This Friday kicks off Veterans Day Weekend at the New-York Historical Society! And one of the ways we are honoring those who served in the armed forces is by bringing three centuries of military history to life.
On Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, meet a variety of Living Historians portraying soldiers from the American Revolution, Civil War, or World War I. Each day features a special African American regiment from the past, too.
What can you expect at this weekend’s programs? There’s no one better to ask than one of our best Living Historians! On Saturday, Algernon is leading the day’s featured Civil War reenacting unit, the 6th United States Colored Troops (though he also reenacts the American Revolution on other occasions). Read on to discover what Living History means to Algernon, how he became a reenactor, and what he is most excited for this weekend.
DiMenna Children’s History Museum: How would you describe a Living Historian? What is Living History?
Algernon Ward: The names “Living Historian” and “reenactor” are often used interchangeably. Simply put, they are people who bring historical figures to life by adopting their persona and acting as if they were that person. “Living History” is the act of telling a story from history by acting like a person who was actually there at the time.
DCHM: When and how did you become a Living Historian?
AW: In 1999, a friend of mine named Fred Minus convinced me to come and see a reenactment of a Civil War battle. I was so impressed by the authenticity of not only the battle but also the campsites, complete with horses, tents, women cooking food true to the period, and even children dressed in period clothing. It was as if I had gone back through time in a time machine. It looked like fun, so I bought a uniform from one of the merchants there, and I participated in a battle that afternoon. I’ve been having fun ever since.
DCHM: What is your favorite part of being a Living Historian? What has interested you most about it?
AW: I really enjoy sharing the stories from history that people often don’t know about. I have found that people will adjust their thinking about today’s world when they learn from history and how things came to be as they are.
DCHM: Who will you be portraying from the 19th century and how will you distinctly portray them?
AW: I portray an African American soldier from the Union Army who fought in the American Civil War. My portrayal includes clothing, weapons, and everyday articles such as combs, eating utensils, and a wooden flute.
DCHM: What advice would you give to a kid who is interested in becoming a Living Historian or learning about history?
AW: Find a person or event that interests you, then do the research on that person by reading books, watching films, and going to the places where that person lived or event happened. Talk to historians and other people who know about the topic.
DCHM: What kinds of stories do you think need to be told more often in Living History?
AW: There are many stories from the past that have yet to be told. The lives of ordinary people, including women and people from different races, are often neglected. Dare to be different. Tell the stories of those who are usually overlooked in order to do something new.
DCHM: What are you most looking forward to sharing with families over Veterans Day Weekend? What’s something kids shouldn’t miss?
AW: We’re looking forward to sharing the stories of what it was like to be a soldier during the American Revolution and the Civil War. We want everyone to experience what daily life was like hundreds of years ago. Willing kids can even join us in a drill like a real soldier! See you at the New-York Historical Society on Veterans Day Weekend!
Thanks to Algernon for taking the time to tell us all about Living History with the 6th United States Colored Troops on Veterans Day! In addition to meeting Algernon and his fellow Union soldiers then, you can learn more about New York’s military history by visiting the Museum on Friday and Sunday, too! Share your experience at the Museum with #VetsDayNYHS.
— J.M. Wasko, DiMenna Children’s History Museum