7 Stupid things asked of Historical Reenactors

As reenactors we work with the public at historic sites and events all over. We invest small fortunes and zillions of hours of research to make sure that we are dressed and outfitted properly in order to teach history to the masses. Sometimes the public will ask really thoughtful, intelligent questions...

...and then, there's everyone else.

That being said, I believe that every question can be of value and that they all deserve to be answered... that's what people attend historical reenactments for, right? So, I take a second to answer even the most goofy questions...

7.) HOW DID YOU GET ALL THOSE FLAGS TO FLY THE SAME DIRECTION?
This is one of those questions I've never been asked personally, but I've heard stories of other reenactors being asked it. Maybe it's a reenactor 'urban legend'... I like to hope that people aren't stupid enough to really ask this sort of thing.


6.) ARE YOU NORTH OR SOUTH? (to any NON Civil War reenactor)
There is always at least ONE of these couples wandering around any historical event of any era at any given time. They wander up to your camp, see you cleaning your 1770s style brown bess flintlock musket while wearing your tricorn hat and buckle shoes to ask this one. They seem to be of the opinion that ALL reenactments MUST be of the Civil War variety.

5.) IS THAT A REAL BABY?
When I first got started in reenacting, my daughters were still quite young. One day I laid my youngest one down for a nap in a cabin at the site so she could get a nap in and not be crabby later. A mom and her son marched into the cabin, stomped over to the cradle loudly and practically shouted, "Hey look! Is that a real baby?" No nap THAT day.

4.) DO YOU REALLY LIVE/SLEEP HERE?
You've crammed your tiny vehicle full of your clothes, canvas, tent poles, coolers, camp furniture, gear, cots and enough blankets to smother an army. You get to the site early because you need several hours, and potentially a few friends to set it all up. Then, not only does the public ask this question of your tented weekend home, they generally wander on in without asking. Hey public, don't do that!

3.) AIN'T YOU HOT IN THAT COSTUME?
I'm wearing a wool coat in Kentucky in July and it's 98° in the shade,  yeah I'm a little toasty.  Aren't YOU a little hot in YOUR costume? Also while we're here... what I'm wearing isn't a 'costume', this is clothing. I only wear a costume on Halloween. If you think of your historical clothing merely as a costume, you're doing it wrong.


2.) ARE YOU REALLY GOING TO EAT THAT?
It never fails that you slave all day over a firepit at an event just to have a group approach and ask this one. This question is usually accompanied by a look of horror or disgust from the asker.  Are the people of the 21st Century so far removed form their food preparation that they don't know it when they see it?


1.) IS THAT REAL FIRE?
It never ceases to blow my mind that human beings in this modern age cannot identify REAL fire when they see or smell or feel it. The same people that ask this sort of question when confronted with a real fire are the same people who are allowed to operate heavy machinery, take care of children and vote! And to add insult to injury, their vote counts as much as yours does!

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19 comments:

Colleen said...

Many of these questions aren't the actual question. Reenactors are intimidating....we clearly KNOW STUFF. We are doing things that are just amazing (!). So, as people try to engage with us, they are feeling awkward, and say the first thing that pops into their head, undiluted, awkwardly. Like the fire/food prep/cleaning "stupid questions". I find that if I address someone before they ask anything, and ask them a question, they respond with many questions, intelligent, thoughtful *interestimg* questions. So, whenever I hear "is that a real fire?" I feel badly, because I failed to engage the visitors properly.

Anonymous said...

Colleen what a nice response

Anonymous said...

"How'd you know that?" Someone asks what time it is. I look up at the sun and tell them, "It's a little before six." They find someone with a watch or a cell phone and say in a surprised voice, "It's five 'til six! Hey, how'd you know that?"

Unknown said...

I do 13th Century English portrayals (sometimes generic and sometimes King Edward I). I've actually had American Civil War reenactors at timeline events see me in my armor on 90+ degree days and complain that they're hot. Here I am in layers of wool, linen, leather, and metal; including a solar oven called a great helm with padding and maille under it, and the guy with his jacket and waistcoat open and full ventilation is complaining to me. I've done ACW and 18th century both before, and trust me; the armor is worse.

Unknown said...

I worked a an historic site and got variations on these questions frequently. Then it hit me that several people were approaching "Living History MUSEUM" with the experiences of traditional museums, where tableaus are static and anything that appears to move is faked.

Now the "Is that fire/baby/task real" question makes sense.

When I worked at that site, the trade shops worked on projects to benefit the site, and the house staff did prepare a complete dinner each day, which gave greater context for the discussions. I truly appreciate that experience.

opusanglicanum said...

A few years ago a member of my group had a middle aged women try to pick up a hot charcoal from his casting forge.

I always found that theft was the problem when I was in charge of the catering. In the uk health and safety regs mean that you're not allowed to let the public taste. Most people accept this, but you turn your back on a well dressed woman who looks like she might be a member if the local wi at your peril...

Harry Hayfield said...

I would answer to those questions (very politely) "Because flags face the opposite direction that the wind is blowing", "Cavalier, actually, America is not the only country to have a civil war you know", "No, as I don't have a baby", "No, I am a registered carer and this is my off day", "Yes / No (dependent on weather", "Yes, after all what's wrong with a little home cooked food?" and finally by now getting a little exasperated "No, it's a 3D hologram using the same technique that CNN used to broadcast Will.I.Am from Chicago in 2008" followed by "Of course, it's a real fire!" and then threaten them with some of my home made cooking!

Jane Oakes said...

I was at a reenactment and was roasting a whole rabbit over the fire for the family's dinner. A woman had been walking her poodle through the camp earlier that day. It subsequently slipped its leash and went missing. She saw my rabbit roasting and came back with a police officer, sure that I was cooking her dog. The police officer, who must have been a hunter, recognized the meal for what it actually was, and had a hard time keeping his serious composure in assuring the woman that the meal I was cooking was not, in fact, her poodle.

CapitanoMoz said...

13th century reenactment.
Guy wanted to know how many People it took to lay siege to something. My answer of "depending on waht you want to attack/how many poeple are defending" wasn't good enough. He wanted an absolute number...
another one told me he was very interessted in history and when I told him that we were reenacting the 13th century he "knew" that this was the age of Bismark.

The Kansan said...

I've been lucky enough to be of fairly quick wit and have a ready answer for MOST of the "less well thought out" questions I've received over the years....

For instance... "Oh my goodness, it IS warm in here! What's the source of the heat - is it just these candles on display?" "Ummm... No Ma'am, you're standing in front of a wood stove."
Or... "Wow, is that a REAL buffalo hide?" "Yep! Artificial buffalo aren't allowed West of the Mississippi!"
And of course, (After having just watched me add buffalo chips and mesquite to the camp fire at a state historic site...) "Wow, is that a REAL fire?" "Ummm... No Ma'am, it's artificial fire - We're not allowed to have real fires on state property."

I could go on and on...

R.G. Shaw said...

I was riding a horse across a field when an eighth grade boy came up and asked, "Is that a real horse?" I replied, "No, it's animatronic." He said "OK" and went on his way! Back in camp I felt bad as I realized he really wanted to know about the horse and how I'd trained it , gotten it there, etc... There's no stupid questions, they're just awkwardly worded attempts to find out what they don't know. I'm now much more tolerant of "stupid" questions and do my best to answer what's at the heart of them. But, to be honest, if I'm at an event and we have the horses tied to a highline under the trees and someone asks, "What happens to them if it rains?" I will ALWYAS answer, "They get wet!" (Followed by an explanation of how they've been raised, what horses in the wild do, etc...)

heva mayne said...

Most common question I get is " is "X" real?" Food, fire, weapons and armour. I have been asked once if they could touch the fire... my response was polite and informative. I have gotten "Are you going to eat that?" before too. I said yep, I have been cooking this meat since 9am, I 'm eating it. Some response to this is "Can I have some?", I sadly can't give them food to try *Food and Hygiene law* but I tell them if they join our society they can do it and eat food.

Unknown said...

The most speechless question I have been asked, whilst being on an Anglo-Saxon site, have been: 1) did they really have fire then? and, Were women around in those days????
Both asked by adults....the children had far more sensible quiestions.

Jed Cawthorne said...

Oh my yes, when the kid who is sweating in shorts, t shirt and flip flops asks you if it's hot inside your 14th century harness of gambeson, mail and plate..... :-)

Wayward said...

My favourite response to the 'Is that real fire' question is, 'No, it's fire substitute concentrate - it feels like fire, it cooks like fire and when you're finished with it, you fold it back together and put it in the van'. At times it's hard to keep a straight face when giving this answer.
Any questions regarding what we represent - medieval jongleurs - and our instruments are generally a lot more intelligent and answered with due diligence.

Anonymous said...

My personal favorite question was one that I heard more than once during the battle of Trenton during the 225th anniversary. I was asked more than once about the attire of certain soldiers, specifically, "Are they wearing red and green coats because it's the Christmas season?"

Curt W said...

one of the reasons i prefer my living history away from the public. i dont enjoy feeling like a zoo exhibit. yes i know im supposed to be helping to educate, but we dont educate. we entertain for a few minutes then they forget everything we tell them. once at an airshow, dressed as a tank commander of the german waffen SS, i was thanked for my service.

Anonymous said...

At a 13th century show;
Child: look that lady is sewing
Parent: don't be stupid they didn't have needles then
Reenactor: (sarcastically) no we just had really sharp thread.
Parent: see!
Parent then drags child away before the reenactor can correct themselves.

Anonymous said...

Costume is also another word for clothing, fyi. That's why museums always call their clothing exhibits "textiles and costumes." Also, as long as you are putting on clothes for the sake of acting, you are indeed wearing "a costume."