Well, it's not like it's Dungeons and Dragons. I view it more like a passing attraction to NASCAR or a mild infatuation with skeet shooting, but at least I'm not running off to join a cult...
These are some of the many excuses that could be offered up to my friends to explain why I occasionally journey to distant grassy knolls to watch a collection of grown humans display a keen interest in historical tailoring and a fondness for wearing wool in the summer.
Like many great interests, this one was introduced to me by a man I was madly in love with and would have done anything to please. By that I mean my five year old son, who early on, displayed a great passion for the American Revolution and all of its surrounding pageantry. I could blame it all on our commander in chief, who created this quagmire in Iraq, which gave way to numerous gory front page photos that were better off hid from small eyes. In order to avoid the full frontal questioning that would have ensued, "Who died? How did they die? Why did they die?", we channeled our son's interest in war to a more palatable skirmish, its' ugliness hidden in the distance between now and then and the lack of photos to leave evidence of the bloodshed.
Oh, we thought we were such clever parents. Never once thinking that the Renaissance Faire of the 1776 fight for freedom was just a re-enactment away. It all seems so hazy, trying to remember our first battle. By then the "American Rev" (as our now 7 year-old enthusiast has nicknamed it) had given way to the "Nap" and the "Civ". Who has time to actually pronounce all of those syllables when you are talking about your beloved Napoleonic and Civil wars from sun up till sun down? My son didn't, so he nicknamed his wars as if they were imaginary friends. Not a stickler for historical purity we ping-ponged between re-enactments of the Civil and the American Revolutionary wars. Alas, no Napoleonic battles on this continent.
Personally, I am a fan of the costumes of the American Revolution. The drama of the tailoring, the fur back packs of the grenadiers, the gold helmets of the dragoons, and the individuality of each state or regiment coming up with its own outfit, neatly customized to defeat the nasty King George. I was born and raised in Rhode Island - first to fight and last to sign. Each June as a child, we watched a small replica of the HMS Gaspee burn at sea in Narragansett Bay in homage to one of the first true moments of defiance in the face of England's overzealous taxation. So I guess I felt a little sheepish that it was actually my chromosomes that might have contributed just a wee bit to this devotion my son was showing to the historical cause.
For me, one of the the most compelling reasons to attend a historical re-enactment is where they happen to be held. How can you say no to visiting a large grassy field on Constitution Island in the middle of the Hudson River or sleepy Goshen, overlooking a deep scenic valley? Beats the pilgrimage to Disney any day. A few weeks ago we made a short trek to Sunset Park's Green-wood Cemetary, to remember the largest battle of the American Revolution, the Battle of Brooklyn. Alas only 3 soldiers were tricked out, due to the huge gathering that weekend in Cold Spring, to honor the release of Washington's bodyguards. "Oh yeah? We were there. Didn't you love that solo by the dude on the white horse? Killer." John Turturro was also there, with his young son. He trusts the force...
By the time our son could read, the re-enactments were a saving grace. His research books prompted questions I couldn't answer in detail, but someone in an historical uniform could. Most of the re-enacters we speak with are highly knowledgeable about the part they play, some are even history teachers. So I can now put down the Nathanial Greene biography and pick up fiction that is set in another place and time. I give hearty thanks to the tremendous men and women who created our country, and hurrahs to those lovely people who continue to keep our history alive through their devotion to wearing wool in the dead of summer!
See you crossing the Delaware, December 25th?