Re-enacting History for Love, Not Money

Some people like to spend their weekends gardening, barbecuing, or playing golf. But others prefer sword fighting, playing medieval games, or aiming a six-shooter.

These people are obsessed with the correct configuration of the sleeve of an 18th-century shirt. They eat rabbit stew for dinner because it is historically accurate.

Welcome to the world of "re-enactors."

For years, re-enactors have flooded Gettysburg, Pa. — and other famous battlefields — re-creating epic Civil War clashes. They've become so well known that summer tourists flock to see them, cameras at the ready.

But the Blue and the Gray aren't the only soldiers who have groupies. In Massachusetts, the Minute Men have been re-enacting the events of April 19, 1775, for more than 70 years. DeSoto's Conquistadors claim Florida's shores for Spain each summer, and gladiators "fight for their lives" several times a year in European forums.

More Than Dates and Facts

The quest for knowledge about the past is often what draws these men — and a smaller number of women — to re-enacting. Through their activities they come to see the past as much more than dates and facts. It becomes wonderfully alive and compelling.

"The importance of the events has always presented a point of interest for me," says Wayne McCarthy, who signs his e-mail "Captain Commanding, Lexington Minute Men."

"The significance of men willing to stand in defense of their property, against overwhelming odds, has held my awe."

But the Waltham, Mass., resident adds that his proximity to Lexington has probably influenced his choice of hobby, too.

Timothy Burke, a Sarasota, Fla., resident and weekend conquistador, agrees that geography can make a difference. "I was born in Syracuse," he says. "If I were still there, I'd probably be doing 17th-century French [re-enactments] instead of 16th-century Spanish."

Come Up and See My Armor, She Said

For Stephen Wyley, an Australian who travels throughout his country depicting the Byzantine lifestyle, a casual date led to his new hobby.

In 1984 he joined the Swinburne University Fencing Club. There, a "beautiful young lady" invited him back to her place to see her armor.

Who could resist an invitation like that? Not Wyley. With an interest in longbows and competitive wrestling in his background, historical re-enactment fascinated him.

Toronto resident Nesrin Meral became romantically involved with a Viking re-enactor named Wolf and ended up adopting the lifestyle herself. Now — as Nerthus of Vinland — she spends her time "raising the standards of authentic Viking living-history re-enactments on this continent." She also maintains a Web site (www.re-enactmentevents.com) that covers several historic eras.

Not Just Eccentric

The image of the re-enactor as a casual, fun-loving individual involved in an eccentric hobby is somewhat inaccurate. Almost all participants are dedicated to correctly representing their character. Richard "Bear" Sobek has been researching and portraying the Old West's cowboys and cavalrymen for 35 years.

"The only skill I have," he says, "is being able to read more and more in order to find a proper character for my next performance."

Graham Ashford, a weekend gladiator in Britain, has done more than just read. "We were lucky enough to run into a theater manager who had years of theatrical fighting skills under his belt," he says. "He taught us how to stage the dangerous moves and techniques used by original gladiators."

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