In character

The staff of Carillon Park puts the ‘story’ in history

By Katrina Eresman

Photo: Merry Masterson, Assistant Director of Education at Carillon Park, prepares for a Tavern Dinner in costume; photo: Dayton History

In 1796, a group of settlers known as the Thompson Party found themselves on a journey up the Great Miami River, landing at what became Dayton, Ohio.
Naturally, life in Dayton was different two centuries ago. But the people were still full of love, passion, disappointment and all things human.
“Their lives were different than us, but they’re not quite different than you and I today,” says Ross Gaby, an employee at Carillon Park. “They were just put in a different situation.” Gaby, a 20-year-old, full time student at Wright State, is passionate about the history of Dayton.
“I really believe what this place is doing,” he says of his employers. “How they’re trying to bring this living history to the public. You can read a textbook: That’s what I think turns a lot of people my age off about history. It’s like, ‘Ugh, history. Dead people and dates and books.’ And I say, ‘No, it’s really not that.’ Especially if you present it in the right way. And that’s what Carillon Park does and that’s why I believe in it.”
Carillon Park brings history to life. Each day visitors can see exhibitions on Dayton-born technology (like National Cash Register Company), city-altering events (like the Great Dayton Flood of 1913) and historic area buildings, each often accompanied by a staff member eager to teach.
Special events bring more options for showcasing the Gem City’s history. Tavern Dinners, held in Dayton’s oldest building, the 1796 Newcom Tavern, present an early-settlement feast.
“What we’re trying to reproduce is that tavern experience,” explains Merry Masterson, Assistant Director of Education at Carillon Park. In the 1790s, the Newcom Tavern was Dayton’s largest building, serving as the city’s first courthouse, a school house, a community center and a place to spend the night. “For about 65 cents you could get a place to eat, sleep and hitch your horse,” Masterson says.
Masterson is one of two full-time employees in charge of organizing these feasts, as well as other Dayton History events. Hailing from Indiana, she has made herself at home in Ohio, developing a certain trait that everyone at Carillon Park seems to have in common—Masterson loves Dayton.
“It’s just incredible, there’s so much history here and I had no idea,” she says. “I think most people don’t. It’s kind of neat to see [visitors] come here and see the list of all the things from Dayton, Ohio. You start to wonder why, was there something in the water?”
Alongside her colleagues, Masterson has done well to find volunteers and employees who share her enthusiasm for this city. Without this committed group, it would be impossible to bring history to life.
“We’ve got this one volunteer, his name is Bud … and a lot of [his costume] he’s assembled himself,” Masterson says. “When he puts that on, he becomes an early settler and he’s loud and boisterous and he’s very animated. And he very much loves getting to fire those muskets off.”
With “loud and boisterous” as my promise, I give him a call.
“I was just out in the woods and I was trying to do some deer huntin’ and a dagnab boar came and scared the bejeebers out of me and I had to go running for my life,” says a man who calls himself Phillip Abernathy, panting from his close escape from the wild boar. Thank goodness I caught him before he went off to clean his musket.
Mr. Abernathy, known in 2015 as Bud Maylum, has been a volunteer first-person reenactor at Carillon Park for a decade. Having grown up with a passion for the Revolutionary War, he felt right at home in the early settlement reenactment. Almost as soon as Maylum attended his first event at the park, he was asking where he could pick up his costume.
Now Maylum seems to be one of the staples of the events. His peers mention him with reverence—his work in first-person does not go unnoticed.
But wait—what is this “first-person” business?
“[I] take on an identity of a person that was from that time, and I talk that way,” Maylum explains. But he makes it sound far too easy.
Going first-person requires not only a willingness to perform, but it also requires an intimate knowledge of what was fitting to the time period, an aversion to anachronisms.
This is why some volunteers find it easier to stick to costumes only. Sharon Dutcher, who volunteers with her husband Denny, chooses only to do third-person—costume and one’s natural speech.
“If you were first-person, let’s say in the 1800s, there are things that we know today that they don’t know, and you have to act like they’re not there,” says Sharon, explaining the tricky side to first-person.
For something like the tavern dinners, cell phones are definitely out, the thought of flying is absolutely insane and don’t you dare mention indoor plumbing!
It’s a challenge, but one that many volunteers enjoy. Denny Dutcher has recently started honing in on his first-person skills. He’s used to throwing a bit of 1790s character in when he works the tavern dinners.
“We usually don’t do first-person in there because it’s more demonstrating than character portrayal,” he explains. “You serve the food, interact with the people … [but] Bud and I are, you know, jokesters and pranksters,” he says with a sneaky smile.
Often times when they serve meals, the jokesters will preface it with a promise like, “We have some of the finest squirrel and possum available.” Don’t question it. It’s just part of the experience.
Each volunteer or employee that this writer had the true pleasure of interviewing was genuine and amiable. Not a word was spoken about Carillon Park and Dayton History that wasn’t saturated in a happy allegiance. Visiting during an off-hour to speak with the individual staff members is entertaining enough, but envisioning them all at the early settlement buildings together paints quite a scene.
Imagine horses pinned up at Newcom Tavern, Denny Dutcher playing his fife by the road and Sharon standing in the doorway of the schoolhouse beckoning children inside for a lesson.
Maylem would be shooting his musket, surrounded by a group of young boys, until Sandy Lemming, another volunteer who enjoys doing first-person at Newcom Tavern, sighs, “I’ve told him not to do that when there are children around!”
Maylem would comply, putting away his musket, and go to visit the blacksmith, who is none other than Gaby.
The pleasure that the Carillon Park family takes in maintaining an affinity with early Dayton is clear. This is more than just a job for most of them. If Maylem could choose, he’d stay here for good.
“If I could live in the 1790s with the kind of heat we have today for our buildings, I think I would like to live back then,” he says. “It was just a lot simpler back then.”
And as for Gaby?
“I’d actually like to live in 1905,” he says. “It’s just Dayton at its industrial heyday. NCR is huge, Wright brothers are flying at Huffman Prairie, Paul Laurence Dunbar is still alive and just a lot of cool people in once place.”
Walk up the path a little ways inside Carillon Park, and you’ll find yourself in that era. The Wright Brothers Aviation Center is home to the 1905 Flyer III, the world’s first practical airplane. A gentleman calling himself Mr. Wright (but with a striking resemblance to Denny Dutcher…) is there to tell me all about it.
“It’s not in the Air Force Museum, it’s not in the Smithsonian, why? Because at the founding of the park in 1947, Edward Deeds [the founder] contacted Orville Wright … and [Orville] said, ‘I’ll get you that flyer,’ and so he and Orville together put it here,” says
Dutcher proudly. “So will it ever be moved? Not if Orville said no.”
So in a way, Orville Wright was one of the first dedicated members of Carillon Park, determined to preserve Dayton’s history?
“Absolutely, you better believe it,” responds Dutcher.
From Orville Wright to Denny Dutcher, Dayton is lucky to have its story left in such good hands. Visit Carillon Park today and let this staff show you what makes the Gem City sparkle.

Carillon Park is open Monday-Saturday 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m. and Sundays 12-5 p.m. and is located at 1000 Carillon Blvd. in Dayton. For a full schedule of Tavern Dinners, Victorian Afternoon Teas and other events, please visit or call 937.293.2841.

Reach DCP editor Katrina Eresman at

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