Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Gimme More of That Ol' Time History

Battle of Great Bridge, 2003

One group of people I’d like to spend more time photographing, especially after reading Tony Horwitz’ Confederates in the Attic, is reenactors. They’re so serious about their tasks, and have such a colorful name, farbs, for other reenactors who don’t get their attire and gear right.

A few years ago I headed out for a reenactment of the Battle of Great Bridge, in modern day Chesapeake, Virginia. To be truthful, I missed the battle because the bridge—the one that gives the place its name and isn't all that great, nor is the body of water it spans much more than a canal—was raised and traffic was backed up several miles. But I imagine it was interesting, especially against the backdrop of the Intracoastal Waterway, with its steady parade of yachts and cigarette boats.

I got there in time to walk around the “official encampment,” where little vignettes of revolutionary life were set up, including campfires, rifle demonstrations, cooking, darning and letter writing.

In my limited experience with them, reenactors fall into two camps: those who lock their eyes on you when you as much as step into their area code and want to tell you everything; and those who prefer to talk only to each other about the minutia of their gear and view sightseers as an intrusion on their ultra pure reenactment of history.

I’ll give them this, though. Reenactors are a far sight more accurate than Renaissance Faire aficionados, another group I’d photograph more if I had a proper outfit of tunics and tights and a full sheaf of bodkins. (Believe me, I don’t want anyone pointing fingers and yelling “FARB!” in my direction.) Reenactors have history on their side, whereas the Ren Faire crowd appears more interested in concocting imaginary scenarios combining Robin Hood, comely wenches, copious amounts of grog and an S&M camp out.

People who attend reenactments also seem to fall into a couple of camps: those who have a passing interest in history; and those who want to believe, or officiously impart in the children they’ve dragged along with them, the belief that what they’re witnessing actually is history, rather than just a bunch of guys who prefer dressing up in tights and britches and fighting over who gets to play General Washington to playing golf.

1 comment:

  1. That's a riot. I used to go to see the New Market battlefield re-enactment, because I was fascinated by those young boys who trudged up from Lexington, some of them literally barefoot, scared but courageous young men, and fought in that battle. I'd read about them, and toured that museum there, touched by their lives.

    I also went with a friend of mine, once, to a Renaissance fair, at a park not far from Harrisonburg, where the men had lances and came at each other on horses--scared the bejesus out of me! They were really into the whole schlemiel. They had on the medieval link armour, and I just kept thinking that those heavy velvet vests and jumpers over cotton ruffles would have done me in. They're definitely a different breed, aren't they!

    LOVE this photo!