Report from a Re-Enactment II: Conversations with a Mohawk Warrior and a Damn Yankee

We Don’t Do First Person

One thing preoccupied me during the battle: what are they thinking?

What do they think while they’re marching up and down the field, and firing muskets at one another, or wandering in and out of the white canvas tents. Obviously, a lot of their attention would be taken up trying to figure out where you were supposed to be when, just because the choreography for a crowd that large has to be pretty demanding. But when they were in position, and taking aim at the opposing line, what did they think? Did they imagine themselves to be in 1812, representing a person who might actually have lived through the original version of that moment? In other words, if the battle was theatre, were they actors as well as re-enactors? Continue reading “Report from a Re-Enactment II: Conversations with a Mohawk Warrior and a Damn Yankee”

Report from a Re-Enactment I: The Theatre of War in Four Acts

The Niagara River in its brightest season. October 2012.

Welcome to 1812

Reasoning that it qualified as dissertation-research (for me, that is), D and I drove down to the Niagara Peninsula last weekend to watch the re-enactment of the Battle of Queenston Heights. This event was part of a huge, national project to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, with events planned all around Ontario and Quebec for the next two years.  There will be fancy-dress armies, historically-accurate food, tall ships, sea-battles, red-coats, poke bonnets. Laura Secord. Tecumseh. General Isaac Brock. The events are spectacular, and expensive, equal parts educational opportunity and vacation plan.

This event drew nearly a thousand re-enactors, many of them men who double as combatants in the Seven Years War, or the American Civil War. It lasted all weekend, with Saturday devoted to the battle, and Sunday to “Brock”‘s funeral, and a slow march in costume through Niagara-on-the-Lake. Continue reading “Report from a Re-Enactment I: The Theatre of War in Four Acts”

Prologue to a Series on Queenston Heights: What I Know About the War of 1812 I Learned from Johnny Horton

I was trying to remember when I first heard about the War of 1812, and I came up with two icons I must have encountered when I was very small, though I could not say exactly when: Laura Secord and Johnny Horton.  Laura Secord has a pretty obvious 1812 connection, so obvious she even has her own historica minute.  Johnny Horton might require an explanation.

When I was about seven I had Johnny Horton’s Greatest Hits on a beige audio tape, without a case, one that a neighbour kid left at our house when he moved. It was an unfortunate oversight on his part, one that has, sadly, informed my sense of American history as much as L.M. Alcott or Herman Melville or Frederick Douglass.  It’s a good thing I’m not an historian, because I’m pretty sure they’d take away my degrees for that.

So, as a seven year old I absorbed a peppy, post-war version of American history, much preoccupied with battles and heroic men:  Johnny Reb fights all the way through the Civil War, Ol’ Hick’ry defeats the Red Coats with a weaponized alligator, Davey Crockett strangles a bear and dies at the Alamo, and even the Bismarck is imagined in Texan terms, with guns as big as steers and shells as big as trees.  It’s Disney-history, nuggets of sepia-toned high adventure rendered as three-minute narratives in 4/4, with Horton’s band singing “Mush! Mush!” behind him, as Big Sam McCord goes north to Alaska (where the rush is on). Continue reading “Prologue to a Series on Queenston Heights: What I Know About the War of 1812 I Learned from Johnny Horton”

The Yellow Staircase

 

A very, very bright yellow meme.

 

In the building there I work there is a cinderblock staircase painted a very bright, very penetrating shade of yellow. The concrete steps are painted grey; there are no windows, and for a number of turns and landings between the fifth and third floors there are no doors, either, so for a long stretch you circle around and around as you descend, and there’s no way out. This makes me, at least, think existential thoughts.

The upper flowers are solid yellow, with only a few calligraphic flourishes here and there, graffitied in black marker.  Drawings and words start to collect between the fifth and fourth, and by the time you’ve descended to the third the walls are full of images and words.

There are official-looking murals on a few walls, part of the Yellow Staircase Project,I assume. There are also a lot of Very Inspiring Quotes Meant to Inspire Students. That’s okay. Continue reading “The Yellow Staircase”