By Jeff Hendershott, 17 July 2005

Everybody complains about the weather, but nobody does anything about it. – Mark Twain

We here in Ohio are suffering, and I emphasize SUFFERING, through one hell of a long spell of tropical heat this summer.  Whatever dynamics that cause that soupy, moist – indeed, unhealthy - muggy air full of water pellets and bug feces to come out this way is sure working!

For those of you who think that it's the hot weather that is more healthy than the cold, check this out.  Every year, someone, somewhere releases to the news the list of the oldest living Americans for that year.  I always enjoy reading this, because it supports my opinion, as unscientific as it may be:  The OLDEST LIVING Americans 80 to 90% of the time live in the cold, northern states like Maine, Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota and Michigan!  Yeah, you get Tennessee and Texas and Florida represented by these geezers here and there, but the overwhelming majority of those living way past their 100's come from the north.

I believe it all has to do with the clean air that sweeps through these northern states, opposed to this steam we call "air" in the humid climes.  Again, I'm no scientist, but like my dad says, follow your gut instincts and use common sense.  Well, I'm not always successful at the latter, but I'm convinced cool, clean air is much more healthy (something Ben Franklin believed, and he out-lived many of his contemporaries).

And if you are a regular viewer of The Weather Channel like I am and keep up on all their nifty trivia questions, you might know (and if you didn't, now you do) that the #1 weather-related killer is NOT cold weather, floods, hurricanes, tornados, lightning, mud slides, blizzards, or even earthquakes.  It's HEAT!

If there's some scientific research going on to engineer and "control" weather, I'd gladly be a donor to anyone who can scientifically eliminate humidity!  Yeah, I watch too much science

I got to thinking about this recently, and not just because you cannot step foot out of your door without breaking a sweat (and this is OHIO, for the love of God!).  My cousin, who was a chaplain with the reenactment unit we were members of, stopped by and we wondered just "what the hell we were thinking" when we'd pile on twenty pounds of woolen clothing in this kind of weather for an entire weekend!

I remember that the hottest event I ever did was 1993 Gettysburg, where rumor had it that the heat index checked in at 112!  One reenactor there, it was said, died from the heat.  One year, 1992 I think, seemed like every event we did was hotter than hell.  I distinctly remember doing a small event in Ohio in the mid-1990's where the weather was so hot and muggy, we couldn’t stop my daughter's nose-bleeds.  That was somewhat of a "turning point" in my reenacting career.  I'd stick anything out, weather be damned!  After this experience, however, I started to become more conscious of my family's (and my) health and comfort. (Translation: First sign of "burnout.")

Back to 1993 Gettysburg for a moment.  It was the only event I was ever at where we were told we didn't have to wear our jackets in battle.  Praise God for the person who issued that edict!  And bless those people who shuttled buckets of ice to us!  I packed it in my hat, down my shirt and crotch!!!!  It melted quick (the ice, that is) and was relief - but temporary, mind you.

Sorry my friends in blue and gray, but you may have all you wish!  Been there, done that, got the jock-itch.

I was checking out reenactment unit sites on the web not long ago and had to chuckle at this "advice" for new members (no disrespect to the unit who posted it, by the way):

Tent - Both halves of a 1864 shelter half is preferred as it would have been what the soldiers in the field would have carried with them. Later, if you want, you may look into a larger "A-frame," but the smaller shelter half or "dog tent" is more correct and easier to put up and cart out. A dog tent can also be converted into a lean-to or "she-bang" in hot weather when you want air circulation.

"When you want air circulation?”  This reminds me of one of the biggest reenactor myths going!  "Sweat up your wools so when the breeze hits you, you'll cool down!" Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha... When the "breeze" features 98 degree heat with almost no oxygen due to the heavy dew point and humidity rate, you may as well try and put out a house fire with a squirt gun!

What's interesting is that when I look back and list my, say, Top 10 favorite events of all time, I find that at all of them, the weather was cool!  And sure, the summer events "can" be all right.
A nice 75-degree day with sunshine and cool evenings, I'd say, are what every reenactor prays for.  Occasionally we get these.  How you guys (and gals) do it below the Mason-Dixon
line in the summer is beyond me!  I visited Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia three summers ago and even though that was not all that far south, I'd never been in such oppressive heat in my life!  One of my daughters was in Mexico a number of months ago, and she said there it was even worse!  Huzza to those guys who fought in the Mexican War!

I remember seeing reenactors in weather like this lay around all weekend suffering with stomach cramps and other heat-related symptoms, yet determined, dammit, to "stick it out." May I ask "what for?"

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know....  "Our ancestors did it, so don't we owe it to them to suffer a little like they did?"  Ahhhh.....  I like to think my great great-granddaddy was a pretty nice guy (and pretty smart too to survive all four years of the war), and would say "Sonny, I didn't have a choice, but YOU do!  Crank up that AC and enjoy some ice water because hey, if I would have had it, I would have used it!"

Let me tell ya, friends in blue and gray: There's nothing I look back with more fondness upon (as far as hobbies go) than sitting around a camp fire on a cool night with my pards, waking up
to a cool, crisp morning, and spending a day reenacting the Civil War in humane weather conditions.  I loved those fall events especially. But be careful out there in this soaring, miserable heat.  General's Jackson and Thomas and the like expected their men to "tough it out" no matter what - that was their JOB!  Call me a whimp or slacker and what have you - I don't care.  Reenacting isn't a job and certainly not worth getting sick or dying over.

Thus, I have a simple suggestion for staying cool in weather like this - go home!  No amount of fluids or shade will help much.  Your body is working too hard just to sweat and breath to find much relief (unless you are southern and used to this stuff, I guess).  So what?  Your pards may guffaw at you and tell you later how you "really missed out," but you'll know the real truth.  Protect your health to live to reenact another day, another nice day!

And come on Fall!

Additional notes from Jonah Begone


Being an old Civil War reenacting veteran myself, I have some observations:


1.)   I have yet to be in a tent (canvas or nylon) that breathed, allowed circulation or was in any way more comfortable than simply sitting under the shade of a nearby tree. Jeff is correct: the Breathing Tent is one of reenacting’s myths.


2.)   Modern dry-wick polyester knit garments, the kind athletes and joggers wear, transport moisture away from the body and onto the surface of the material. Wool just gets wet. There is a major difference in cooling function between the two. I have stood by, gap-jawed and sweaty, when some reenactor assured a member of the public that while, yes, it is hot in the wool and he is sweating, “…that the wool breathes.” No it doesn’t. It just gets wet. Another reenactor myth.


3.)   When I moved my reenacting activities from the arid environment of Utah to the considerably wetter climate of Maryland and Virginia, I quickly established a major personal rule for reenactment weekends: When it gets hot, do whatever you have to do to remain in the event. Measures include skipping needless noontime drill sessions, unbuttoning the upper sack coat button (or more, depending), removing the sack coat entirely while in camp and taking an early hit during the battle and finding shade if necessary. I have learned that very few reenactment officers have medical degrees or a good working knowledge of human physiology, and the ones that do often have some bizarre macho thing going on that often interferes with their rational decision-making.  This led to another mental guideline of mine: You, and not one of your leaders, will have to watch over yourself. Usually, if you expect an officer to state, “Get in the shade while we halt here, guys,” you will be disappointed. Generally, they’re alert to every whim of their (supposedly) superior officers to reform the battalion with alacrity or something like that. Letting troops wander off to rest and find shade interferes with that.


4.)   Our noble forefathers, the American Civil War Enactors, do not care that you are sweating profusely to recreate when they did 140+ years ago. (They really don’t - I know because I asked.) They are greatly puzzled about why, given all the other recreational pursuits available in our day and age, guys would want to spend their weekends sweating profusely and smelling bad. Is there anything anyone has read in a first-person source that suggests that the Enactors wanted organized ancestor worship instituted in sweltering fields for them a hundred years later? I missed that as well.


5.)   By the time I quit reenacting, I fully appreciated the role that the weather plays in the success of an event. I used to think that the weather contributed perhaps about 70% of the success of an event. Nowadays, I suspect it may be 80% or higher. No matter how good the setting, planning, logistics, attendance or funding, an event can turn into an unendurable hell if the weather turns hot and humid.





And now, I wish to honor a man who generally goes by unknown and unrecognized. In my pantheon, however, he is truly one of the Greats. His name is Willis Haviland Carrier. If the last name suggests anything to you, it’s because he’s generally regarded as the Father of Modern Air-Conditioning, who created a major company in the field which bears his name. That’s his photo above – note the self-assured smile and, especially, the knit sweater vest under his suit coat. “Sure,” he’s probably thinking, “I may be a little uncomfortable in all this clothing now, standing here smiling for the camera outdoors. But when I step into my office, cooled and dried to a civilized degree by my own engineering prowess, I shall be comfortable and free to spread my invention’s benefits to a needy humanity. Too bad those dopes in reproduction 19th century wool uniforms are all out running around giving themselves heat stroke.”


It is fitting that I reprint this biography from an industrial arts site: “Dr. Willis Carrier (1876-1950), the Father of Air Conditioning, was born on a farm in Angola in New York State. He won a State Scholarship to Cornell University where he graduated with degree of Mechanical Engineer in Electrical Engineering (1901). He joined Buffalo Forge Co, later forming a subsidiary called Carrier Air Conditioning Co of America (1907). He published his paper Rational Psychrometric Formulae (ASME, 1911), and the famous Buffalo Forge “bible” Fan Engineering (1914). He founded Carrier Engineering Corporation (1914) and went on to take air conditioning, which had been initially for industrial applications, into the comfort business in cinemas, department stores and restaurants. He patented the high-pressure air washer (1906); the centrifugal water chiller (1922); pioneered air conditioning for railway coaches and passenger liners (1930); introduced unit air conditioners for the home, and high velocity induction systems for offices (1939). With Realto Cherne and Walter Grant, Carrier wrote the best known of all air conditioning textbooks, Modern Air Conditioning, Heating and Ventilating (1940).” 


Rest in Peace, O Modern Prometheus and Master Engineer! Reenactors honor Thee.