Spooky specters and lurking lutins await you at Fort Fright

Be wary of were-wolves and look out for lutins as you walk the lantern-lit path along the shore of Lake Michigan to Colonial Michilimackinac for Fort Fright the evenings of October 7 and 8. From 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. (last admission at 8:30 p.m.) on Friday and Saturday, eighteenth-century French-Canadian folklore comes to life. With trembling hands, your guide leads you to one of the many campfires glowing in the night where a voyageur tells eerie tales before you are led farther down the path to the guarded gates of Colonial Michilimackinac. You are now on your own to enter the wooden palisade, a frightening world of fun and phantoms wrapped into one. As you venture inside the gate, British Redcoats of a different order patrol the wooden fort. Look closer to see they're not ordinary soldiers, but skeletons with bony fingers curled tight around their eighteenth-century, wooden-handled muskets. More campfires crackle inside the fort, but there are friendly faces around these. French fur traders and voyageurs, dressed warm in their capotes for the chilly night, are telling more tales, singing songs played to traditional music of the 1700s, and visiting with guests. One campfire boasts a large, black, cast-iron pot of apple cider simmering over the flames as a colonial woman ladles it into cups for visitors warming themselves. The fire offers a respite from the mythical creatures that prefer other places, like the upper stories of the wooden buildings where they throw open shutters and cackle, howl or prowl around the palisade. ''The majority of the activities at Fort Fright will be suitable for the entire family,'' said Steve Brisson, Mackinac State Historic Parks chief curator. ''But we'll also have a number of interesting and scary activities designed to appeal to older children and adults.'' A tour of the haunted rowhouse, a custom designed exhibit for this occasion, will not be easily forgotten. In other wooden buildings within the fort and fur trading village, colonial ladies serve warm autumn treats like homemade pumpkin bread and toffee, and others play music on instruments from the time period. Guests can learn about death and burial in the 1700s, and the various traditions and ceremonies for the dead from over 250 years ago in the church. In addition to creatures, colonial men and women with friendly faces roam the village, following the lantern-lit paths that wind throughout the fort, a unique nighttime atmosphere available only on these two nights. Refreshments and treat bags sponsored by PNC Bank are handed out to children as well. ''The event is not just held to scare you,'' said Katie Cederholm, Mackinac State Historic Parks curator of education. ''There's an eerie but real background to the event, which stems from French-Canadian tales that were passed on from person-to-person as voyageurs and other people traveled, and so there's a strong history of oral tradition behind Fort Fright.'' That oral history is shared around campfires much in the same way it was shared over two-and-a-half centuries ago. The characters that roam Fort Fright, such as were-wolves, lutins, and Le Dame Blanche, meaning White Lady (Ghost), are drawn from a book called Were-Wolves and Will-o-the-Wisps: French Tales of Mackinac Retold by Dirk Gringhuis. The collection of short stores, published by Mackinac State Historic Parks, is based on French-Canadian folktales brought to the Mackinac Straits area by the voyageurs during the height of the French fur trade. ''The stories and spooky superstitions often have modern day counterparts,'' said Cederholm. ''By combining the nuances of the oral history and live interpretation of the characters, we're able to create a fun and, at times, spooky atmosphere for all ages. It's the stories and the individuals sharing them that make this such a chilling and memorable experience.'' Priced at $6.00, the book is sold during the event and can also be purchased prior to Fort Fright at the Colonial Michilimackinac Visitor's Center or by calling 231-436-4100. Admission to Fort Fright is $6 adult, $3 children, or $18 family and free for children 4 and under and Mackinac Associates members Friend Level and above. Pre-purchase your family's tickets beginning October 1 in the Colonial Michilimackinac Visitor's Center or become a Mackinac Associates member ''Friend'' level and above, and you'll enter through the shorter line, indicated by the ''Mackinac Associates and Pre-Paid Tickets Here'' sign. Last admission on both nights is at 8:30 p.m. Call 231-436-4100 for more information. Much of Colonial Michilimackinac has been reconstructed based on archaeological excavations, including its 13 buildings and structures, many of which will be open and featuring special activities during Fort Fright. The fort and fur trading village was founded by the French in 1715 and is depicted today as it was in the 1770s when occupied by the British. Visitor information is available at 231-436-4100 or on the web at www.MackinaParks.com. Copyright © 2011 State of Michigan Published: Mon, Sep 26, 2011