COEUR d'ALENE - Question: When is Robert Singletary not Robert Singletary?
Answer: When he is William Carlin, commander of Fort Sherman.
Or, when he is Peter Sorensen, steamboat captain.
"When I take on that character, I become that character," said the Coeur d'Alene man. "I don't know what it is. People, they like that. It's not like somebody has a canned speech."
Singletary plays both men during the Living History Walking Tours that he leads through the Museum of North Idaho. He presents the tours in period dress and takes on the persona of the historical characters that were important to the history of the Coeur d'Alene region.
"I use those two because they were here very early, they knew the early history of the town," the local historian said.
The hourlong tours, which are scheduled twice daily Tuesday through Saturday, were part of the reason why True West Magazine recently named Coeur d'Alene as one of the 10 cities in the U.S. to receive the magazine's annual award for towns that have made important contributions to preserving their past.
Singletary, who is known in the area for his lectures, articles, tours, and living history presentations, relishes his roles.
He began the Living History Walking Tours of Old Fort Sherman and historic downtown Coeur d'Alene on June 19 and will continue to early fall.
"That's one of the reasons why we got that award, because it was so unique, particularly because we do it as a living history walking tour," he said.
He noted that some guided tours involved memorized, canned speeches.
"It sounds that way," said Singletary, who was recently named program and marketing director for the Museum of North Idaho.
His acting talents, enthusiasm and passion for the roles have earned a following since beginning the program three years ago. The presentations have been increased this year to five days each week, instead of three.
Visitors on the tour of old Fort Sherman are led by Colonel William Carlin, commander of Fort Sherman from 1884 to 1894.
As Colonel Carlin, Singletary tells the story of his background, especially his relationship with General Sherman during the Civil War and how he came to be stationed at Fort Sherman.
Carlin talks about his duties at Fort Sherman and his relationship with the growing town of Coeur d'Alene. He passes out a map of the fort grounds and points out the major buildings and their uses, including the three buildings that are still standing, the Powder Magazine, one of the Officers' Quarters, and the Fort Sherman Chapel. He talks about the daily life of a soldier at Fort Sherman from Reveille to Taps.
The tour of downtown Coeur d'Alene is presented through the eyes of Captain Peter Sorensen, starting at 1 p.m. Sorensen came to Coeur d'Alene in 1880 when Coeur d'Alene was just a tent city next to Fort Coeur d'Alene.
He built the first steamboat on Lake Coeur d'Alene and became a master boat builder and civic leader. Sorensen lived in Coeur d'Alene until he passed away in 1918.
"I tell the story of Coeur d'Alene from its beginning through the boom years of the early 1900s as Captain Sorensen may have experienced it," Singletary said.
He reflects on certain buildings, events, and people as the tour moves from the park to the pioneer homes on East Sherman.
Clark's Diamond Jewelers is one of the oldest in downtown Coeur d'Alene and still the original building.
"If you walked in in 1908, that's what you see," Singletary said.
Singletary said it's important communities preserve their past, and the best way to do that is bring its history to life.
Tickets are $15 per person and are available at the Museum of North Idaho and the Coeur d'Alene Chamber of Commerce.
Info: 664-3448, (208) 755-1308, or www.museumni.org.
Take the tour
• Living History Walking Tours: Old Fort Sherman, 11 a.m., Downtown Coeur d'Alene, 1 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Tickets at the Museum of North Idaho and Cd'A Chamber of Commerce. Info: 664-3448, 755-1308. Featuring local historian Robert Singletary as Peter Sorensen, steamboat captain, and Gen. William Carlin, commander of Fort Sherman