I’m not alone in this mad love of history, in being so besotted by events and eras to the point of studying certain aspects down to the sub-atomic level. I only write about it, which is the traditional venue for those like Miniver Cheevy, who wistfully believe they were born too late. There have been writers who have done very well by antiquarian enthusiasms; Sir Walter Scott almost single handedly popularizing the sport of jousting in mid-19th century England and America, as well as a passion for plaid. Indeed, the 19th century went on a Gothic bender for decades. Anyway, this kind of enthusiasm is not confined any more to scribblers of genre fiction; now there are thousands of dedicated amateurs – who actually go out and make an effort to live in the time of their passion. I am pretty sure this started with the Society for Creative Anachronism, or possibly with enterprises like the various Renaissance Pleasure Fairs which I vaguely remember hearing about or attending early in the 1970s.

I’ve loved going to reenactor events and displays, even more since I got taken up with the writing bug. There is just only so much one can get from a book, or from a display in a museum, or from a TV documentary – sometimes it just helps to have someone demonstrate something to you, or even let you try it out yourself. A couple of years ago, I went to a Mountain Man rendezvous, at a reconstructed log fort in Ogden, Utah. One of the lucky experiences there was to watch a family erect a tall canvas-covered tee-pee. So, however did several people maneuver a series of long poles, which were too heavy for someone to lift, yet lift and lean them together? Twenty minutes of watching – and now I know. And I also know how the teepees and tents appear at twilight, with lanterns burning inside and out, the mist rising from the lakeside just as the sun sets  . . .  and there’s a lovely tableau set for me to write a description of  . . .  when the opportunity rises, of course.

I had another experience, of learning to load and break down for cleaning, an authentic Colt Paterson revolver, so that I could write about that believably in one of my books. Another friend, a black-powder shooting enthusiast, let us go shooting at the range he has out in back of his house. (Which is waaaaaay out in the country, FYI.) Useful information for me, since the experience of shooting with a black-powder period revolver is as different from the modern Beretta that I had to learn to use in the Air Force. Out in California, I hung out in the weavers’ barn at a little local museum, just picking up general knowledge about that process. And just this last weekend, out to Alamo Plaza to watch the San Antonio Living History Association events to commemorate the siege of 1836. I think the useful thing for me there was the clothes and accessories; all the difference in the world to eye-ball them close-up and in real time, rather than just look at pictures. Long live open-air historians; they are teaching other people besides me what the past looked like, felt like, and sounded like.

1 Comment

  1. These experiences sound like so much fun! I went to a Mountain Man Rendezvous once, not as a participant, though. At some point, I’d like to try it. I think you are right; for a writer, being able to get close to the real thing provides details that add depth — even if they never make it into the writing!