Capture a living history, visit a Renaissance Faire in Sterling Forest or Sterling, in New York, or a Civil War or Revolutionary reenactment near Elmira, NY
Reenactments are popular these days, and, being a historical buff of some degree, I have attended a few in the past few years. From the Middle Ages to the Revolutionary War to the Civil War, I have enjoyed them all.
Renaissance Faires: Sterling and Sterling Forest
Recently, my wife and I attended a Renaissance Faire in Sterling Forest, New York, in the tri-state area of Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey. We visited in its second week – the fair begins during the first week in August, ends in September, and is open only on the weekends. By coincidence, another Renaissance Faire in the area takes place in Sterling along the shores of Lake Ontario. The Sterling fair begins in July and ends in August.
The Sterling Forest Faire revolves along with two storylines that come together at the end of the day. The first involves Queen Elizabeth signing a treaty with Spain and marrying the Duke of Parma, nephew of King Phillip of Spain. The other involves the classic storyline of Robin Hood, the Duke of Nottingham, and Maid Marion.
Robin Hood and his Merry Men – Men in Tights for Mel Brooks fans – welcomed everyone entering the Faire at the ten AM opening. The cast processional through the grounds followed the opening.
During the day, different events took place. We watched the Queen and Duke of Parma dance, party, and negotiate terms for peace between England and Spain. At the same time, the Duke of Nottingham harassed the locals for taxes while chasing Robin Hood. The latter paraded around with his Merry Men as he wooed Maid Marian.
The Shows: Mudmen Fear Factor to Queen Elizabeth
If that’s not enough excitement, other shows included Mudmen Fear Factor. These three guys competed in the mud and splashed about, dirtying each other as well as the kids sitting in the first few rows, but the Sterling mudmen were far muddier.
We witnessed a father and son knife throwing team, who threw knives, darts, and tomahawks at each other. Did I mention they used a bullwhip, too? We watched a guy juggle an apple, a knife, and a running chainsaw at the same time. As he said, “There’s nothing that says Renaissance Faire like a chainsaw.”
We watched a jousting contest. Competitors speared hay bales and knocked over obstacles. We visited pubs where the likes of gravedigger Philip Holes and Crossbones McCoy entertained with music and humor. We ate turkey legs and fries, but there were many other foods available, such as ribs, steak, or sausage on a stick – even cheesecake on a stick. My wife loved the many shops around the grounds that offered costumes, swords, mystic decoration, and even fortune-telling.
The finale concluded at the jousting arena in front of the castle. Queen Elizabeth prepared to marry the Duke only to have the ceremony interrupted when Sir Francis Drake informed the Queen that the Duke planned to undermine her and take over England.
Instead of punishing the Duke, a joust took place. England defeated Spain. Afterward, the Duke tried to kill the Queen, but Robin Hood saved the queen and redeemed himself.
The Newtown Battlefield State Park in Elmira, NY
Now advance yourself a few hundred years. The Newtown Battlefield State Park, just south of Elmira on Route 17, hosts a Revolutionary War reenactment each year in late August. You just missed it! The Battle of Newtown actually took place a mile or so down the road in Lowman and was the only significant battle in Sullivan’s expedition to end the Iroquois threat to the colonists in the area after they sided with the British in the war.
General Sullivan led the colonists in battle along the Chemung River, outflanking the Iroquois and the Loyalist for a solid victory. Over 5,000 men fought in the battle. After the battle, Sullivan’s troops carried out a scorched earth policy, burning many Iroquois villages in upstate New York — revenge for Tory and Iroquois attacks earlier in the war. Many of the Native Americans were without food or settler during the winter and froze or starved.
The re-enactors, a little shy on the Tory and Iroquois side, battled in the August heat. Muskets fired and both sides whooped and howled at each other. I love the smell of gunpowder in the afternoon. Before the battle, they were demonstrations. In one I watched, a knowledgeable re-enactor informed the crowd about the clothes the colonists wore as well as those the Tories wore.
The Civil War
Now time travel nearly one hundred years. I’ve been to two Civil War reenactments and both have been at the Newtown Battlefield Park south of Elmira. I’ve longed to spend the first week in July in Gettysburg for the big one there, but it seems that others plan always to invade that goal. This year it was a wedding – mine. I’ll tell you more about that in the future.
The last time, my wife and I took our kids and they loved it. Since there were no Civil War battles fought north of Gettysburg, the soldiers recreated a battle that took place elsewhere. The southern rebels stormed from one side of the woods as the Union troops came up from the opposite with cannons exploding and muskets firing.
As the two fronts battle, soldiers fall, feigning wounds mortal or otherwise. The generals, including those who resemble General Ulysses S. Grant and General Robert E. Lee, stand in the background directing their troops.
“What’s going on?” one kid asked. Before we could answer, a woman standing nearby began a long explanation of the North and South, the blue and the grey, and how each side fought. When she finished, the boys turned to her confused.
She simply said, “That team is going to come over that hill and try to capture the other team’s flag.” The boys understood.
The cannons may be too loud for some children. one child said, “The cannons are so loud they are hurting my heart.” But we couldn’t take him away from the sideline action.
The price of admission is very reasonable. Reenactors set up tents to sell Civil War artifacts while participants dressed in Civil War regalia walk about talking to people or hanging out at their camps. A couple roamed the grounds dressed as Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd Lincoln.
Shuttle buses, including the Elmira trolley, transport visitors from the camps and battlefields to the parking lot and encampments on higher ground, but the walk isn’t far. At the far end of Newton Battlefield is a permanent Native American encampment that visitors can walkthrough. During reenactments, participants answer questions, especially from kids.
We asked a Native American to re-enactor what the Native Americans ate. He told about the three sisters – corn, squash, and beans – that helped feed them.