Friday, April 18, 2003
A talk with the women who became Carlisle Minutemen
As someone who has watched and joined in on the Patriots Day march to Concord from my home on Estabrook Road, I have observed the role of women as it has changed over the years since the Carlisle Colonial Minutemen were established in 1967. This year I decided to learn more about those changes from the two women members of the Carlisle Company.
Karen Liessner Lamoreaux
Karen Liessner Lamoreaux moved to Bellows Hill Road in 1966 with her family when she was two years old. Karen remembers her father, Walter Liessner, signing up with the Minutemen in 1967. By the time of the Bicentennial in 1975, all of the Liessners were members of the Carlisle Minutemen Company: Walter and Janet and their six children Alinda, Chris, Karen, Patty, Cindy and Greg. "My parents encouraged the whole family to get involved," remembered Karen. "They wanted us to learn about history by being a part of history, instead of just reading about it in a book. Also my Mom thought it was a good way for us to get exercise and one way to wear her children out," laughed Karen. "Many of the marches took place in cold weather and we couldn't wait to get home."
Memories of the Bicentennial
"Everyone was preparing for the big day. Chris, Patty and Greg, along with the Harte boys, Will and Tim, from down the road, were practicing the fife. I didn't play the fife, and instead I had to march with the women coming along behind the men," recalled Karen. "I told my mother I had to do something different, maybe carry a musket. My Mother's response was `You're a girl and you can't do that.' She got used to my complaints and I did enjoy the marches and hanging out in the back with the other women."
Karen's memories of the Bicentennial in 1975 include the Vietnam War protesters camped overnight on the hill overlooking the Concord River and the bridge, as well as those hanging from the trees around the Buttrick Mansion. "There were so many people and they wouldn't let us pass. The organizers of the parade kept us cordoned off as we took our time getting to the bridge, added Karen. "I got to see President Ford off in the distance. Just being there was exciting."
By the mid-'80s, Karen grew tired of marching in the back of the pack. She felt it was confining and made her feel like just a decoration. She finally went to a meeting of the Minutemen at the Sleeper Center. "I spoke with a group of the men and asked if they allowed women to carry muskets. In response, they asked me if I knew how heavy a musket was and could I carry it a long distance. I told them that I had always helped my Dad clean out his musket; how I carried it around the house under his supervision; how he had taught me to hold it right, making sure I knew it was a weapon and to have respect for it." Karen also told them how she often walked her dogs for two or three hours in the Estabrook Woods or on Towle Field.
The Minutemen thought about her request for a few moments and then responded, "We need people, and if you can carry the musket and go the distance, we'll take you on."
Using one of her Dad's old uniforms, Chris's shirt and other bits and pieces from family members, Karen was ready to go. All the dresses were packed into a box and put away in the closet. "I marched twice with my Dad when I finally had a musket," added Karen, "that was real cool."
Karen says the Carlisle Company is a loose group; "they joke around a lot and I have felt accepted."
Charlene Hinton, who moved from Miami to Carlisle in 1989, was never much interested in history. When she, her husband Steve and daughter Melissa came to Carlisle to look for a house on Old Home Day, she remembers "seeing pieces of history everywhere". "I saw the Old North Bridge on the map and I felt it was one place I had to see." Later, driving around, they decided Carlisle was the place that was going to be home. "It just felt right for us," said Charlene. "All those memories of school came back to me," she added. "Now it made sense. All those dates and numbers weren't that important back then, but now I can't get enough of them."
By July of the next year, the Hinton family had settled into their new home on East Street and had time to take part in Old Home Day celebrations. Charlene watched as the Minutemen marched by and she knew at once that this was a group that she wanted to be part of. Just like Karen Liessner Lamoreaux, Charlene also wanted a chance to go back and be a part of history. "I've got to do that" she said, "and here in New England where people are so independent, I didn't see where that would be a problem."
Charlene first approached the Minutemen in Concord to ask about joining. "I was told theirs was a company where the men who marched wore the uniforms and the women accompanying them on the sidelines were in period dress, carrying baskets of food."
Some time later, on Memorial Day in Carlisle, Charlene asked Minuteman Captain Ken Jung about the Carlisle group, how it was formed and how one might sign up. She was told that anyone who wanted to join or volunteer would be welcome. It was several years later in 1995, after she had recovered from radical surgery on her leg and was able to get back on her feet and march, that Charlene and her friend Joan Gregorski from down the road on East Street joined the Carlisle Colonial Minutemen together.
Like farmers called off the fields
"Both of us felt so welcome. When I look at our group portraits over the years, it accurately reflects the way it was when farmers were called off the fields and asked to join the battle in Concord. We in Carlisle try to portray the farmer who was asked to participate in any way he could versus the troops in many of the surrounding towns who place more emphasis on historically accurate dress. They seem to be there more for show," explained Charlene.
Again Charlene mentioned the welcoming atmosphere she has experienced in the group. "Stuart Harvey taught me to load and handle a musket safely. Harvey, who marches in the back and controls the cadence and commands, helped me learn marching commands and the positioning of the musket during the march," continued Charlene.
Charlene also had kind words for former Minuteman Captain Ken Jung who moved to Florida several years ago. Jung, with his son (who was killed in a motorcycle accident), had designed a musket to replace an older one. When Charlene signed on with the troop, Jung let her use his son's musket and later when Jung was moving to Florida, he let her buy it.
"We are a smaller group these days, but still devoted. The core group is always there • Scott Evans and his brother Steve from Westford, Charlie Forsberg, Stuart Harvey, Parkman Howe, Geoff Larson, Gabor Miskolczy, Miles Goff and the late Jim Davis," reported Charlene. "We were much more active in the past, but we still participate in Patriots Day, Memorial Day, Old Home Day and sometimes the Pole-Capping in Bedford and the Meriam's Corner reenactment in Concord.
"We still have practice for the fife and drum, and in January we have our formal dinner at the Colonial Inn in Concord where we dress in Minuteman attire and bring our spouses along." Charlene makes a point of manning, so to speak, the Minuteman booth at Old Home Day, urging people to sign up, as well as letting women know they too will be welcome.
Karen and Charlene both agree that it makes them proud to be out there on the roads and trails with their company of Carlisle Minutemen, cheered on by the populace, celebrating an important piece of American history.
Ed note • Marchers will remember Karen's parents Janet and Walter Liessner who provided homemade donuts, Danish, coffee and juice from the end of their driveway on Bellows Hill Road. They have been dearly missed since their move to Connecticut in 2000.
© 2003 The Carlisle Mosquito