Living History – My Interview with a Time Traveler
Gunfire. Smoke. Sounds of screaming men. A fierce battle is underway. Or, is it?
Welcome to the fascinating world of modern-day time travel!
According to definitions.net, living history, also known as re-enactment, is the act of incorporating historic tools, activities, and dress into an interactive experience that gives observers and participants a sense of stepping back in time. In this case, the battle waging is part of Rebels and Redcoats, the largest military re-enactment in New England with nearly 1,000 soldiers portraying British, Irish, Spanish, Scottish, French, and Colonial troops. The event takes place each summer at Old Sturbridge Village in Sturbridge, Massachusetts.
I’m lucky enough to call one of the participants my friend. Jennifer Emerson is a living history playwright, First-Person Interpreter/re-enactor, performer, and speaker for nearly two decades. As part of His Majesty's 54th Regiment of Foot – a British regiment – she transforms into Naomi Wade, camp cook, laundress, and aid to the field surgeon.
Jennifer and other historic re-enactors I’ve since come to know are deeply passionate. This is dedicated, hard work. Years of study and preparation, countless hours of practice, hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars to become someone they admire or wish to embody from the past.
Q “Why do you do it?” I asked Jennifer.
A “Seeing the fire, smelling the food, learning about the labor required to live in the past—perhaps even to survive a Revolutionary War battle—it’s an enchantment to the senses. Reading about the past is great. It’s required for this endeavor. But seeing it, feeling it, experiencing the sights, sounds, and smells first-hand… There’s no equal. What re-enactment does is add another layer to learning history, a flesh and blood element. Clothing, tools, and language all make for a rich sensory experience. It’s visual, tactile, and exciting for all age.
“Not every reenactor is in First Person,” she explains further. “Some are in Third Person - dressed accurately but being themselves. Some are Second Person - dressed accurately and playing a character while knowing you are from another time.”
Q “So, you’ve told me why you do this for others – to teach. But why do you do it for you?”
Long pause. “For a few fleeting moments I’m a time-traveler. There’s no better thing for a historical writer and performer. It’s another era, a world gone forever. Yes, there’s a risk of romancing the past, but most re-enactors strive for realism. The past is more than most imagine. There’s much to learn there.”
Q “Why Naomi Wade?”
A “Rich ladies with fine dresses and pretty hair are fun to play, but after a decade that got boring for me. I wanted to portray a “work-a-day” woman. To me, that’s where the real stories are. Naomi is a survivor; a London girl and fiercely loyal to King George III. Yet the love of her life was lost in this war. She churns butter, cooks over an open flame, washes clothing in a tub, and assists the surgeon in caring for the men, even during amputations Her story is important to understand.”
Q “So, Naomi is based on a real person?”
A “She’s a composite character, meaning I’ve incorporated stories from many factual individuals into one. That way more of their stories can be told. I use primary sources, actual letters and journals from the time period, plus secondary sources, and modern history books.
“Naomi is also evolving. She taught herself to read, plus she’s learning 18th century herbal medicine. I’ll keep you posted on where she’s headed next.”
I can’t help but wonder if the re-enactment enthusiasts I’ve introduced you to here would travel back in time if given the opportunity. The answer is a resounding, “YES!” for one of my secondary characters in Hellfire and Handbaskets. Re-enactor Deirdra Adams has quite an adventure! She may even have more hijinks up her dainty Victorian sleeves in the future. Or, is it the past? Maybe both? * wink*
Please note: This post first aired on Romance Gems, a collaborative blog featuring over twenty multi-published, cross-genre romance authors. Visit Romance Gems for more fun and interesting posts!
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