Festival Celebrates Bemelmans’ Time At Fort Ontario

Madeline reads to young visitors

Madeline reads to young visitors

OSWEGO, NY – The Port City’s annual Bemelmans Festival wrapped up over the weekend at the Fort Ontario Complex. The festival celebrated the 1917 deployment of Ludwig Bemelmans, author of the Madeline books, as a Private at Fort Ontario.

Madeline reads to young visitors
Madeline reads to young visitors

Dozens of children were able to interact with Madeline, fly their own kites, enjoy arts and crafts as well as several other activities.

From 1917 to 1919, Fort Ontario served as General Hospital #5 where sick and wounded soldiers from army camps in the U.S. and the fighting in Europe were brought for follow-up surgeries, rehabilitation, and convalescence.

Among the many activities at the festival were:

• KiteFest on the grounds of Fort Ontario
• The play: ‘Madeline and the Gypsies’
• Readings by ‘Madeline’ herself
• A children’s parade followed by an ice cream social at the fort.
• A gallery exhibit at the Art Association of Oswego

Private Ludwig Bemelmans salutes visitors to Fort Ontario.
Private Ludwig Bemelmans salutes visitors to Fort Ontario.

“The Bemelmans Festival started last year to celebrate the life of Ludwig Bemelmans who is very famous for writing the ‘Madeline’ books. He was stationed in Oswego during World War I. He signed up with the US Army. They wouldn’t send him to Europe fir obvious reasons, ja; you don’t want to give a German a gun and stick him in a US Army barracks,” Bemelmans (a.k.a. Oswego actor Matthew Fleming) told Oswego County Today.

“I was not so good with guns. I’m not going to pretend I’m an expert,” he added referring to the time he gave POWs his gun to help him learn to take it apart and put it back together and the time his discharged his weapon in the infirmary when patients continually ignored his ‘lights out, go to sleep’ command.

Bemelmans was 19 years old and kept a diary while stationed at the fort. He turned the diary into the book ‘My War With The United States.’

While at Fort Ontario, Bemelmans hadn’t even thought of becoming a writer or a painter; that would come later when in 1939 –
Bemelmans’ first copyrighted the Madeline story.

By the end of the 1950s, the Madeline stories were everywhere. He also wrote books for adults, at least one Hollywood movie script, and was known as an accomplished painter on the Paris and New York art scene as well.

The festival was sponsored by Friends of Fort Ontario, Oswego Art Association, Children’s Museum of Oswego, Fort Ontario State Historic Site, the Oswego Players, and Oswego County Department of Community Development, Tourism and Planning.

Madeline is flanked by a pair of World War I soldiers.

Madeline (MK Clerkin) shared stories with youngsters at the festival.

Huge kites filled the sky above the historic fort.

A young man checks out the lone sentry.

The cast of Madeline and the Gypsies take a bow after one of their performances at the festival

There were plenty of arts and crafts to keep children busy prior to the parade.

A youngster tries to keep his kite aloft. Kite making was one of the many activities offered.

The Children’s Parade gets under way in front to the Art Association build.

The Children’s Parade marched around the fort grounds before heading back to the main gate for an ice cream social.