A birthday celebration at the Williams Inn on March 10 was unlike any other; the guest of honor was born in 1715.
For nearly three decades, the owners of the Williams Inn, Carl and Marilyn Faulkner, have hosted an annual celebration of the birth of Col. Ephraim Williams Jr., Williamstown's and Williams College's namesake.
Lauren Stevens, local author and environmentalist, portrayed the Colonel on March 10, the first weekend after Ephraim Williams Jr.s' actual natal day of March 7.
"I am 298 years old," Stevens announced as he stood in the lobby beside a cake inscribed ‘Happy Birthday Colonel Williams - 1715.
According to historians, Col. Williams was shot and killed in 1755 near Lake Geneva, N.Y., while commanding troops in a military campaign during the French and Indian War. In his will, he bequeathed a sizable sum to the founding and support of a free school in what was then known as West Hoosuck, on the condition that the town be renamed in his honor.
West Hoosuck was renamed Williamstown in 1765, and the free school opened in 1791. About two years later, the school was chartered as a tuition college, making Williams College the second oldest college in Massachusetts after Harvard.
Col. Williams had been buried near the place he had died, but his remains eventually were transferred to a vault in Thompson Memorial Chapel on the Williams College campus.
In his role as Ephraim Williams, Stevens dressed as a colonial gentleman - frock coat, breeches, hose, cravat and tricorn hat. The costume was provided by the ‘62 Center for Theatre and Dance, but Stevens, who has resurrected Colonel Williams a number of times, wore his own shoes.
Standing nearby in the lobby, the Silver Grey Militia Company of Northern Berkshire examined their muskets.
Long time militia man John Szczesniak is a history buff. "Doing this you know why (militia men) didn't like to march in bad weather. Their feet got wet," he said looking at the moccasins he was wearing. "And if it rained or snowed during a battle, the powder would become wet and could not be used to fire muskets.
Dave Williams said he is the oldest lasting member of the militia: "I'm very active (in the militia) and have taken part in re-enactments.
At the Williams Inn, Carl Faulkner led the way, carrying a United States ‘76 flag, as the militia, muskets in hand, authentic powder horns and ammunition pouches slung over shoulders, marched through the public rooms on the main floor to a ceremony on the green in front of the Inn.
Militia men carried flags inscribed, "Silver Greys, An Appeal to Heaven" and "Don't Tread on Me." Meanwhile, fifer Jeff Willette of North Adams and drummer Robert Mossman of Cheshire set the beat with a rendition of "Yankee Doodle Dandy." Colonel Williams followed the marchers.
With the militia lined up on the green, leader Wayne Tinney of Adams shouted commands: Regiment, Ready, Aim, Fire. Smoke from muskets in a three volley salute to the Colonel circled the air on what was a beautiful day that held the promise of spring.
Returning to the Inn, everyone gathered around the Colonel and sang "Happy Birthday."
Carl Faulkner asked the guest of honor: "To what do you attribute your longevity?"
"To the community chefs," Stevens said with a smile.
Soon, the moment children especially had been waiting for arrived. The Colonel took a knife in hand to cut the cake, which was trimmed in gold and purple icing, Williams College's colors.
There were no candles on the cake; after all, lighting 298 candles might be considered a fire hazard. Someone asked the Colonel how he would make a wish without any candles to blow out. "I'll do it when I slice the cake. I can wish I find the lucky coin," the Colonel replied.
Then Stevens stepped out of character again, saying, "Thanks for honoring Ephraim each year. I'm looking forward to 2015 when Ephraim will be 300 years old."