1992: A Weird Year in Reenacting
by Jonah Begone and Mal Stylo
Mal Stylo once wrote "Ambrose Bierce couldn't have scripted more weirdness into reenacting than it has managed to acquire on its own." That was in 1989. I am happy to report that 1992 was every bit as bizarre as previous years have been, maybe even more so.
- The year started off with a frenzied honoring of the dead by my Revy War group. An elderly member had passed away the year before and to honor him the unit allowed him to posthumously decide points of unit schedule and uniform policy at the annual meeting. A few days later his face, reproduced on the unit newsletter, greeted me from my mailbox. He was far more active early in 1992 than he ever had been while walking among the living, but he seems to be really dead now.
- At Bentonville, a roving reporter in my unit bought a videotape of "Mean Mary," a 14 year-old Tennessean with a gravelly whiskey-voice, singing "Dixie." I understand this phenom regularly takes this act out on the road, and camps with the Rebs. I suspect child abuse, or at the very least audience abuse.
- Just when I thought I'd seen everything, a Revy War reenactor introduced a new twist in living history: Chamber pot usage. Despite the fact that a porta-potty was no further than 60 feet from his tent, this first-person enthusiast decided to do his business in a small ceramic chamber pot, then cunningly leave the filled thing within sight of the public to give them a horrific view of life in the 18th Century. When I questioned him about it, he defensively accused me of "...not having a pot to piss in." (Can't argue with him on that point.) On Sunday morning he used the thing, presumably cleaned, as a spittoon for his toothpaste and mouthwash.
- The same reenactor was responsible for another stunning reenacting development: The dragoon sidecar. He's a member of a three-man dragoon unit (the Revy War version of dismounted cavalry). At the big event this year they obtained one horse for the head dragoon to ride, and the chamber pot guy placed his hand under the saddle and merrily ran alongside the horse in sidecar fashion to review the troops from the rear of the formation. It was one of the indelible sights of 1992.
- A Revy War reenactor made a solo, middle-of-the-night bayonet charge on Redoubt No. 10 in Yorktown, VA. There was, of course, a complete absence of any danger (except perhaps of tripping) or of British troops in opposition and American troops in support. He therefore naturally described it as just like being there in 1780.
- Meanwhile, on the Western Front of World War I (located, of course, in Pennsylvania), an errant Hun flare arched toward a field and started a brush fire upon touchdown. This sparked cries of "It's headed toward the parking lot!" (Referring to the fire). The Battle of Belleau Wood was halted while Boche and Allied forces alike united in a common cause as brothers (and sisters?) rushed to battle the flames. Casualties were restricted to one Chevy Lumina van that suffered a burned undercarriage. This stout vehicle is back on the road - although the engine mysteriously quits whenever the owner tries to turn his vehicle into an event parking lot.
- Mal Stylo, the Man Who Refuses to Dirty His Flintlock, arrived at a Revy War event after a long absence to drill and not fire. Exposed by the unit commander - who loads his musket for him - his picture appears in the Washington Times, firing his musket. None of the other members' faces appear in the photo. To complete the irony, Mal and none of the others is cited by name in the caption.
- Elsewhere in the press, I got printed up in a local paper calling Rebs "wackos." The truly bizarre thing is that my car has failed to explode when started in the mornings. (That's expected - I know Rebs can't read.)
- In a related incident a psychotic Reb sutler declared to me "State's Rights! That's where it's at! We wouldn't be in this mess if it wasn't for the Federal government!! State's Rights! STATE'S RIGHTS!!" And here I thought I could get away from the Civil War by attending multi-period events dressed in the garb of the 18th century...
- At one event, Mal Stylo performed bayonet drill on the 50-yard line of a football field with the unit commander, an Abe Lincoln impressionist and a couple of Redskinettes looking on. His three foot high "leaps to the rear" were captured on film for posterity. As for the event, with 2nd and 10, from our own end zone Lincoln called a pass and fumbled. Mal recovered and tried to lateral but also fumbled. That fumble was recovered by the Rebs for the winning score.
- At the 130th Antietam event our fearless leader pointed to four Federals and declares that three units are present, with a "hard-core" unit camped out of sight by a wood line.
- More guys from my unit attended an impromptu evening campfire/beerfest near some local railroad tracks than attended two of our more promising events.
- When first presented the proposed "Killer Angels" (later called "Gettysburg") filming had all the signs of a first-class disaster: Pat Massengill-coordinated 12+ hour days filming in the hottest part of summer with commemorative trinkets as payment, and the project is almost universally lambasted in the reenacting media. Later, Brian Pohanka and Dale Fetzer obtain temporary jobs with the production, the "commanding general" of the "Army of Northern Virginia" proclaims the project a sacred honor, 3,000 reenactors show up, one dies of a heart attack and in a complete reversal of opinion the thing is rhapsodized in the reenacting media in gushing terms.
- The Hell Tent is premiered at an event. Activities include flesh-rending devils torturing Mal Stylo by poking and prodding him with fingers to the accompaniment of hummed Star Trek incidental music. At the conclusion of this event, a Reb wearing an "It's a Southern Thing, You Wouldn't Understand" tee-shirt passes judgement upon Mal and I: "Those two oughtta to quit th' hobby." We almost take his advice.
- Buckskinning classes were one of the featured activities at my Revy War unit's Christmas party.
I guess I shouldn't have been too surprised at the general level of weirdness in reenacting in 1992 since it seemed to have been a national trend: Gays and lesbians in an inaugural parade, Hillary Clinton's puss appears on the cover of Good Housekeeping, of all things, and Superman got killed.