I did not know that the Gestapo were based in Maryland in the War of 1812.
Seriously though, I have a few comments to make about historic site and NPS
regulations. I work for Parks Canada, and in the 1980's, we borrowed all of the
NPS historic weapons regulations, word for word. I know that the NPS regs I saw
then required all people firing smallarms and/or artillery to wear earplugs.
Many sites have had decible testing done, and the simple fact is that if ya fire
enough muskets, especially rammed with paper wadding, you will damage your
hearing. Another important point is that each site has different accoustics.
At Fort George, our tests show that a musket demonstrator is OK, in our large
open space. We require earplugs for artillery firing. At Fort Wellington, or
inside the walls of Fort Erie, you are in a more confined space, and the risk is
greater. I assume that at Fort McHenry, they may simply be applying existing
The risk of lawsuit is more than real. One Ontario site has, for many years,
paid compensation to a former employee for causing hearing loss: now each new
employee takes a hearing test so that the site can document hearing conditions
before beginning the job. Also, all of their staff wear earplugs. Again, most
historic site regulations apply to employees, and Provincial or State or Federal
Labour laws likely apply. In one case in Ontario, a black powder accident
resulted in charges under the Labour legislation. The basic problem, is that as
a hobbiest, I can on my own time take up any sort of dangerous, deadly hobby,
(such as skydiving, bingo, doing yet another time period,or correcting my
spouse), and generally a re-enactor is willing to take personal risks that a
site is not prepared to take with their employees, because of their
responsibilities for their staff, volunteers, and the public as event hosts. At
the end of the day, if there is a really serious accident, everyone can face
lawsuit and even criminal charges, but the site managers and employees also can
expect to loose their livelihood. Not only that, but if senior managers in any
organization become convinced that historic weapons, black powder and pointy
things are simply too dangerous to continue, then re-enactment events, and even
on site demonstrations by staff and volunteers will end. I think that if any
Parks Canada site had a serious accident, the entire national programme would be
in jeapardy, or certainly under review. This would certainly influence other
historic sites. And yes, reenactors will sue each other and the host site.
I find it interesting that a NPS site such as Fort McHenry would even consider
being in an opposed sides tactical. As I understand it, their strict rules grew
out of the heady days of early American Civil War re-enacting, when the
occasional participant had the ill manners to actually get killed on site. This
resulted in a ban on opposed sites tacticals at NPS sites, and I have been told
that legislation has to be passed in order for this to be overuled for
exceptional circumstances, such as at the Yorktown Bicentennial Event. If the
NPS is considering opposed sides events, I think most of us would welcome this.
New Orleans would be great!
There may have been another reason why the McHenry guard unit could not
participate. Funding for heritage programs in Canada and the USA has not
exactly been outstanding over the past decade,( We strive for adequacy?) and
most student guard units I am aware of are made up of young people, with very
limited experience and virtually no reenacting experience. "Corporate Memory"
for a group can vanish in a season. Many of these people are high school
students, employed in very brief seven or eight week programmes. While they
are trained to put on the show at Fort Anthrax or wherever safely, they may not
be safe in a reenactment. ("I don't know what they do to the French, but by God,
they terrify me!"). This occurred at a non-1812 event this summer, where
costumed students really frightened reenactors at the event. If the sergeant of
a site guard has been ordered not to participate in a tactical, I think I would
accept this judgement call. We sometimes send Fort George staff to events, but
only if we are certain that they are trained, and only under the direct
supervision of an employee with extensive reenacting experience.
Finally, because each site manager has to carry the can, in our regs, (and I
am certain that this is the case with the NPS), each site superviser can set and
enforce stricter rules than the basic standard. The Parks Canada rules are the
MINIMUM standard. As a site manager, I can decide to allow a cannon to fire
once each day, instead of enforcing our 5 minute waiting rule. I also have the
option of never firing it at all. I am certain that in Parks Canada, and in the
NPS, no employee ever gets paid extra money or receives very much recognition
for running a site black powder programme or hosting a reenactment event.
Hosting a reenactment event is a bit like having to piss yourself while wearing
dark trousers-- Briefly there is a warm feeling inside, but then no one notices.
My point is that there is not always much incentive for historic sites to host
programs and events. This is very unfortunate.
Sometimes criticisms of the NPS and Parks Canada are valid, but sometimes I
hear unconstructive and uncharitable bitching and moaning about heritage
organizations that have really supported living history in both Canada and the
United States. In Ontario, many of the first 1812 units got extensive and
generous support from historic sites, researchers, curators and site staff.
Patterns, unit histories, drill manuals, and other research were all made
available. Sometimes equipment was loaned out. Many site staff played key roles
in forming reenactment groups, and many learned their stuff in historic site
programs. In the US, the classic 1950's book, Interpreting Our Heritage, gave
the intellectual justification for, and led to a revival of, living history
programs. It was written by an NPS employee.
I think that reenactors and historic site staff can support one another, and
learn from one another, but it really helps to try to understand both
perspectives. Perhaps in future living history conferences, historic site staff
and reenactor panels could carry on a useful dialogue.