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Civil War Re-enactment

Tess Civantos | Monday, February 2, 2009

When was the last time you saw somebody wearing a hoopskirt? For that matter, when was the last time you wore a hoopskirt?

For me, the answer to both questions is late last August.

In fact, I actually happen to own a hoopskirt, an 1800s corset, petticoats, two hoopskirt-equipped dresses and a bonnet which I consider rather fetching.

I’m a Civil War re-enactor.

No, I don’t speak in 1800s dialect, and I don’t run away in terror whenever a bus pulls up.

But I do use a bucket, washboard and clothesline to do laundry when I’m at work. I do wear a snood (ten points if you know what a “snood” is).

I’m not the kind of re-enactor who travels around with a troop of re-enacting Union or Confederate soldiers (We all know what those girls are like).

I work at a museum – in the schoolhouse, actually. I love it. Anyone who’s ever read or watched the “Little House on the Prairie” series, “Anne of Green Gables,” or “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” has had secret fantasies about the one-room schoolhouse with rows of wood-top desks, boys on one side and girls on the other. The coal-burning potbelly stove in the middle filled with dry cornhusks the children bring. The old McGuffey’s Reader textbooks with their ancient spelling lessons and quaint fables. The two outhouses out back, one for boys and one for girls. The slates and chalk at the narrow little desks, where the re-enacting children often crowd two to a seat – not because they need to, but because they like to sit with their friends.

When the students are all hunched over their slates working diligently on their spelling or sums, the stove is humming, and there are no tourists snapping photos of us, I could swear it really is 1862.

I’m not sure why I love re-enacting, although I certainly do. I plan to keep re-enacting my whole life. Considering I started when I was nine years old, the reasons I do it have certainly changed over time.

I think it used to just be an excuse to play dress-up. And honestly, that’s probably still a big part of it. It might be the peace I feel at Naper Settlement Museum, where I work. No ringing phones, no blaring music or TV, just quiet afternoons spent knitting, reading aloud, and giving the kids as many recesses as they want.

But the truth is, I think the real reason I love it is because, for the four or five or six hours that I’m there, I’m living in 1862. Who hasn’t wished they could time-travel? Because of my incredible job, I have the rare privilege of living in a different place and time whenever I want.