Boogie knights 

Oatland Island Medieval Festival returns with archery, combat, food and fun


Not, it’s not a fancy French dish or a complicated role-playing game. A trebuchet is a wooden monster designed to either smash through walls or hurl projectiles over them -- a medieval weapon of mass destruction, if you will.

If you want to see one in action, head out to the Medieval Festival, set for Sept. 29 at the Oatland Island Wildlife Center, now in its fourth year. The event, a key fundraiser for Oatland Island, has been a success from the start, and has grown every year.

Last year’s festival drew 3,000 people. It began somewhat by accident.

“We have a fundraiser called the Beastly Feast,” says Heather Merbs, an educator at the center who coordinates the Festival.

“One evening, while we were packing up after the Beastly Feast, someone said the name sounded medieval,” she says. “We contacted the Society of Creative Anachronism.”

The SCA is devoted to the study of pre-17th century Western culture. Its members recreate the arts and skills of the European Middle Ages and Renaissance through period clothing and historical reenactments.

The plan was for the SCA to bring an element of the Middle Ages to the Beastly Feast. “They said, ‘We’d love to help, but we’ve always been interested in a full-blown event,’” Merbs says.

So the Medieval Festival was born. It’s put on annually by both the SCA (locally called Shire of Forth Castle) and the Friends of Oatland Island. This year’s activities will include juggling, archery, sword fighting, storytelling, crafts, games and even medieval food -- sort of.

“We do sell giant smoked turkey legs,” Merbs says. “People think of them as medieval. It’s ironic, because the turkey didn’t exist in medieval Europe.”

Musicians will include a bagpiper and a lute player. Merchants will be selling all types of items. There also will be activities for the children, including pony rides, face painting and costume contests. Most activities are included in the price of admission. A few, including the pony rides and face painting, have a nominal cost.

Period dress is encouraged. Some participants have moved to Savannah from larger cities where Renaissance fairs are held, and are delighted at the chance to dress up like a lord or lady of the olde realm.

Planning for the festival takes much work and time. “We start shortly after the one is held the year before,” Merbs says. “We start having monthly meetings.”

The planning committee includes Oatland staff, members of the SCA and members of the Friends of Oatland Island. Actually putting the event on requires more than 200 volunteers. Once the planning and work is done, it’s time to play.

“My favorite part is just seeing the children enjoy it,” Merbs says. “The Middle Ages have a sense of adventure that the kids feel.”

The festival also performs an important service. “It’s an important fundraiser for us,” Merbs says.

“Friends of Oatland Island is an independent non-profit that helps us with large capital projects and helps us with day-to-day support with the animal care.”

Beth Logan is a Friends of Oatland board member. “I used to take my daughter to Oatland Island, and I have great memories of going there,” she says. “The festival has grown every year. We couldn’t do it without the SCA. They provide most of the stuff and they do a great job.”

The Medieval Festival will be presented by Friends of Oatland Island and the Society for Creative Anachronism on Saturday, Sept. 29 10 a.m.-5 p.m. at the Oatland Island Wildlife Center, 711 Sandtown Rd. Costume contests will be held at 11:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. Admission $7 adults, $5 seniors and children ages 4 to 17. Children 3 and under free.

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Linda Sickler

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