A day full of music, vintage baseball — and the live amputation of a leg.
It can only be the 36th annual Fort Lowell Day on Saturday, Feb. 11, where participants are whisked to the 19th century with crafts, games and the surgical removal of a leg performed by contemporary doctors in period garb.
In an event appropriately called “Blood and Guts Medicine” at Fort Lowell Day, Dr. Bob Hunter will perform a mock surgery — but he doesn’t use a dummy.
“Most of the times I’ve done it, I’ve done it with a healthy, living person,” Hunter says. “I have a trick table. I cut off the fake leg and use fake blood. It looks pretty real.”
In one of his prior performances, Hunter, a retired physician who now works in clinical research, actually performed the procedure on a fellow historian who has a legitimate leg amputation. The man, already in the uniform of a cavalry trooper, graciously removed his prosthetic, changed into a pair of torn trousers, and was carried to Hunter’s table for the performance.
“It all looked fairly realistic,” Hunter says. “I heard that a few spectators almost fainted.” This time, one of Hunter’s friends is scheduled to be the guinea pig on the trick table.
To make the scene look authentic to the the 19th century, Hunter performs the procedure in costume and uses antique Civil War medical instruments, some of which are original.
“Military medicine is very important to the history of Tucson,” Hunter says. “It’s part of our history. It’s our heritage.”
Before Hunter takes the spotlight, Dr. Rudy Byrd, a Tucson native and physician, will present a lecture about medical history.
At last year’s Fort Lowell Day, Byrd was scheduled to perform a 30-minute lecture, but the venue hit capacity before the slotted time.
“Everyone was there 30 minutes early,” Byrd says. “I didn’t want to make everyone sit there and wait, so I started talking early. It was a spur-of-the-moment thing.” The hourlong lecture was well-received. This year, Byrd is scheduled to speak for the full hour.
“People were fighting for their lives at this time,” Byrd says about 19th-century Fort Lowell. “It gives us a greater sense of appreciation for what we do.”
With many family-friendly activities, the free Fort Lowell Day celebration honors the extensive history behind the Fort Lowell Neighborhood.
For over a thousand years, the historic district has been swarming with cultures. Originally, folks flocked to the area because of its high availability of water. A military fort was formed there in 1873; it was decommissioned in 1891.
Besides the lecture and mock surgery, Fort Lowell Day will feature music, vintage baseball games, exhibits at the Fort Lowell Museum, children’s crafts, cavalry drills and a meet-and-greet with soldiers.
“Fort Lowell is very important,” Byrd says. “It’s interesting for us to know why people came, what the circumstances were.”