I attended my first camp-out reenactment this past weekend at the Battle of New York, held in Monmouth Battlefield State Park in NJ.
It was hotter, louder, bloodier, dirtier and MOAR FUN than I imagined it would be. I got to be a part of a camp laundress set up. There weren’t terribly many passers-by, but I did get to talk to a few visitors about what role women played as followers of the Continental army, cleanliness standards that soldiers were expected to keep up with, etc. and learned myself about the methods of boiling the laundry, agitating it in the tub with a bat, etc.
I would have liked to have spent more time with the laundry set up, but that leads me to the first thing I learned about reenactments:
- If you leave on a short errand, you will end up losing 2 hours of your life.
You’ll find three people you friended on Facebook and haven’t met yet IRL. You’ll forget you needed to get something from your car parked half a mile away. Then you’ll have to pee. Then stop to talk to more people. Then realize you need something from the tent. Etc. Speaking of peeing:
2. Maybe it’s a better idea to “dress out” when you get there rather than at home.
My car ride was 4 hours. I had to go BAD around hour 3, but reallllly didn’t want to traipse about in my outfit in public, so I did what any rational person would do – pull over to an empty construction site and squat next to my car. However, I clearly need to take lessons from 18th century women on outside bathroom-use wearing multiple petticoats, because, er, let’s just say I didn’t do so well. That’s ok, I’ll have plenty of time for washing and mending later, because:
3. Living outside is hard on your handmade clothes.
Within an hour of getting there, I’d already stepped on my gown hem and torn out the skirt part from the bodice part of my brown wool gown. By the end of the day my red spotted Burnley & Trowbridge kerchief had stained my shift and my cap was a mess. On Sunday I sliced my finger open on a broken piece of pottery while in my tent and after realizing there’s no handy dandy Kleenex sitting on the proverbial nightstand, used my linen pocket hankie to soak up the 10 tons of blood. We haven’t even talked about trying to get off your back-lacing stays in a tent by yourself in the dark while covered in sweat. There may have been crying involved. I also need to apologize to my tent neighbor for the following:
4. Find a really good way to identify your tent.
These things are a veritable sea of look-alike white canvas tents all set up a few inches from each other. Even though you counted yours down from the end, when you get up in the middle of the night and it’s dark, you will probably crawl into someone else’s tent. Or maybe that’s just me. Sorry, random guy, for kind of crouching there, blinking confusedly as I realized I was kneeling on your rifle. Carry on.
That really was an awesome night of sleep, though. The hay flooring was much cushier than I imagined, my wool blanket was cozy and I’d brought another clean and dry shift and a pair of clean socks to change into. I found the sound of crickets and dozens of snoring and farting humans to be comforting…for awhile. Bring earplugs.
That evening there were some cell phones and car headlights and other modern intrusions, but enough good company and glow of firelight and candles for me. (If we’re talking strict historical accuracy, there wouldn’t have been dining flies or hanging out after dark anyway!) So, while this wasn’t the hardcore immersion event I would eventually like to have, it was a great first experience. Can’t wait for the next one!