Revolutionary War re-enactors in Wisconsin keep history alive
JANESVILLE, Wis.—When Bill and Marilyn Hess participate in a Revolutionary War reenactment, they transform into those who lived 18th century life.
Bill, 75, becomes a captain in Alexander Hamilton's New York Provincial Company of Artillery.
Marilyn, 75, portrays an officer's wife, a woman traveling with the Army or an 18th century prostitute.
The Janesville couple have been Revolutionary War reenactors since 1981 and are members of the North West Territory Alliance, a nonprofit educational organization that studies and re-creates the cultures, lifestyle and arts of the time of the American Revolution, 1775-1783.
The alliance strives to duplicate the uniforms, weapons, battlefield tactics and camp life of the era as accurately as possible, Bill said.
A history buff, Marilyn was intrigued by the time period she describes as the start of this country.
"The clothes and the history are interesting," she said.
At his second reenactment in Indiana, Bill met a militiaman, who owned three cannons.
"I bought them five years later," Bill said of the reproduction 1760-1766 cannons with wood carriages and bronze barrels.
The purchase allowed Bill to form an artillery unit within the North West Territory Alliance that puts on seven reenactments a year May through October in five Midwestern states.
"When we started, we did 19 reenactments a year, but there are fewer today because it's gotten expensive for the host city or historical society to put them on," Marilyn said.
A typical reenactment starts with a morning troop inspection of weapons and uniforms plus a court of soldiers. It continues with a men's parade of uniforms that Bill likened to a fashion show with a narrator, then a women's and children's fashion show.
Two battle demonstrations with artillery demonstrations are typically scheduled for the afternoon.
The reenactments are open to the public of all ages.
"We've had some small crowds but also a many as 100,000 in one day," Bill said.
Marilyn is a talented seamstress. She researches, designs and creates all of hers and Bill's period clothing. She's made so many pieces she's lost count.
Reenactments transport Bill to the Revolutionary War era.
"When you put on your period clothing, it brings it into perspective what these are all about. It isn't just about a bunch of guys shooting guns. We have a mission to educate the public about 18th century military and civilian life," he said.
The Hesses are continually researching their clothing and characters.
"Some people don't know the difference between the Civil War and the Revolutionary War," Marilyn said.
"They don't teach it in school anymore about what your great-great-great-granddaddy did a long time ago, so somebody has to keep the history alive," she said.