Historical Reenacting: Living in the Past
Reenacting is an odd hobby. No two ways about that. "Hey, my life isn't nearly difficult enough. I know, I'll dress up as someone in the past who had it much worse!" ~Brett Abbott
A growing number of people these days are devoted to reliving history and reenacting events from the past. To reenact means to repeat the actions of an earlier event or incident. Living history organizations aim to keep our historical and cultural heritage alive through demonstrations, reenactments, and performances.
Living history activities can be a supplement or an alternative to memorizing dry facts in textbooks. The more real the past seems, the more interesting it is - for both children and adults. For this reason, historical reenacting is becoming a popular hobby among the general public, as well as among homeschool families looking for a hands-on way to learn about history.
Favorite time periods focus on the 18th and 19th centuries in America. In addition, Renaissance Faires have been very popular for many years. Likewise, the Walk-Thru Bethlehem and live Nativity displays that we see at Christmas time can be considered Biblical reenactments.
Reenactors include men, women, and children of all ages, representing a wide cross-section of the community - doctors, lawyers, engineers, teachers, students, homemakers, retirees, etc. Perhaps some reenactors dreamed of being cowboys when they were kids or are simply American patriots at heart. Reenacting can be a vacation back in time, a stress relieving outlet from the daily grind.
People become reenactors for many different reasons - they may be avid history buffs, love riding horses, enjoy shooting, wish to honor an ancestor, or just like to camp or travel around the country. Many people have fun dressing up in old-fashioned costumes, and reenacting can be a logical next step. It eventually becomes a lifestyle for those serious reenactors who spend their summers on the road.
Reenacting is not only great fun, it is an ultimate form of hands-on learning - for the reenactor as well as the audience. Reenactors take great pains to research their time period, develop a persona, and dress authentically in period attire. They are passionate about their hobby and enjoy sharing their knowledge and experiences with others. Many reenactors are also good storytellers, and they can be very entertaining and informative at the same time, making the audience feel as if they are experiencing history first-hand. I am grateful for the individuals, couples, and families who take the time to participate in the art of reenacting, who bring history to life for the rest of us.
Historical reenactors create what they call "impressions" to show spectators what life looked like in the era they represent. Just like movie acting, reenacting gives them a chance to pretend to be someone else, such as a Union soldier. Reenactors have in fact played important parts in many movies, such as "Gettysburg." That movie featured over 13,000 volunteer Civil War reenactors who came from all over the world, paid their own way, provided their own uniforms and props, and fought battles in front of the cameras using the same tactics as they actually happened.
If you wish to do more than just watch reenactments as a bystander and are considering becoming a reenactor (or if you have already done some reenacting and would like to have more training), check out "The School of the Reenactor" (http://members.aol.com/wemakehistory/school.html). Last year, both beginning and experienced reenactors were able to sharpen their skills through helpful workshops such as "How to Develop a Historic Persona", "Acting 101", and "Intro to Historic Waltz." The "School of the Reenactor" provides an excellent introduction to reenacting in a friendly, supportive and educational environment. Scott Hinkle of "We Make History" hopes to schedule another "School of the Reenactor" this Spring, but just isn't sure if he will have the time. He is also thinking of organizing some children's classes. If this sounds like something you would like to do, be sure to contact firstname.lastname@example.org and let Scott know of your interest.
Many people have seen gunfight reenactments at places like Rawhide. In Arizona you usually think of Wild West reenacting, but there are actually a wide range of historical reenactments in our state. The following is a sampling of living history opportunities in Arizona. Several of these will be coming up soon, so mark your calendars!
Pioneer Arizona Living History Museum - Pioneer Arizona at 3901 W. Pioneer Road just south of Anthem is a 90-acre living history museum of the history and lifestyle of territorial Arizona. They offer self-guided tours and interpreters in period costumes. They also regularly host special historical events such as reenactments. For example, January 24 - 25, 2004 will be a weekend of family fun with Civil War soldiers and Battle Reenactments. The old 1800's pioneer village, with original buildings and historically accurate reproductions, is recognized as an educational "Classroom Without Walls" where children learn to live and appreciate Arizona's Territorial Days (1880's - 1912). At Pioneer Village you can visit a working blacksmith shop, sheriff's office and jail, the historic Opera House, look through a rifle port in an actual cabin that survived Arizona's bloodiest range war, browse through an 1890's dress shop, a complete ranch complex, and much more! While you're there, keep your eyes open for cowboys, gunslingers, and Victorian ladies. Take an online tour of the grounds and check their calendar of events at www.pioneer-arizona.com, or call 623-465-1052 for more information about upcoming events.
Arizona Renaissance Faire - The Arizona Renaissance Faire, with its thirty-acre theatrical European market village, offers a unique opportunity to bring an important era in history to life. It will be held on Saturdays, Sundays and President's Day Monday, from February 7-8 thru March 27-28, 2004. It will be open from 10:00 AM until 6:00 PM. Special student days are set aside for school groups. Student Days were created to highlight the educational aspects of the Renaissance time period. Language, mannerisms, customs, comedia theatre, jousting tournaments, artist and craft demonstrations, and music are just some of the learning opportunities that await your students at the Arizona Renaissance Festival. The Festival provides students with a chance to do more than just read about history...they can experience it! To receive more information or to order tickets, call (520) 463-2600 or visit their website at www.royalfaires.com.
Arizona Cowboy Shooters Association - Back by popular demand, the Arizona Cowboy Shooters Association (ACSA) will present the 2nd annual "Battle of Picacho Pass" as a theme for a monthly match. This year the theme match will be held on February 14, 2004 at the Ben Avery Shooting Range to take advantage of the cooler weather for the wearing of wool uniforms. Shooters are encouraged to dress in Civil War uniforms or civilian clothing of the period, and join in the spirit of this historic Arizona event. A synopsis of the Union and Confederate maneuvers in Arizona during the Civil War will be provided. Stages will be designed to represent some of the major events leading up to and including the final battle at Picacho Peak. So dress up in your Civil War garb and join the fun by reliving some genuine Arizona History! The ACSA is a club that promotes 1890 era Cowboy Action Shooting at its finest. This family-oriented sport is based on fellowship and developing a common bond, using vintage weapons and historic costumes centered around the cowboy era. Members get together at monthly matches to fulfill their cowboy fantasies by dressing up in authentic, period correct cowboy attire, and using replica weapons like those that tamed the old west, while engaging in a friendly shooting competition, staged in a unique, characterized, "Old West" style. Competitors shoot several different shooting sequences with pistols, rifles, and shotguns. Each participant is required to adopt a shooting alias appropriate to a character or profession of the late 19th century, or a Hollywood western star, and develop a costume accordingly. The cowboy shooters look forward to socializing with other cowboys and cowgirls that share the same interest while passing on shooting tips or just swapping stories. Matches are held at the Ben Avery Shooting Facility. Visit www.acsainc.com or www.basfaz.com for more information.
Medieval Recreation Event - Estrella War XX will be held during the week of February 11-16, 2004 at Estrella Mountain Park in Goodyear, AZ. This event is sponsored by The Society for Creative Anachronism, www.sca.org, an international organization dedicated to researching and recreating pre-17th-century European history. Approximately 5000 reenactors from across the U.S. and around the world will be camping out there for a week, many in period camps - that is, their tents and furnishings will be very much like what people would have used in the Middle Ages. There will be a variety of demonstrations, and of course recreational combat. This is the second largest Medieval event in the country. Estrella War XX is open to all who share in historical interests as a learning opportunity. It is not a commercial Renaissance Faire, so shopping is not the focal point of this event. For more details and directions, please visit www.estrellawar.org. (On Friday, February 13, 2004, Estrella War XX will host School Tours. From 9:00 AM until 1:00 PM with prior notice the School Tours Team will be in place to give a simple introduction to life in the Middle Ages, and direct a free one-hour tour through some of the Period Encampment and Demonstration areas, displaying a sampling of Medieval life as closely as we can document. Please RSVP to Carolyn Bernheim, School Tours Coordinator, with the best time for your group to participate in the guided tour. Carolyn may be reached via email at: email@example.com.)
Arizona Scottish Highland Games and Festival - At this year's event there will be a reenactment of the famous 1745 battle of Culloden. Scott Hinkle of "We Make History" will portray Bonnie Prince Charlie, and his wife will play Flora MacDonald, the heroine of Scottish history who hid the Bonnie Prince from the English. The dates are February 28 - 29, 2004, and the location is Mesa Community College. Visit www.arizonascots.com and click on "Games" for more information about the festival.
Picacho Peak State Park - Picacho Peak State Park north of Tucson is the site of the "Westernmost Battle of The Civil War." The largest Civil War miltary re-enactment in the Southwest takes place there every year. The Civil War battle took place near Picacho Peak on April 15, 1862, when an advance detachment of Union forces from California attacked a Confederate scouting party. The battle lasted for 1-1/2 hours, and three Union soldiers were killed. Every March, "The Civil War in the Southwest" comes alive again as over two hundred reenactors converge on Picacho Peak on foot and horseback. Visitors enjoy viewing exciting mock battles that took place in Arizona and New Mexico during the Civil War. Also on display at the March reenactment are recreated military camps and living history demonstrations. The annual "Civil War in the Southwest" will be held this year on March 8 - 9, 2004. Scott Hinkle of "We Make History" will conduct an 1860s church service and he will be the event narrator as well. For more information about Picacho Peak State Park, go to http://www.pr.state.az.us/Parks/parkhtml/picacho.html.
Rosson House Museum - The Rosson House Museum is a beautifully restored 1895 historic home in downtown Phoenix that is open for public tours. On March 14, 2004 they will have a fun and informative tour featuring "Mrs. Rosson & friends" inside the Rosson home just as it would have been back in 1895. The program will be presented by Heritage Square's "Step Back in Time" Players. Visit the Rossen House online at www.rossonhousemuseum.org.
Fort Verde State Historic Park - Fort Verde is the best preserved example of an Indian Wars period fort in Arizona. Spanning from 1865 through 1890 Camp Lincoln, Camp Verde and finally Fort Verde were home to officers, doctors, families, enlisted men, and scouts. Fort Verde was the primary base for General George Crook's U.S. Army scouts and soldiers. Today it is a state park located in the town of Camp Verde which, in addition to regular history related activities, holds larger reenactment events in May and October. Find out more at http://www.pr.state.az.us/Parks/parkhtml/fortverde.html.
Sharlot Hall Museum - The Sharlot Hall Museum, the largest museum in central Arizona, is dedicated to providing educational adventures in human and natural history. Founded by historian and poet Sharlot M. Hall in 1928, the Museum today explores the rich diversity of regional heritage through festivals, living history events, outdoor theater performances, changing exhibits, publications and research services. Check their detailed calendar of events at www.sharlot.org for upcoming events, which in the past have included living history demonstrations including a frontier party, traditional dancing, and various aspects of pioneer living.
Tombstone and the OK Corral - Tombstone, "the town too tough to die," is the most famous of Arizona mining camps. It is world-renowned for the OK Corral shootout in 1881. When visitors take a stroll through the OK Corral they have the opportunity to see Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, Virgil and Morgan Earp fight the McLaurys and Clantons in daily reenactments at 2:00 pm. For more information, visit their website at www.ok-corral.com.
The American Heritage Weekend - My family and I attended the first annual American Heritage weekend which was held at Schnepf Farms in Queen Creek on the weekend of November 15 - 16, 2003. The American Heritage Weekend was a two day celebration of America's history. We were looking forward to an interactive educational and historical experience for our boys, who we homeschool, and I am happy to report that the event surpassed all of our expectations. It was a grand scale presentation of civilian and military aspects of 18th and 19th century American life, portrayed by a large and experienced cast of historical interpreters from Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas and beyond. We got to see battle reenactments, first-person portrayals of famous men and women, musicians representing various time periods, craftsmen, colonists, pioneers, mountain men, Native Americans, the Texas Camel Corps, and more ranging from the founding of our country in the American Revolution, through the Lewis & Clark expedition, the War of 1812, the Civil War era, the Spanish American War of 1898, and the Great Awakening. Among the vendors were several historical merchants offering reproductions of 18th and 19th century clothing and wares. Browsing through their goods was like going back in the past to a real old-time mercantile. The American Heritage weekend was truly a unique historical experience. Where else can you interact with living historians and reenactors from multiple eras all in one place? This was true for the participants as well as the spectators. For example, standing right behind us as we watched a Revolutionary War reenactment were Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee! The 2nd Annual American Heritage Weekend is tentatively scheduled for November 12 - 14, 2004. It will most likely be even bigger, better and more informative than the first one. For more information and a beautiful collection of photos from last year's event, visit www.americanheritageweekend.com.
We Make History - "We Make History," founded by Scott Hinkle, offers a variety of authentic historic events such as the American Heritage Weekend, Grand Balls, reenactments, "in character" speeches and presentations of famous persons from history. The www.wemakehistory.com website is filled with fascinating details and facts from several different eras, as well as beautiful photographs of the Grand Balls and the American Heritage Weekend. Scott Hinkle of "We Make History" has done a wonderful job of making history come alive for families and the general public who wouldn't ordinarily attend reenactment events. In particular, his events attract more young families and those in the homeschooling community who have children that are eager to ask questions and a desire to learn. This is a reflection of Scott's passion for educating and reconnecting people to their heritage through portraying history in the context of an authentic, interactive, and family friendly environment. As a side benefit, his efforts at promoting these events are helping to get more families and young people interested in becoming reenactors themselves.
More Sites of Interest
www.azreenacting.net (Reenacting in the Southwest: Living History in Arizona and neighboring states. Originally set up for Civil War reenactors, this site is expanding to include historical reenactors and living historians from all eras.)
www.freedomsfoundationaz.org (Living History Programs that make history exciting for schools and organizations, while preserving the ideals and principles upon which America was founded.)
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