Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Catching Up With History

I didn't fall in love with Colonial Williamsburg at first sight. It took 18 some years for that to happen, when I ventured back just on the whim of retreading a family vacation from the past. I had done it with Walt Disney World the year before. Why not Williamsburg?

Looking back on it, I still don't understand what drew me back except for sheer curiosity. I had no taste for living history. My college freshman history course became a stench in my nostrils with too much reading. I had other studies that needed to share the workload. Looking back further, Boston hadn't amped up any desires either. Nothing at Bunker Hill, Lexington or Concord reached in to grab my 8-year-old heart. I could say the same for Charleston and St. Augustine, Florida.

So where did the history bug bite?  It wasn't on vacation.  It happened in a long series of episodes and thought processes I trace back to 9/11, when all of us, in some form or another, questioned what it was to be Americans.  I dressed in Continental Army garb that year -- in this case, a poor imitation.

That costumey Revolutionary War get-up from 2001.
I was on my way, but not to any trip in the re-enacting past, not until that trip to Williamsburg in 2004.  My journal reveals my thought process, especially on that first evening in April, when it seemed nobody was around, and the hotel was half-empty.
In the Governor's Palace garden at Williamsburg, 2004
I came into my room. The room is clean, it’s okay, it’s nice. But I gotta tell you, I was feeling a little bummed out, because I thought, well, you know, nobody’s coming here. Did I pick a bad time to come? I got my tickets, and I thought, well, I’m not gonna sit around here all night. This was like 7:00 at night, so I decided to go into the marketplace here in Williamsburg, and then I ran into the crowds and the historic shops, historic houses and I remembered why I came. And it was a good feeling. My enthusiasm was back up again. I was thinking of all the things I wanted to do. There were people roaming around in tricorn hats and breeches, and the interpreters were out there doing their thing, leading the candlelight tours. I went down the street, shot video and picked up some tickets for tomorrow night -- a couple of things I’m going to do.

And later on that night, after I’d walked around the place and shot some video as the sun set, I decided I was in the mood for a little bit of fun so I went to Josiah Chowning’s Tavern, a place I’d heard about the last time I was here, but we never went into, a colonial tavern. And I gotta tell you, it was fun! I mean, it was really neat.
Inside Chowning's, 2004, one mug of many.
I got half drunk that night at Chowning's on Williamsburg Ale. I'm glad I walked. I'm glad I made it back to the hotel in one piece. But once my head was clear, I began to take in the other sights and atmosphere, especially in the night-time programs:

Wow, I just came back from a wonderful experience on one of Colonial Williamsburg’s nighttime programs. It’s called “Cry Witch,” which is a reenactment, so to speak, of a trial we think took place in 1706 with a Virginia woman accused of witchcraft, where it’s done in the Capitol building and the audience portrays the jury, who ultimately vote to decide this woman’s guilt or innocence. And they also get to ask questions during the trial, too. A few brave souls addressed the court, those who were brave enough, and I was not one of them, asked a few questions of the governor -- er, not the governor, but his Excellency.

I guess you could call it interactive drama at its best: very, very compelling, very watchable production. I was seated in the front row, and let me tell you, it felt real. Very, very real. I was on the edge of my seat, literally. I mean, the actors were that close and 200 some years away from me. Welcome to the past. I just felt it tonight. That was spooky, that was scary and that was unforgettable.

So the process continues... and when it is complete, on the evening on my final day....
Would I do it again? Maybe in about five or six years. Give it some time, give it some space, maybe not for four days, but I’ll definitely be back one of these days. Do it again, somehow, somewhere, someday.
I would be back in 2008, with friends, wearing a proper Continental Army uniform or proper fancy 18th Century Ball attire. And that was just the start of it.

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