Wednesday, December 11, 2013

How to Become a Reenactor Part 2

Everything written here are my sole opinions and observations and do not represent the opinions or observations of anyone else or any organization

Before reenacting, my life was average--even dull.  I was raised United Methodist, attended a private Christian school, majored in journalism for two years at a Christian college in Kentucky, graduated with a bachelor's in business from Ohio University, and began a career as a computer programmer.

I had a cursory interest in history.  My eyes were on science fiction--the typical geekish interests of a computer nerd like myself.

Average and dull.

I was introverted.  I made few friends.  Never talked much--unless it was about Star Trek or something sci-fi.  I gained few friends through my church.

Average and dull.

And then one day, my wife made a discovery.

It was a bit before 9/11, around 2000.  My wife and her mom came home from a run.  There was a terrifying excitement on my wife's face.  She saw something cool and wanted me to join her.  West Liberty, Ohio, had some kind of festival going on where everyone was wearing clothing from the Revolutionary War time period.

You don't argue with my wife.  I agreed to go up with her to this festival--it was something to do and kept me out of chores, anyhow.  How bad could it be?

It certainly seemed strange.  There were men dressed as Native Americans, wearing nothing more than a wool covering around their waste.  Lots of tricorn hats.  I remember a lot of them.  There was an archer showing off his hand-carved bow and shooting at a target.  Campfires everywhere.

I felt very out of place.

"It is only this one time," I kept telling myself.  "It'll end soon, and we can go home, never to remember this day again."

But then, we found the dancers.  I hated dancing.

It was okay to watch.  The moves reminded me of that day of square dancing I had in my gym class in high school.  There were a couple of cute girls in the mix as they danced in circles up and down the row.  A live band that included a fiddle and dulcimer played for the dancers.

It would soon pass, I hoped, and we could move on.

That is, until the dancers opened up the next dance to the crowd.  My wife insisted we join in.

I felt very out of place.

It was a simple dance--one called "Jefferson's Reel".  To simplify the teaching, each of the dancers partnered with one of the crowd, so that all I had to do was follow my partner.  I got one of the cute dancers.  They had us count with our partners as one's and two's, then our group of four took hands, and proceeded to learn the dance, walking through the steps as the dance master taught them to us.

I felt so out of place.

We went over it again, and then danced to music.

Afterward, my wife, who has never met a stranger, talked with the dance master and a few of the others.  They called themselves "The Liberty Dancers" and met every Thursday in Yellow Springs--and invited us to join them.  And since it was only a thirty minute drive for us--

At this point my wife and I were only into our fourth year or so of marriage.   I had not yet figured out that when my wife tries something--it is all the way.  She doesn't just dip her toes in to test the waters--she dives in, and it's sink or swim.

This was July.  By Labor Day, we were ready to perform for the public.  There was this big Revolutionary War festival that weekend in Springfield, Ohio.  The Faire at New Boston.

And just my luck, it was only twenty minutes from home.

Since we had absolutely no clothing relating to the Revolutionary War of our own at the time (it had all been out of fashion for about two hundred years), we were able to borrow everything.  We were able to get everything we needed, though my shoes were some beat-up modern things.  I was given a pale blue wescot, a hat blank with the sides sewn up to make a tricorn, and white trousers.  I found a pair of infantry trousers that went to the ankle to avoid the knee britches.

I felt more out of place than ever.  What had I gotten myself into?

It didn’t help that all the Liberty Dancers were very liberal in their modern political thinking, but I should have expected that when Yellow Springs was their base.  I learned it was pointless discussing elections and politics with them—I felt as if they thought Jimmy Carter was a good president.  Yes—I’m very conservative with my political views.

I later met others who were more normal thinking in the political views, but they were also the weirder ones in Revolutionary War reenacting.

The Faire at New Boston opened with a parade, where all reenactors in their 18th century getup meandered around the tent city.

There were a lot of odd creations there.  One guy was carrying around a rat, face dirtied up, missing teeth, and a huge sore on the side of his face.  He was the rat catcher—uh, but wait, I recognized him as one of the Liberty Dancers.

Oh, this was interesting.  What had I gotten myself into?

In one corner of the fair was this flamboyant Frenchman.  He wore a frilly, formal suit, a large white curly wig, and white makeup on his face.  Had it not been that he was portraying a Frenchman of 1800, I would have thought him gay.  He was making lace and demonstrating to the crowds how lace was made, but he had a whole spiel about how he normally had indentured servants to do his work, but since he didn’t have one he had to do it himself.  He tried to recruit a few kids for their assistance, promising something like a penny a month pay.  He also had an extreme arrogance about him—to the point of absurdity.

Having met this man outside of reenacting I can tell you that this is only one of his many acts.  He performs the acts in first person such that you believe he believes that he is that character.  He performs with humor and is very entertaining.  But he has a certain advantage—he is as eccentric as the characters he portrays.  He is very entertaining to be around, whether he is portraying a character or portraying himself.  You should see his son—he has snapped mousetraps on his tongue for the Discovery Channel.

Oh my, what had I gotten myself into?

Since the Liberty Dancers only had two or three half-hour shows to perform, my wife and I had a lot of time to wander around.  There were several tents of vendors selling wares, which were interesting, but kind of like wandering a flea market.  There were the strange acts that felt like you were watching the sideshow at a circus.

At the end of the day, they served all the reenactors a meal of ham and beans.  It was good stuff.  We hung out with the reenactors until after nightfall.  There were a couple of concession tents that served beer and lemonade throughout the day, but now just served beer.  And lots of beer.  The reenactors seemed to have had no tab to worry with.

Why were we here, anyhow?  They at least had lemonade when I asked for it, and there was no odd bite to the throat.  But I felt so out of place.  Can we go home now?  This proved one of the hazards of being married to someone who never knew a stranger.  Everyone at all times was her best friend—it was difficult to pull my wife away, even though neither of us drank.

We drove home, and returned the next day to start all over again.

When the event was over on Sunday, we followed a number of reenactors to a corner of the park, where the ham and beans had been served all day long.  I wondered what could possibly be so fascinating in this corner.

It started with the need to empty the left-over beer. It ended with the need to get rid of the left-over waxed boxes the supplies came in.  There was a campfire.  That pretty much says it all.

There is a tree in that corner, with a branch that extends over the campfire where the ham and beans are cooked over all day long.  It is probably thirty feet off the ground.  It has long been charred black from the annual box-burning ceremony.  I wonder if by now it has disintegrated to pure ash.

What had I gotten myself into?

There were a couple of small Rev War reenactments we attended that had battles, and I don’t remember the particulars, other than it was again at George Rogers Clark Park.  In fact, every single Rev War reenactment we went to was at George Rogers Clark Park in Springfield.

But it was at these events that had battles that I got my first taste blackpowder—and that started down a road of addiction that led me to where I am now.

I think it was my wife that pushed me into talking with some of the militia about the idea of trying things out.  It was before the battle and I had to borrow a musket, rounds, and a cartridge box.  They took me through the paces to show me how to handle the Kentucky rifle (I hadn’t even handled a modern gun before), and load it by tearing the round, pouring a little in the flashpan, and the rest down the muzzle.

Then they had me fire it.

Oh, that was sweet.  I was hooked.  Ah, the smell of blackpowder.  The nuzzling of the butt against my shoulder, lightly kicking from the fire. The smoke lingering in the air.  Oh sweet musket, where had you been all my life?

That event was just a small one with about a dozen or so militia.  I learned some of the basic commands and maneuvers.  But it was the 225th Battle of Peckuwa, at George Rogers Clark Park in Springfield that gave me a real taste of what reenacting can be like.

For that battle, I borrowed a beautiful Kentucky Rifle from the head park ranger, who also was the commander of the 6-pounder brass Napoleon cannon used for the fight.  Somehow I would up on the side of the British--which in this battle involved mainly Native American Shawnee against the American Regulars.

Someone helped to smear war paint all over my face and cover my hair with a cloth to hide the fact that I wasn't Shawnee.  And with a breach cloth and large shirt, I followed the rest of the band into the woods where we waited for the battle to start.  A group of kids were given wooden muskets to add to our numbers, instructed to stay at the far end of the battlefield so as to hide the fake muskets.

I hadn't yet learned about keeping water out of the muzzle of my musket, and when a light drizzle moistened the air, my borrowed rifle became sabotaged.

We formed up in a cornfield that was grown just for this event.  As the Americans approached, firing their cannon, then pushing it forward to fire again, we fired from within the corn--that is, except for me who could do nothing more than create a nice flash in the pan with the flintlock.

We were pushed back, and the cannon was pushed through the cornfield, and I fought my musket constantly, trying to get it to fire.  In the middle of the fight, the rains picked up.  Well, that's a bit of an understatement.  Rather, Lake Erie decided to up and relocate over our heads, dropping down such that there was more water than air falling around us.  This pretty much put a halt to our attempts to shoot.  As we took refuge  in the little wooden fort, that cannon fired the remainder of its rounds, with pyrotechnics creating little craters around the fort to simulate the cannon hits.

Eventually the rains let up and we were able to go back to firing back at our enemy, falling back into the woods to conclude the battle.  There were a couple of "Rendezvousers" with us.  I learned those are guys that are a bit different than reenactors--the best explanation I can come up with is that the big difference are that they do their things for themselves as opposed to doing it for public, like reenactors do.  They do more live-shoot competitions, collect antique-style weapons, and hang out together in mountain-man style outfits.  I could always tell when the Rendezvousers shot, because they formed our artillery response, shooting with perhaps three times the blackpowder the rest of us used.

I found, though, that there was a bit of difference between Revolutionary War reenactors and Civil War Reenactors.  When I discovered the Civil War, I discovered something more my style.

To be continued...