LOMBARD – Imagine coming to a new country for the first time and being told that you will experience the reenactment of a major national war.
Sixteen exchange students will get to experience that feeling as both patrons and volunteers during the Lombard Historical Society's Fourth Annual Sweet's Civil War Reenactment today through Sunday at Four Seasons Park.
This is the second year exchange students have participated in the event as part of the Community College Initiative Program at College of DuPage.
"They really enjoyed it last year," program coordinator Nicole Spizzirri said. "A lot of them had heard of the Civil War, but they didn't know what it was about. It provided a visual representation that helped them understand it."
The exchange students in the program arrived Monday from as far as Colombia, Indonesia, Pakistan, Gana, South Africa, Egypt and Kosovo. The 10-month, competitive scholarship program is run by the U.S. Department of State.
International students accepted to the program are brought to one of six community colleges to learn professional development, technical skills and community service, Spizzirri said.
"They get the cultural experience of learning about the Civil War, but they also get an opportunity to volunteer and help clean up the event," she said.
Large crowds are expected this weekend at the fourth annual reenactment, which has grown considerably each year, said Alison Costanzo, coordinator of the Victorian Museum at the Lombard Historical Society. The first reenactment, held at the Lombard Commons, was a one-day event that brought about 1,000 people, Costanzo said.
Last year, the three-day event attracted roughly 5,000, she said.
Sanfords Battery, a Confederate artillery unit, and the 8th Veteran Reserve Corps are the two organizations that will participate in the event, which is named after Union General Benjamin Sweet, who ran Camp Douglas and settled in Lombard following the war, Costanzo said.
Aside from battle reenactments, the three-day event features tours of Civil War camps, a cotillion and kids drills.
"These events bring the subject matter to life," Costanzo said. "It's something the kids will remember going forward."
Many people living in the North have the misconception that the Confederates are the bad guys in these reenactments, but they often develop a new understanding after learning from the reenactors in the Confederate camp, Costanzo said.
"We forget how trying a time it was for people on both sides," she said. "It was a very difficult time in America's history."
Getting a chance to meet the reenactors is always a highlight of the event, said Leslie Sulla, president of the historical society.
"It's a great way for all ages to learn about living history – it creates a context so we understand our background and why we are here today," Sulla said.
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If you go
What: Fourth Annual Sweet's Civil War Reenactment
When: Today to Sunday
Where: Four Seasons Park, 820 S. Finley Road
Cost: Free; donations encouraged
More info: www.lombardhistory.org
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Friday: Oscar-winning 2012 movie "Lincoln" at 8 p.m. Free admission
Saturday & Sunday: Reenactment open to the pubic from 10 a.m to 4 p.m., including a skirmish at 11:30 a.m., the kids drill at 12:30 p.m. and the main battle at 2:30 p.m.
Saturday only: Candlelight camp tour at 8:30 p.m.
Sunday only: Ballroom dance lessons at noon; Raffle winners announced at 2:15 p.m.