Curator’s Comment: In the past the American Hysterical Society has been openly critical of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation’s 2013 and 2014 advertising campaigns (it seems they have deleted the most egregious; we hope it’s because of something we said). The following is our attempt to make amends and offer some helpful suggestions.
As we have noted before, history doesn’t sell. Just ask any site who offers a well-researched horse engine day or tea party, or if that tight stitch count has got ‘em flocking in. If history did sell then our work would be well funded, we would all be rockstars, and Colonial Williamsburg would still be a historic site.
In case you haven’t noticed, Williamsburg has spent the better part of the last year transforming into a low-rent Busch Gardens. Or to quote President & CEO Mitchell Reiss, trying “to do some things we’ve never done before to make this special place even better.” So with tenuous historical connections and what their marketing folks think has mass appeal, the Foundation has added a shooting range, a petting zoo, a doggy mascot, pirates, and an ice skating rink to their “historic” experience.
As Reiss said, “You’ll notice us paying more attention to first-time visitors and families who have chosen to invest their hard earned vacation dollars for a trip to Colonial Williamsburg instead of [Disney’s] Magic Kingdom.” They’re targeting families because they think that’s where the money is. However, most families are too budget conscious to feed Williamsburg’s voracious coffers.
No, the real revenue is in providing extreme lifestyle experiences for underserved audiences looking for the unique, the challenging, and the thrilling. This audience includes masochists, sadists, body modifiers, and mixed martial artists. There’s a lot of money in pain and blood. And Williamsburg is perfectly suited to simultaneously profit from this growing demand while creating historically-grounded interpretation.
This soon-to-be wildly-popular and award-winning program includes: 
- Public Shaming: Did you ever want to let that loved one know you knew about their lies/theft/infidelity/stupidity? Well now you can all while allowing the whole world to share in your pain and righteousness. It’s the eighteenth-century version of Facebook.
- Standing the Pillory: The stocks are already a popular stop, this would just add the missing ingredient, human drama. Once a prisoner is locked in, his or her ears are nailed to the stock and they are left standing there. Later, just before their allotted time is up, their ears are first sliced off and then they are released. Siblings of all ages, with their mischievous rivalries, will love this one.
- Flogging: Depending on your tastes, you or a person of your choice can be publicly flogged. It can be for almost any infraction, real or imagined, or just because the experience is so delicious.
- Branding: You may or may not have committed a felony, but now you can look like you have. Scarification by branding makes tattoos seem as dangerous as body paint.
- Dueling: You and an opponent of your choice could rent weapons (swords or the more expensive pistols) and, after a five-minute orientation, take your positions on the palace lawn and have at each other. First blood or death, it’s your choice.
- Public Execution: We’re already heading toward this in modern America, so why not be on the cutting edge? Executions were popular mass entertainment back in the day, and they would draw even larger crowds (and oodles of publicity) today. The best thing about a historically-accurate hanging is that, unlike later nineteenth-century hanging practices where the neck was broken almost immediately, the show could last for several minutes thanks to the short drop drop and slow strangulation. Popular as this will be with spectators, we suggest brushing up your “not it” skills.
Along with being immersive experiences, they are also a fully interactive ones. And boy will they draw a crowd! This has every potential to be the first truly exciting museum program ever.
Each of these ideas brings to bear all of CW’s resources, historic trades to make the nails, weapons, gallows, and rope, educators to help explain the background of each option to participants and guests alike, living history skills to ensure authenticity, and food service to help keep tummies full and wallets empty.
The choice is simple: Does Williamsburg want public programs that look like this…
…or like this?
We know what you’re thinking: that doing any, much less all, of this would take real audacity. We say it’s less audacious than opening a skating rink on Duke of Gloucester Street and, with a straight face, calling it a “magical experience.”
1. We truly thought he was going to say “specialer.”
2. And need we mention they are likely first-time visitors?
3. All medical or coroner’s bills are included in your fees!
4. The Disneyfication isn’t even subtle.