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"Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing." ~ Benjamin Franklin

Friday, August 5, 2011

Tools of the Trade: 18th Century Reenactors--Through a Portal in Time

On September 24 and 25 I’m going to be at the Prairie Days at Shawnee Prairie Preserve near Greenville, Ohio. Held annually the last full weekend of September, this event focuses on the prairie way of life in and around 1780–1810 and will feature, crafts, games, and reenactors demonstrating the trades of the time period. This annual free family event attracts around 4,000 people to Shawnee Prairie Preserve each year. If you’re in the area, I hope you’ll come out and join us.

Although I’ve attended a number of reenactment events and visited many historical sites such as Williamsburg over the years, this will be my first foray into the reenactor’s world as more than just a spectator. I decided to go dressed in period-appropriate costume, so I’m in the process of assembling my ensemble—which is a lot of fun in and of itself! I was invited by a young woman who e-mailed a few years ago to tell me how much she enjoyed the American Patriot Series, and we’ve kept in touch. Her parents are reenactors, and her father works at Shawnee Prairie. So this spring she asked if I’d like to participate in the festival. It sounded like a great opportunity to get up close and personal with the reenactor’s world, especially as I was also asked to help judge the pie baking contest. Yum!

All this has reminded me that for students and writers of historical fiction and nonfiction, events like this are wonderful research resources, as are historical sites such as Williamsburg that feature docents in period costume interpreting the lives of actual people of the day. But they’re equally enjoyable and profitable for anyone who is interested in the lives of people from earlier times. Actually walking through restored or recreated sites, handling period objects and seeing demonstrations of how they were used, tasting period dishes, smelling the campfires and the earthy scents of native flora and fauna, and even experiencing the discomforts our ancestors had to deal with gives you a perspective that you can’t get otherwise. It’s truly like stepping through a portal in time.

I guarantee that you don’t live far from fascinating historical sites and parks, many you may never have heard of, that lift history out of the dusty pages of books and bring them to vivid life. Every year all across this country there are events set during a wide range of periods, including American colonial, trappers and traders, French and Indian War, American Revolution, early 1800s, Civil War, and even Medieval and Renaissance. Finding reenactment events/historical sites in your area or around the country is as easy as doing an online search.

One of the best sites for ReWar reenactors is Americanrevolution.org, which lists numerous links to American Revolutionary War reenactor organizations that provide schedules of their events. Reenactor.net has information and links for reenactor organizations from all eras. One interesting site I found is We Make History, an organization that offers both public and private historic balls, reenactments, living history, historical education, support of historic sites and more, according to their website. You’ll find a schedule of their public events on their site. It sounds as if they’re not only educational, but also a ton of fun.

The photos in this post are pictures I took at one such site in my area, Rock Castle, Tennessee, a couple of years ago during the Daniel Smith Frontier Days. If you’ve never attended a reenactment, I hope these will tempt you to step out of modern life and into history for a few hours or days!

9 comments:

  1. Joan, This sounds like a wonderful event! Thanks for all those great links, too. A thought provoking article. I am fortunate to live where on almost any given day I could go and hang out with colonial folk.

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  2. Carrie, I envy you sooooo much!! I've only been at Williamsburg and Jamestown once, but someday I am going to get there again. There's no better way to get a deep feel for the nitty gritty aspects of our ancestors' lives than sites like those.

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  3. I love this! Best to you in your first re-enactment in period attire (the folks who do this all the time prefer "attire" as opposed to "costume"). This week in my hometown, we're celebrating 150 years of Vineland history and I'll be in period attire as the Civil War is our emphasis. We're going to a Civil War ball on September 24 - getting my ballgown ready! As a lover of history and old things, this is a way for me to connect with simpler times and tell stories where we can see God's hand at work in His Story. Love it!
    Joy!
    Miss Kathy

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  4. Great post, Joan!! Wish I could tag along with you on your trip - sounds so rewarding and inspiring. Our books sure bring us in contact with interesting people and experiences. I thank the Lord often for that! Your attire sounds so up my alley:) I haven't found a place to wear my 18th-century gown yet and don't think ACFW is the venue. Maybe I'll keep a look out for reenacting events in my area. Though I think back east/south there's far more to choose from. Have a wonderful time!

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  5. Oh, Miss Kathy, what fun going to a Civil War ball in full regalia! I know you'll have a lovely time. There's nothing more graceful than Civil War era dress. I've been using the word costume in the technical sense as referring to the clothing worn in a particular period, not the way it's most commonly used today. But if reenactors prefer to say attire, I'll use that term instead. :-)

    Laura, you are so right about our books bringing us in contact with the most interesting people and experiences. I just love that! I know I'm going to be looking for any excuse to dress up from now on. If I can get up the courage, I'd love to do some author events in my 18th century persona, but I tend to be very timid about drawing attention to myself. Just having period-correct attire really is inspiring, though. You know...maybe we ought to dress up whenever we write to give us that extra edge. lol!

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  6. I knew I recognized the house in that last photo. Ah, that brought back memories. Too bad I missed that reenactment by a week last year!

    Wonderful post, Joan. I look forward to seeing you in your costume in progress and I know you'll have such a great time in Ohio.

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  7. Oh thank you so much for sharing. I went to Williamsburg this past fall and would love to go back and spend more time there. But this sounds fabulous.

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  8. How wonderful for you! Talk about soaking up the atmosphere....and thank you for the great sites; have been considering doing something like this; what an inspiration!

    Wonder why it is that the "Quillers" have this "thing" for the colonial period....either wanting to experience the times, or wear the attire.

    Your post has prompted me to actually create a "photo-shopped" image of myself in a sacque gown. Closest I could get right now (heh-heh!:) to the re-enacting experience. Very easy and fun to do, too!

    Thanks so much for this interesting and fun post, Joan-- And blessings on your trip!

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  9. What a great way to immerse yourself in research! I hope you have an entirely fabulous time, Joan. Reenactors are a valuable resource indeed. As you said there are many places that we can access that show living history, the detail we can learn from seeing life in colonial times portrayed can be such a rich source for our writing.

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