As the reenacting season begins, it's important for us to remember the reason why we do what we do. Okay, so there's more than one reason. But, besides our own love of bringing history to life, we need to make sure that the visitors who come to see us feel welcome.
Please allow me to explain:
I remember years ago when I was a plain old everyday visitor at a reenactment (rather than a participant). My wife and kids and I would admire all of the folks that would show life as it was a over a hundred years earlier. We would visit the military area first; they were always very willing to speak with us, show their muskets and accouterments, and happy to answer any questions we had. My pre-teen sons were especially interested in this.
We would then make our way over to the civilian side of life. We observed as they would prepare the food they were going to cook for their evening meal, hardly looking up to notice us. We watched as they would huddle in their circle, many times with their backs to us. We were keenly aware of the look on their faces when we would 'interrupt' their gathering by asking questions pertaining to a historical nature.
And, we usually left thinking how rude these (mostly) ladies were by snubbing us.
And this happened at more than one encampment. In fact, numerous camps treated us in the same manner.
No, this is not something I am making up to show an example of what not to do, but what actually used to happen to us nearly every time we went to a reenactment.
Me, being the one who was most interested in social rather than military history, would always leave somewhat disappointed. Thinking back, I believe that was part of the reason why we didn't get involved in this hobby years sooner than what we did (click here to learn how we became involved in reenacting).
And, we only continued to return to these reenactments, usually at my insistence, because I really enjoyed speaking to those few who did acknowledge us. Plus, I loved being around so many people who were wearing period clothing, no matter how rude. Heck! I would just ignore them...(or maybe purposely pester them just to tick them off!).
Eventually, through a series of circumstances (click the link above to find out how), we joined a reenacting group - the 21st Michigan.
Since we joined as civilians we had the opportunity to observe a bit more closely the situation at hand - the situation that nearly prevented us from partaking in this wonderful hobby. I noticed it wasn't just us that were ignored by so many as visiting patrons - it was nearly every visitor to the reenactment.
Now, if I may, I'd like to regale you with another true story:
Carrie was a student teacher at the school where I worked. During a conversation I was having with the head teacher, Carrie over-heard that I was a Civil War reenactor. The look on her face upon hearing of my hobby was priceless: her mouth dropped in a cartoonish way - seriously - and she stuttered as she made the attempt to speak to me about it. Of course, I was always on the look out for possible new members and I felt young Miss Carrie was a strong candidate.
I was right! She turned out to be an awesome living historian and, like me, strives for authenticity as best as her finances will take her.
A conversation she and I had, however, that nearly prevented her from joining told me I was quite correct in my observance. "I thought you had to belong to an exclusive club!" she stated. "No one ever approached me where I could find out how to become a reenactor."
This brings me to my sermon of the day:
Once I became a Civil War reenactor/living historian, I vowed to myself that I would do my best to make every visitor feel as welcome as I could. I didn't want anyone to leave feeling the way I did all those years ago. Sometimes even a smile or a nod of the head can be enough. But, no one should be ignored, if at all possible.
I am very proud to say that I have kept that vow the best I could, and the other members of my unit do the same (for the most part. There are some that still need work, but they're coming along).
As this year's reenacting season gets under way, I ask you to please remember - if you choose to participate at a reenactment where the public is invited, do not ignore them. Do not turn your back on them. Answer their questions as kindly as you can (here is a blog I wrote on questions reenactors receive). Call the visitor over to visit your campsite - make them feel welcome. And if you happen to be having a meeting of some sort, please designate a member of your group to be the one to speak to the public should some walk up. It certainly is much better than ignoring them.
After all, they did come to see you.