Michael Kalichak served in the Navy during the Vietnam War, but for 20 years has shared the story of much older American conflicts as a tour guide in Fort Mifflin on the Delaware in Southwest Philadelphia.
“I’m representing someone from the militia,” Kalichak said. He wears period costume when working at the fort and giving tours.
“I’ve been a Civil War enthusiast since I was 13 and got a job here, it was just a matter of learning the story of a different war, the Revolutionary War,” he explained.
And the role of the fort was indeed revolutionary in the course of American history, even though it was built by the British.
According to Kalichak, the fort was designed to protect the city of Philadelphia and is now known as “the fort that saved America”.
“There was a battle here in October and November 1777,” he said. This battle kept the British busy at Fort Mifflin, buying time for the Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army, General George Washington.
“We delayed them long enough for Washington to escape to Valley Forge,” Kalichak said.
Beth Beatty, executive director of Fort Mifflin on Delaware, says the fort played a role from the Revolutionary War through both World Wars.
“The fort is a brick-and-mortar veteran of three centuries of service to the country,” Beatty explained. “It was garrisoned during the War of 1812, a federal prison during the Civil War, an ammunition depot in the early 20th century.”
Kalichak literally walks visitors through this story, showing where munitions and people were housed. Visitors can tour the powder magazine built in 1867 and the casemates where Confederate prisoners of war were held.
And on weekends in October, after sunset, Kalichak also gives candlelight ghost tours.
“These are story-based group tours. It’s probably the most authentic Halloween experience in Philadelphia,” Beatty said. “We just turn off the lights and tell true stories.”
“Since the fort was a battlefield, it may be haunted,” Kalichak said. “People have reported apparitions and they have reported strange happenings here at Fort Mifflin.”
Kalichak said he can attest to hearing his name called at the fort, even though no one else was there.
By providing a living history interpretation by tour guides like Kalichak, Beatty says the history of Fort Mifflin on the Delaware becomes more accessible to visitors.
Kalichak enjoys sharing his love of history with visitors of all ages.
“It’s history coming to life. I like it. It’s fun,” he said.
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