Festival Celebrates Bemelmans’ Times At Fort Ontario, Anniversary of World War I

Sophia Terzulli attempts to give her kite a boost skyward.

Sophia Terzulli attempts to give her kite a boost skyward.

OSWEGO, NY – The Port City’s first Bemelmans Festival wrapped up over the weekend at the Fort Ontario Complex.

The festival celebrated the 100th anniversary of World War I and 1917 deployment of Ludwig Bemelmans, author of the Madeline books, as a Private at Fort Ontario.

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 followup surgeries, rehabilitation, and convalescence.

A variety of activities were scheduled including:

• A walking tour of buildings still standing at the fort mentioned by Bemelmans in his book, “My War With The United States.”
• The world premiere of the adaptation of the book for the stage by the Oswego Players’ president Rick Sivers.
• KiteFest on the grounds of Fort Ontario
• A jazz concert
• A children’s parade followed by an ice cream social at the fort.
• A gallery exhibit at the Art Association of Oswego

Bemelmans was 19 years old and kept a diary while stationed at the fort. He turned the diary into ‘My War With The United States.’ His daughter holds the rights to all of his materials and she gave Sivers permission to turn those pages into a play.

Parts of the play involved how Bemelmans used his pistol to ensure the “oldtimers” in his ward obeyed his lights out command, and how some prisoners at the fort showed him how to take his weapon apart and put it back together again without his superiors’ finding out.

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.

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