The other night my father was scanning some old slides and sent me a picture of me on April 19, 1975, at the 200th anniversary of the battle at Lexington and Concord. I was nine years old at the time and was infatuated with April 19th, and my love of the history of the American Revolution had begun a few years earlier in 1973. I have to say that the picture brought back many memories, but it also made me feel really old that it was Fifty years ago! The image of the little kid in a tri-cornered hat and toy musket made me also think back to how that infatuation as a kid has never waned and has grown so much.
Elementary and middle school field trips to the Concord Museum and other local sites where there were historical objects turned me into a material culture fanatic. As a kid with learning disabilities, the objects that survived from the Revolution helped bring the importance of the event to life for me. I would sit in awe and stare at muskets carried during the war, or even simple everyday objects that had been owned by a veteran. As I got into middle and high school, I began to read about the Civil War, Word War I and II, and began collecting. At the time, American Revolution and a lot of Civil War objects were a little too pricey, but World War I and II were somewhat affordable.
My first musket was purchased in 1978, a reproduction British Pattern 1769 land musket, more commonly called today the “Brown Bess.” After joining a local minute company, I began drumming and a few years later when I was old enough to carry my musket, reenacting. For me, reenacting became an opportunity to reproduce some of the clothing, equipment, and try to understand it in a different way than seeing it behind glass. I also started reenacting Civil War, and in 1992, was an extra in the film Gettysburg. Seeing that many people in uniform marching and drilling gave me more of an idea of the soldier’s experience, although we were certainly not being shot at.
Collecting was also really fun. There was always another friend or two to hit every show, flea market, auction, or yard sale we could find, picking up bits of history to display and handle. It helped create not only a collection, but a group of friends and family I still see at shows all over the country.
Research and archaeology also became big passions of mine. I always felt that going through an archive was a form of archaeology in itself. Combining that with actual field work, I have learned some amazing things about our past that help weave history together.
I guess I should consider myself a lucky guy. I get to see and handle great pieces of history every day. After seeing that picture of little Joel the other night and reminiscing, I need to remember how cool my job and passions really are, and how that young kid helped form who I am today.
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