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By: Andrew Wedgebury
Malakoff Diggins to celebrate its French connection
What do the Great Battle of Sebastopol during the Crimean War and Malakoff Diggins have in common? Quite a lot apparently, according to a recent State Park report tracing the influence of early French residents and culture in the area.

The report sheds light on a little-known segment of Nevada County history, and now a special free event at Malakoff Diggins State Park on Saturday, Sept. 9, called “Malakoff’s French Connection Festival” will celebrate and commemorate the French heritage of the park.

The Battle of Malakoff was a major battle during the Crimean War, fought between French-British forces and Russia on Sept. 8, 1855, as a part of the Siege of Sebastopol. The taking of the Malakoff Tower, which ended the siege, was a major victory for the allies and celebrated throughout Europe.

In the years following the war, many French immigrants found their way to Northern California in search of fortune in the gold fields. The 2014 report by Mark Selverston reveals compelling stories of ingenuity, hardship, discovery and achievement of the French settlers in the area.

One aspect of the scholarly work, available for viewing at malakoffdigginsstatepark.org, inspired local artist Laura Jane Coats to write an original script, fashion a marionette stage and fabricate marionettes to demonstrate and bring to life the origination of the word “Malakoff.”

Coates has immersed herself in the time immediately following the end of the Crimean War in 1855, imagining the Nevada County atmosphere and creating an informative and powerful representation of Malakoff Village and the real persona of Madam Auguste, proprietress of the Hotel de France. The play, “How Malakoff Got Its Name,” will have its world premiere at the French Connection Festival at 2 p.m.

In addition to the marionette show, popular local band Beaucoup Chapeaux will contribute to the festive atmosphere, providing lively eastern European gypsy and world music. To honor the French culture theme, the band will be adding a few 18th and 19th century French Canadian tunes to their repertoire.

The festival will also feature park volunteers in historic dress who will showcase the historic buildings and provide historic ambiance. The French heritage of the park will be further recognized with the unveiling of two new interpretive panels describing the park’s French connection. Guided hikes to the new panels, French-themed picnic style food and beverages, a kid zone with crafts and activities centered on French culture, and gold mining era pursuits will round out the day.

The event, which runs from 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., is free to the public, and supported by the efforts of the Friends of North Bloomfield & Malakoff Diggins. For more information on Malakoff’s French Connection event, visit malakoffdigginsstatepark.org.