a native of Bolton, designed and created ten life-sized mannequins
As the crowd gathered on May 14th to commemorate the 148th Anniversary of the Battle of Champion Hill, they were delighted to find life-sized mannequins situated around the Champion Hill MB Church grounds. The display featured images of the Champion family prior to the war as well as an exquisite mannequin of the diarist Darwina Loud, a Freedman school teacher who came from Pennsylvania in 1864 to help teach the newly-freed Slaves to read and write.
Bertha Lewis, a resident of Champion Hill and a member of the Champion Hill MB Church, created the living history for the historic event. Assisting her were Essie Stewart, a friend and her brother Norman Lewis. "We wanted to create a moment in time that would make history come alive," Bertha commented. In preparation for the project, Bertha turned to the Internet: "I spent hours reading the Champion Hill website," she said, "and decided that I wanted to build mannequins to depict the Champion family before the war and Darwina Loud, a Freedman school teacher at Champion Hill, after the war. I also wanted the mannequins to depict some of the soldiers who fought at Champion Hill." Once the concept of the mannequin display became clear, she and Essie began work to make their dream a reality. Bertha engaged her brother Norman to create the settings for her characters. Others contributed by setting up period tents and bringing in an old wagon and other items to enhance the living history they wanted to present. The project was time consuming but quickly became a work of love.
Special touches were added to each mannequin featured in the exhibit. Matilda Champion was showcased in a beautiful period dress and her flaming red hair made her character come alive. Sid Champion, a scholar turned soldier, was dressed in gentleman’s attire instead of a Confederate uniform. Sid and Matilda’s children were dressed in fine clothes as they played in the "tent house" with their toys. Union soldiers were displayed around the church grounds. One particular soldier entertained himself playing the harmonica while resting in camp.
Bertha decided to display the Champion family in a "tent house" surrounded by a picket fence. Outside were posters relating the history of Sid and Matilda Champion and their four children Mary, Wallace, Balfour and Sid Jr. The story of the Champions, a wealthy plantation family in Hinds County, was one of "triumph and tragedy." The well-to-do family lived in a two-story, white-framed house situated along the Jackson-Vicksburg Road, three miles west of Bolton. Prior to the war, the family lived an aristocratic lifestyle but following the Vicksburg Campaign their lives were changed forever. In July 1863, their beautiful home was burned by the Yankees and Matilda and the children were forced to leave the area for the remainder of the war.
Inside the "tent house" mannequins depicted the children sitting by the fireplace while playing with their toys. Outside the tent beside the picket fence, the mannequin of Matilda caught the attention of all passing by.
Also claiming a large audience was the mannequin of Darwina Loud, a young woman who moved south from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, after the war to become a Freedman school teacher. After arriving in Vicksburg, she was assigned to the 52nd U. S. Colored Troops and stationed for a brief time at Midway Station, later known as Champion Hill. While at Midway Station, she taught the "slaves turned soldiers" how to read and write. As people strolled the grounds of the church they found Darwina resting on a bench - appearing much like a schoolmarm. Some visitors were observed talking to her before they realized she was a mannequin and not likely to respond!
In the future, the Mannequin Exhibit will become a permanent feature of all Champion Hill events. The exhibit gives not only children something to enjoy but also adults as they view the life-sized figures and read the history of those whose lives were touched on this site by the terrible misfortune of war.
The Mannequin Exhibit
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Copyright (c) James and Rebecca Drake, 2011. All Rights Reserved.