Not Mr. Wyley. With an interest in longbows and competitive wrestling in his background, historical reenactment fascinated him.
Toronto resident Nesrin Meral became romantically involved with a Viking reenactor 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 reenactments on this continent." She also maintains a website (www.re-enact mentevents.com) that covers several historic eras.
Not Just Eccentric
The image of the reenactor 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."
On the other hand, Mr. Ashford's armormaking has been achieved only through trial and error. "It was the hardest thing for us to learn," he says, "but we are now able to create armor close to the original. [The websites] Arador.com, sword forum.com, and armourarchives.org have been very helpful."
Reenacting isn't an inexpensive hobby. A single musket costs around $650. A Byzantine uniform can add up to $3,400 including mail shirt, shield, mailed gloves, and gambeson (padded coat). The 16th-century linen shirt, wool doublet, breeches, leather buskins (light boots), flat cap, and armor of a conquistador rings up at a hefty $1,000.
Because of the costs, many participants choose to make their own outfits. While museum exhibits greatly aid a reenactor's authenticity, so can Simplicity Patterns. Their costume category is the fastest-growing segment of their business. Should someone wish to make a Renaissance vest, Robert E. Lee's uniform, or Benjamin Franklin's frock coat, Simplicity can provide instructions and pattern pieces that are both authentic and easy to read.
For American history reenactors who don't feel up to sewing, the 27th annual Kalamazoo Living History Show, held this year on March 15 and 16, may be the answer (www.kalamazooshow.com). Here, 270 dealers and craftspeople dressed in period costume offer clothing and accessories for any era prior to 1890.
Speakers this year will include the costume consultant from the film "Dances With Wolves," and a master blacksmith specializing in tools of the 18th and 19th centuries.
But the correct costumes and tools are just one step in creating the authentic experience.
Tim Burke, the Florida conquistador, describes his camping (in period, of course) this way: "Evening — Clean musket and armor, cook dinner. Night — Sleep fitfully on the ground while fending off hordes of mosquitoes (all the while questioning myself as to why I do this). Morning — gather firewood, heat up water, take sponge bath. It is amazing how much time can be taken up with just the basics of cooking and cleaning."