Spotlight on Mike Hutchison

Along the banks of Mobile Bay, on the pristine lawn of The Grand Hotel, a historic cannon erupts at 3:45 p.m. and smoke smudges the blue sky. Local Mike Hutchison is the reenactor responsible for the daily salute that honors the area’s rich heritage.

How did you get into the cannon-firing business?
I’ve been doing Civil War reenactments since about 1982, and I’ve done artillery for 28 years. I owned a 12-pounder Howitzer and limber cannon. These were used for The Grand Hotel demonstrations until they had their own built.

How did the tradition come about?
Four years ago, I made a proposal to the folks at The Grand Hotel that we treat tourists to some of the history here. We started out doing a living history cannon fire demonstration only on holidays, and there would be an outdoor museum. We would fire a few rounds of my cannon while people sipped on mint juleps and music played. Dr. David Bronner, head of Retirement Systems of Alabama, decided that he wanted that to be “the thing” for The Grand Hotel. Like in Ross Bridge, which is an RSA resort in the Birmingham area, they have a guy playing bagpipes. We tie in the history of The Grand Hotel being a hospital during the Civil War and a camp of instruction for the 21st Alabama Infantry. We eventually developed a team of historians and drummers.

Walk us through your presentation.
We say the Pledge of Allegiance every day. I talk about the main points of the cemetery near the golf course and about the hotel being a Confederate hospital. I also discuss the training during World War II and then recognize veterans or men and women on active duty. People don’t do that enough. There’s also talk about the battle of Mobile Bay and the campaign for the area and what ships were out here. Then, of course, I also explain the loading, firing and unloading of an artillery piece.

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What do you do when you aren’t firing the cannon?
I have a musical instrument shop called Baldwin County Instrument Exchange, and we have an eBay store. My trio, Blind Dog Mike and the Howlers, plays music at local restaurants, and I do musical instrument lessons.

Who does the firing and presentation at the hotel when you can’t?
My son, Jessie Hutchison, grew up going to reenactments, and my wife, who homeschooled him, worked with him on public speaking. We had him as an alternate, and then a position came open. He’s filled that. It’s a good thing for him to do while he’s in college. He understands it and really likes it.

Why do you love doing this so much?
I may be square as a peg, but I’m patriotic. This is a great country we live in.

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text by Allison Woodham • photo by Jon Hauge

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