Kazimir the Hungry will be swallowing swords and eating and breathing fire at Castlerock Museum’s Fire in the Shire.
Photo by Jeffrey A. Kasper.
by BEN MCLEOD
The summer festival season has begun, and while the region offers a lot of great carnivals, music festivals, outdoor dining and beer gardens, fewer festivals will offer armed combat in the streets. William Jon Walcott, executive director of Alma’s Castlerock Museum, suggests that people visit Alma’s Fire in the Shire (FITS) festival next weekend on Saturday, June 9. “I mean, we’ve got a guy eating fire and swallowing swords. That’s not something you see every day.”
It’s a fully developed town festival that offers entertainment for young, old and in-between. Fire in the Shire includes demonstrations of a selection of weapons from many martial traditions, children’s entertainment, and testaments to the courtly love of the Renaissance and Middle Ages. A selection of themed foods from Alma restaurants will be available, from a Robin Hood Roast at Fire & Ice to a King’s Platter at the Alma Hotel, and while it’s easy to find a bratwurst or a burger at a town festival, only Bill’s Talk of the Town in Alma will be serving Middle Earth Pork Wings. And if anyone eats too much, a “medieval healer” will be at the Stump Town Gallery.
Demonstrations on Saturday will include rapiers and longswords, matchlock muskets and archery, a pike demonstration (a long polearm weapon used by medieval infantry against cavalry), and enough music and dance to fill a domesday book. The “comedy swordfighting” of the Brothers Dymm will be featured, along with Kazimir the Hungry, the fire-eating sword-swallower. The day begins in the modern era with a meet and greet reception at the Alma Hotel at 9 a.m., but it will be the “knightly parade” at 10 a.m. up to the museum that really kicks off the day’s events. Walcott explained that the museum will be cladding the knight’s horse in a set of the museum’s armor, made during the Renaissance and modeled off medieval armor.
The opening of the Castlerock Museum in July 2011 was the seed of the festival. Castlerock houses an exceptional collection of medieval and Renaissance arms and armor that any major museum would be eager to own. “We have a sword dating to the time of the first Crusade,” explained Walcott. “It has iron inlay in Latin on either side of the blade, Jesus’ name on one side, and Mary’s name on the other. It’s definitely one of the showpieces of the museum. We have a Viking chieftain’s sword that has gold and silver wire on the crossguard and the pommel that was found in a tributary of the Rhine [River]. We have two full suits of Maximilian armor that date to the early 1500s.” Maximilian armor has a distinct ridged and fluted design that, while elegant and visually appealing, also uses some of the architectural know-how that went into building the flying buttresses. The ripples actually help the armor deflect blades, and the ridges strengthen the steel itself.
The collection is owned by Gary Schlosstein (Schlosstein is “Castle Rock” in German), who started a not-for-profit to build and maintain the museum. Schlosstein began collecting at the age of 10, when he purchased an old musket for $3. In the 1980s a friend convinced him to buy a pair of polearms, which started him on his way to focusing his collecting on weapons and armor that predate the regular use of gunpowder on the battlefield. “The museum alone is worth the trip,” said Walcott proudly.
This year Alma businesses are participating in a search for the “holy grail.” Hidden in each of at least 20 Alma businesses will be a small version of the fabled goblet. Festival-goers can visit the shops, cafes and galleries on Main Street in their search. When they’ve located four of these mini-grails, they can proceed up the king’s road to the palace — take North Street to the Castlerock Museum — where a drawing will be held at 4:15 p.m., the prize being a silver-plated chalice and 100 Alma Dollars.
Fire in the Shire was started about seven years ago to celebrate the completion of the museum’s building, and was originally known as the Castlerock Museum Gala. “As time went on, so many businesses wanted to get involved that we decided to rebrand it and make it a town-wide event,” explained Walcott. Daniel Kordiac, owner of the Hotel de Ville in Alma, has been handling the aspects of the festival that will take place all along Main Street. “We expanded to downtown three years ago and everyone loves it,” he said. Rather than driving to a renaissance festival and waiting to be admitted into the grounds, Alma’s Fire in the Shire will stretch all along Main Street. “Every 30 minutes somebody is performing some place,” explained Kordiac. “They may be singing on a stage but the rest of the day they’ll be performing around town, performing at random in the shops.”
Alma is a small town and leaders had intended to throw a small festival. But luckily the Fire in the Shire had been building momentum. “When we started it was a gala, some guys doing longsword demonstrations in the street,” recalled Walcott. “Now it’s grown into a city-wide event, with a couple dozen businesses involved one way or another. It’s amazing to see how the event has grown and taken off over the years.” Kordiac agreed. “Based on the number of people calling me, that tells me that the word is getting out that this thing exists,” he said. “Now Renaissance fair actors are contacting me, saying, ‘hey, I heard about the fest! Are you looking for actors?’ I’m hiring everyone who calls. Honest to God, it’s about fun. It’s a showcase for Alma. It’s extremely unique. Art galleries where the artist is living in or near the building … a sword used in the Crusades … people are not expecting that in Alma.” Kordiac is always adding new features to the Hotel de Ville; the latest is a castle wall. “Fifteen-foot towers, leaded glass windows, there’s a hobbit hole back there — it will rival anything at Disney World.”
Check out a full schedule of events at http://www.castlerockmuseum.com/main/events.php or fireintheshire.com.