Staying 18th Century Authentic in a 21st Century World

Re-enactors Bring History to Life in Mount Prospect

Revolutionary war re-enactors are a hearty bunch. They camp in authentic 18th century tents in all kinds of weather. They stow their cell phones, coffee makers, and go without air conditioning, to present visitors with the chance to experience living history. To an outsider it might seem strange. To a beginner, it was a little daunting as well.

A re-enactor since 1975, Hazel Dickfoss of Racine, WI, and her family were among the first members of the Northwest Territory Alliance (NWTA) revolutionary re-enactment group. She read an item in the newspaper about the group’s formation and mentioned it to her spouse, because “it seemed like his kind of thing,” she says. After attending the organizational meeting her family enthusiastically informed her, “We’re going to go sleep in tents! You’re going to make our clothes,” says Dickfoss, laughing.

Now came the tricky part. Growing up in the United Kingdom, Dickfoss knew her British history but not much about American history and she was eager to learn more about her adopted nation. “There wasn’t much costume research at that time, though,” she says. There was also some misinformation or lack of knowledge about the role of women in the Revolution. At one event, a gentleman somewhat rudely suggested to her that women had no place in the re-enactment—that no women would have been around the army. “I knew women had to be involved so I began to research the lives of women during the Revolution.” She read eye-witness accounts of hundreds of women marching behind the American army, a group so large they were remarked upon in bystanders’ journals.

Today, her interest in the era has evolved into a focus on women’s fashion of the period. “I am learning all the time,” she says. She attends seminars on the topic of historic clothing in Williamsburg, VA, at the heart of the colonial period in America. Her studies have taken her back across the pond to London, where she asks to see women’s clothing which is not typically on display. “I ask to see the linen and cotton items,” she says. “These items are fragile and rare because they were usually worn until they were worn out.” Garments of linen and cotton might also have been repurposed for other household uses.

William Booth/NWTA

Courtesy of William Booth / NWTA

About 9 years ago, her family became merchants specializing in 18th century attire, including fabrics, sewing patterns, knitting goods and all the notions needed to make an outfit for the revolution or a ball. “We started our business because it was hard to find fabrics to make authentic clothing,” she says. Known as “William Booth, Draper,” they work to stay as close to authentic as possible, substituting when necessary. Buttons of the era would have been made of ivory but now bone is used instead. In the 18th century, drapers sold fabrics.

Remaining authentic is important to the re-enactors and the NWTA organization inspects its members’ attire every few years to ensure it is correct and authentic to the period,” says Dickfoss. Her son Paul and daughter-in-law Laura are continuing the family tradition and visitors will find them at their “shop,” William Booth, Draper, at the Sign of the Unicorn, at the Mount Prospect re-enactment.

Colony and Crown: A Revolutionary Experience will be held May 14-15 in Mount Prospect’s Lions Memorial Park, 411 S. Maple St. The Revolutionary War encampment and re-enactment will feature more than 100 re-enactors from around the Midwest and will include mock battles, bayonet and tomahawk competitions, artillery demonstrations, authentic 18th century military and civilian camps, merchants, music appropriate to the time period, food and much more. Admission is cash only, $10 for adults and $5 for those 2-12.

Comments

  1. Diana Taylor :

    Please send me a schedule of the RW events. I am trying to get a crowd together but we need a timeframe.

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