Tag Archives: Reenacting

Why Civil War (and Other) Reenactors Hate Visitors

Because not knowing history makes visitors worthy of contempt.

Strong Language


Curator’s Comment: The intention here is for reenactors to show how ignorant visitors can be, but they seem to have gotten it backwards.

Bunker Hill Bunny, or As Accurate As Many Modern Reenactors…

…But a lot more fun.

Ask Them How To Duck & Cover Correctly

7 Historical Re-Enactors Caught Off Their Game

A buzzfeed contributer rightly asks,

“Is it just me, or is the art of historical re-enactment going downhill?”

His answer is here.

He Should Have Bloated. The Dead Bloat.

A Reenactor in the Family, or Don’t Ever Put Your Mouth Near the Barrel

Curator’s Comments: Today’s Saturday Cinema post of clips from the improv-based show Family Tree is brought to you by an alert reader who shared them with us. Who knew we had any readers, much less alert ones?

On the Uselessness of History

Curator’s Comments: Seneca’s On the Shortness of Life, written in 49 AD, proves two things: there have always been people who love historical research and there have always been those who think such inquiries are an unenlightening waste of time. We at the Hysterical Society are concerned that the pendulum of modern public interest in historical research is just beginning to swing towards Seneca’s view. What do you think?

Seneca’s reminder to all historians:
don’t be a bore.

Chapter XIII, from On the Shortness of Life

It would be tedious to mention all the different men who have spent the whole of their life over chess or ball or the practice of baking their bodies in the sun. They are not unoccupied whose pleasures are made a busy occupation. For instance, no one will have any doubt that those are laborious triflers who spend their time on useless literary problems, of whom even among the Romans there is now a great number. It was once a foible confined to the Greeks to inquire into what number of rowers Ulysses had, whether the Iliad or the Odyssey was written first, whether moreover they belong to the same author, and various other matters of this stamp, which, if you keep them to yourself, in no way pleasure your secret soul, and, if you publish them, make you seem more of a bore than a scholar. But now this vain passion for learning useless things has assailed the Romans also. In the last few days I heard someone telling who was the first Roman general to do this or that; Duilius was the first who won a naval battle, Curius Dentatus was the first who had elephants led in his triumph. Still, these matters, even if they add nothing to real glory, are nevertheless concerned with signal services to the state; there will be no profit in such knowledge, nevertheless it wins our attention by reason of the attractiveness of an empty subject. We may excuse also those who inquire into this—who first induced the Romans to go on board ship. It was Claudius, and this was the very reason he was surnamed Caudex, because among the ancients a structure formed by joining together several boards was called a caudex, whence also the Tables of the Law are called codices, and, in the ancient fashion, boats that carry provisions up the Tiber are even to-day called codicariae. Doubtless this too may have some point—the fact that Valerius Corvinus was the first to conquer Messana, and was the first of the family of the Valerii to bear the surname Messana because be had transferred the name of the conquered city to himself, and was later called Messala after the gradual corruption of the name in the popular speech. Perhaps you will permit someone to be interested also in this—the fact that Lucius Sulla was the first to exhibit loosed lions in the Circus, though at other times they were exhibited in chains, and that javelin-throwers were sent by King Bocchus to despatch them? And, doubtless, this too may find some excuse—but does it serve any useful purpose to know that Pompey was the first to exhibit the slaughter of eighteen elephants in the Circus, pitting criminals against them in a mimic battle? He, a leader of the state and one who, according to report, was conspicuous among the leaders of old for the kindness of his heart, thought it a notable kind of spectacle to kill human beings after a new fashion. Do they fight to the death? That is not enough! Are they torn to pieces? That is not enough! Let them be crushed by animals of monstrous bulk! Better would it be that these things pass into oblivion lest hereafter some all-powerful man should learn them and be jealous of an act that was nowise human. O, what blindness does great prosperity cast upon our minds! When he was casting so many troops of wretched human beings to wild beasts born under a different sky, when he was proclaiming war between creatures so ill matched, when he was shedding so much blood before the eyes of the Roman people, who itself was soon to be forced to shed more. he then believed that he was beyond the power of Nature. But later this same man, betrayed by Alexandrine treachery, offered himself to the dagger of the vilest slave, and then at last discovered what an empty boast his surname was.

But to return to the point from which I have digressed, and to show that some people bestow useless pains upon these same matters—the man I mentioned related that Metellus, when he triumphed after his victory over the Carthaginians in Sicily, was the only one of all the Romans who had caused a hundred and twenty captured elephants to be led before his car; that Sulla was the last of the Roman’s who extended the pomerium, which in old times it was customary to extend after the acquisition of Italian but never of provincial, territory. Is it more profitable to know this than that Mount Aventine, according to him, is outside the pomerium for one of two reasons, either because that was the place to which the plebeians had seceded, or because the birds had not been favourable when Remus took his auspices on that spot—and, in turn, countless other reports that are either crammed with falsehood or are of the same sort? For though you grant that they tell these things in good faith, though they pledge themselves for the truth of what they write, still whose mistakes will be made fewer by such stories? Whose passions will they restrain? Whom will they make more brave, whom more just, whom more noble-minded? My friend Fabianus used to say that at times he was doubtful whether it was not better not to apply oneself to any studies than to become entangled in these.

Step Back Into History: The Blockbuster Living Museum


Actually By Mark Twain

Curator’s Comments: While Twain is focused on the Crusades, do you think the spirit of his piece applies to modern military reenactments of any time period?

Lately there appeared an item to this effect, and the same went the customary universal round of the press:

     A telegraph station has just been established upon the traditional
     site of the Garden of Eden.

As a companion to that, nothing fits so aptly and so perfectly as this:

     Brooklyn has revived the knightly tournament of the Middle Ages.

It is hard to tell which is the most startling, the idea of that highest achievement of human genius and intelligence, the telegraph, prating away about the practical concerns of the world’s daily life in the heart and home of ancient indolence, ignorance, and savagery, or the idea of that happiest expression of the brag, vanity, and mock-heroics of our ancestors, the “tournament,” coming out of its grave to flaunt its tinsel trumpery and perform its “chivalrous” absurdities in the high noon of the nineteenth century, and under the patronage of a great, broad-awake city and an advanced civilization.

A “tournament” in Lynchburg is a thing easily within the comprehension of the average mind; but no commonly gifted person can conceive of such a spectacle in Brooklyn without straining his powers. Brooklyn is part and parcel of the city of New York, and there is hardly romance enough in the entire metropolis to re-supply a Virginia “knight” with “chivalry,” in case he happened to run out of it. Let the reader calmly and dispassionately picture to himself “lists”—in Brooklyn; heralds, pursuivants, pages, garter king-at-arms—in Brooklyn; the marshalling of the fantastic hosts of “chivalry” in slashed doublets, velvet trunks, ruffles, and plumes—in Brooklyn; mounted on omnibus and livery-stable patriarchs, promoted, and referred to in cold blood as “steeds,” “destriers,” and “chargers,” and divested of their friendly, humble names—these meek old “Jims” and “Bobs” and “Charleys,” and renamed “Mohammed,” “Bucephalus,” and “Saladin”—in Brooklyn; mounted thus, and armed with swords and shields and wooden lances, and cased in paste board hauberks, morions, greaves, and gauntlets, and addressed as “Sir” Smith, and “Sir” Jones, and bearing such titled grandeurs as “The Disinherited Knight,” the “Knight of Shenandoah,” the “Knight of the Blue Ridge,” the “Knight of Maryland,” and the “Knight of the Secret Sorrow”—in Brooklyn; and at the toot of the horn charging fiercely upon a helpless ring hung on a post, and prodding at it intrepidly with their wooden sticks, and by and by skewering it and cavorting back to the judges’ stand covered with glory—this in Brooklyn; and each noble success like this duly and promptly announced by an applauding toot from the herald’s horn, and “the band playing three bars of an old circus tune”—all in Brooklyn, in broad daylight. And let the reader remember, and also add to his picture, as follows, to wit: when the show was all over, the party who had shed the most blood and overturned and hacked to pieces the most knights, or at least had prodded the most muffin-rings, was accorded the ancient privilege of naming and crowning the Queen of Love and Beauty—which naming had in reality been done for him by the “cut-and-dried” process, and long in advance, by a committee of ladies, but the crowning he did in person, though suffering from loss of blood, and then was taken to the county hospital on a shutter to have his wounds dressed—these curious things all occurring in Brooklyn, and no longer ago than one or two yesterdays. It seems impossible, and yet it is true.

This was doubtless the first appearance of the “tournament” up here among the rolling-mills and factories, and will probably be the last. It will be well to let it retire permanently to the rural districts of Virginia, where, it is said, the fine mailed and plumed, noble-natured, maiden-rescuing, wrong-redressing, adventure-seeking knight of romance is accepted and believed in by the peasantry with pleasing simplicity, while they reject with scorn the plain, unpolished verdict whereby history exposes him as a braggart, a ruffian, a fantastic vagabond; and an ignoramus.

All romance aside, what shape would our admiration of the heroes of Ashby de la Zouch be likely to take, in this practical age, if those worthies were to rise up and come here and perform again the chivalrous deeds of that famous passage of arms? Nothing but a New York jury and the insanity plea could save them from hanging, from the amiable Bois-Guilbert and the pleasant Front-de-Boeuf clear down to the nameless ruffians that entered the riot with unpictured shields and did their first murder and acquired their first claim to respect that day. The doings of the so-called “chivalry” of the Middle Ages were absurd enough, even when they were brutally and bloodily in earnest, and when their surroundings of castles and donjons, savage landscapes and half-savage peoples, were in keeping; but those doings gravely reproduced with tinsel decorations and mock pageantry, by bucolic gentlemen with broomstick lances, and with muffin-rings to represent the foe, and all in the midst of the refinement and dignity of a carefully-developed modern civilisation, is absurdity gone crazy.

Now, for next exhibition, let us have a fine representation of one of those chivalrous wholesale butcheries and burnings of Jewish women and children, which the crusading heroes of romance used to indulge in in their European homes, just before starting to the Holy Land, to seize and take to their protection the Sepulchre and defend it from “pollution.”

Slaves Crash a Civil War Reenactment

As a bonus, here’s Eric Andre talking about his inspiration for this sketch (and his opinion on Colonial Williamsburg, and we’re guessing most museums)

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