No, we didn’t go, and I have regrets. Six weeks before the event, I thought I was working on January 3rd, and by the time the schedule changed, it was too late. Instead, you can read about Drunktailor’s experience.
The background is interesting, similar to the kind of events and projects we’ve been talking about here in RI: site- and time-specific events that combine commemoration, history, and experimental archaeology, or an emotional and social archaeology, if you will.
From event co-organizer Dave Niescior, quoted in the Rutgers-Camden News Now: “The goal is to gain a better understanding of the hardships endured by individuals who lived and made a critical moment in history.It is one thing to write ‘the troops marched overnight to Princeton,’ it is yet another to understand what that physically and mentally meant to the men who had to put one foot in front of the other all night long.” Co-organizer Matt White told NJ.com, “We’re trying to stage a number of vignettes to give people a sense of what was going on in the Continental Army in this period between late December and early January of 1776 and 1777.”
These and other collected images help convey a sense of the event, which–as far as I can tell– did provide participants with the kind of transcendent experience I know I enjoy and hope to find at events.
This is the kind of event that I think proves a belabored (and elsewhere belittled) point: accuracy matters. It is just about ALL that matters.
On a now-defunct phone, I had an old video of the Young Mr with a now-deceased reenactor of whom I was quite fond, despite our wildly divergent politics. In it, Mr D shows his Charleville to the Young Mr on the front porch of an 18th century home and asks, “Do you know what this is?” The Young Mr shakes his head, and Mr D answers, “It’s a time machine.”
Although I remain committed to reducing the degree to which living history is musket-centric, there’s truth in that statement: Mr D had an original, period Charleville and a fairly well-cut uniform, considering his generous figure. Using, showing, and interpreting actual period pieces and well-made, correct replicas is the single best way to connect the present, and the public, to the past. Accuracy matters because it’s the literal key to the past: you have to cut the pattern right.
Accurate impressions rendered in a place of shared value will transport you to the past, and give you insights you did not expect. That is the point of these exercises: insight and understanding. It’s how to get high on history.