GARRISON - It must have been fate.
Bill Butcher has been participating in the Garrison Dickens Village Festival on and off since it began 19 years ago. His fate might have been sealed when he mentioned in passing one summer that he is a many times great-nephew of the famous English writer, whose 200th birthday would have been Feb. 7 this year. He was persuaded to play Charles Dickens at the first ever festival. On Sunday, representing the Dickens family again, Butcher cut a birthday cake in honor of his "Uncle Charlie."
"My favorite (Dickens work) is 'A Christmas Carol,'" said Butcher, who also likes Dickens' "Tale of Two Cities." He hasn't read all of the prolific author's work, since there are so many to choose from.
Andrea Johnson/MDN • The Dickens Village Festival includes a craft fair, food vendors and rides on a double-decker bus during the four weekends it is held. For a complete schedule, go to (www.dickensfestival.com)
Andrea Johnson/MDN • Bill Butcher cuts the birthday cake celebrating the 200th birthday of author Charles Dickens on Sunday during the Dickens Village Festival in Garrison. Butcher traces his ancestry back to Dickens’ father through Butcher’s grandmother, which makes Charles Dickens his many times great-uncle.
Butcher said he learned of the connection because he has an interest in genealogy. His grandmother's maiden name was Dickens and Butcher has traced her ancestry back to Dickens' father John. That would make Dickens, who died in 1870 and had seven siblings, a many times great-uncle.
Butcher, a retired FBI agent who now lives in Bismarck with his wife, Dina, said he visited England when he was in the Navy, but didn't get a chance to see Dickens' birthplace back then.
"I'd love to see it," said Butcher, if he ever has a chance to return.
Butcher does have a walking stick that is supposed to have belonged to Charles Dickens, according to his grandmother.
The birthday party for Charles Dickens was new this year, but there are many other activities planned during the festival, which will be held again Friday and Saturday and Dec. 7 and 8, said Sarah Chase, marketing director for the Garrison Dickens Village Festival.
Chase said each weekend of the festival will include more food booths, bigger parades with more floats and other entertainment, including a Christmas quilt show, a trains, tractors, cars and toy show, a costume contest, musical entertainment and a production of A Christmas Carol, among other things. People can also take carriage rides or ride in the Elizabus, an original double-decker bus like those used in London. A full schedule of events can be found at (www.dickensfestival.com).
"We couldn't do it without our volunteers in Garrison," said Chase, who said many people and organizations have stepped up to run food booths or to run other activities during the four weekends of the festival.
The Dickens Village Festival has been a huge boon to the community as a whole. Chase said one of the local businesses had record sales on Saturday. Many stores have Christmas merchandise, so a visit to the Dickens Festival is a good opportunity for people to do some Christmas shopping too, said Chase. She said the festival draws people from all over, including a few from other countries.