abraham Lincoln impersonation. Although Friday’s event was toned down, he’d like to see things built back up.
Howe would like to see the event incorporate all of the school’s departments in the future, a multi-disciplinary study and all-day event.
But for at least one student, the goal of animating the pages of history may have come to pass in just 45 minutes.
“You can read something in a book, but you don’t understand it that well,” said eighth-grader Kyle Goodnight after the presentation. “You see it visually and you can understand it a lot better.”

Another student said he expected to see gunfire, and the re-enactors didn’t disappoint.

The musket fire was loud, but the school had alerted its neighbors, the Sheriff’s Department and the nearby Boys & Girls Club of Santa Clarita Valley.




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