Reenactor groups currently cover all periods of American history, from the Revolutionary War to WW II and Korea. The first military reenactment is believed to have taken place on the 50th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. Over 50,000 veterans of the war attended and many of the engagements, including Pickett’s Charge, were reenacted. In 1988, Time magazine estimated there were 50,000 Reenactors in the United States.
While most periods of time, and all our previous wars have their reenacting aficionados, political reenacting is totally ignored! I get the feeling that is about to change. Drastically. Whether a reenactment of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address or the stirring demands of Reagan’s “Tear Down This Wall” the one thing a political reenactor must master is the signature American political statement. The Tar and Feathering.
The first recorded Tar and Feathering was a punishment decreed by Richard the First in 1191. It continued in Europe and was seized and popularized in colonial America, especially Massachusetts. British Customs Officers seemed to receive the brunt of the punishment, one in particular, John Malcolm was unpopular and hard headed enough to receive it twice before moving back to England. It was so popular even colonial women employed it. One such story is about a woman who named her newborn after a particularly unpopular British Commander, about 170 women gathered, marched to the mother’s house, and presented the mother “with a suit of tar and feathers.” Brian Deming has more history of the sport.
The amount of realism you put into your reenacting depends on the situation and the funding you have available. While pine tar was readily available in colonial days you may have to find a modern replacement. You and your participants may be unwilling to part with your own feather pillows. Historically, when faced with a shortage of pine tar and feathers our patriotic forebears readily made use of alternative products, molasses and cattails for one. Prior planning will be the key to solving your dilemma. Bags of feathers are readily available from any poultry processor and any number of modern adhesives is available in sufficient quantity. You will want to give these some thought, while super glue is a tempting substitute, making up in difficulty of removal for what it lacks in heat during application, it probably dries too quickly to allow the proper level of feather adherence. Note: Do not use fireants or other stinging insects, anaphylactic shock will put an end to your reenactments for at least the duration of your prison sentence.
Your attire is another consideration. While popularized in colonial America the practice continued until at least the 1830s, probably longer in the western territories. The expense of purchasing a set of hose, waist coats and tricorn hats shouldn’t hold you back. Wear what you have and do the best you can. No matter what era you are recreating, don’t wear buckled shoes or western boots. A good pair of running shoes is always recommended, as is identifying preferred escape routes before you arrive on site.
Until political reenacting catches on with the rest of America, you and your group may find yourselves too small to recreate the “Mob Scene” as portrayed in the video above. Don’t let that stop you, teaching people about our glorious American political heritage is far too important to be stopped by minor inconveniences. The “PETA Method” only requires three reenactors, one to throw a bucket full of tar, one to sprinkle the feathers and one to video the event. One or two of these of these events will see membership in your Living History group skyrocket. Small groups can also exploit the “Tar and Feathering in Effigy” method. This allows you to take your time and gives you a chance to practice your tar application in private before embarrassing yourself in public. Once you have practiced sufficiently, take your effigy down to your congress-critter’s office and hang it off the building. Once again, the cameraman will want to be present to record the wide eyed look of appreciation on the face of your history loving elected representative when he comes in for work the next morning. You may want to provide an anonymous tip to the local papers and allow them to share your Living History with the entire city as well.
Signs were common in colonial days. Hung around a victim's neck or just stuck to the tar on his chest, signs helped identify the act or acts that drew such lavish attention upon the victim. They also help to orient any passers by who may not immediately understand what is going on. A bit of imagination goes a long way when designing your signs. While "Democrat" may be enough to rouse your own ire, an explanation such as "Changed His Vote to Yes on Healthcare!" may actually motivate passers by to participate. Creativity will attract followers as well. It also makes memorable headlines for the citizens of your city who were unable to attend the event. One reminder, always wear gloves when handling your signs.
Once your group has grown sufficiently to execute the “Mob Scene” there are still planning considerations. An important part of the mob scene was transporting the victim to his or her place of public display. The scarcity of pillories in American cities is a hindrance but assuring the attendance of your local press will handle the public display without the added expense of building or purchasing a set of stocks. “Riding on a Rail” also had a number of fans, allowing the mob to wear off a bit of the adrenaline that a good tar and feathering always produces. With the epidemic obesity in our society, especially among our elected “betters” carrying a rail may not be feasible. It would require the efforts of your entire mob to carry Barney Frank and then no one would have wind enough to cheer and shout. Wheelbarrows were commonly used in colonial America, there’s no reason a convertible or the bed of a pickup truck could not be used today. The spirit of the reenactment is the important part. Remember to listen for the sirens that will signal the end of your event.
Mobs should involve as many of the townspeople as possible, this adds a more threatening and accurate aura as well as making identification of individual members difficult. If the local Sheriff or Chief of Police is a member of your Living History group you are Golden! An attorney or two, in lieu of the Sheriff is acceptable, though in light of today’s litigious society you may want to assign your attorney as the cameraman and advise him to use a zoom lens from across the street. Someone will have to arrange for bail and provide representation; planning for a public defender is no plan at all. The attorney’s in my own group assure me that the full blown “Mob Scene” could result in a minimum of the following charges:
-First Degree Assault & Battery (premeditation, as evidenced by the tar and the feathers)
- False imprisonment (you imprisoning an uncooperative victim)
- Conspiracy to all of the above
- Possible Federal crimes (who knows where this would go once Holder got hold of it)
- Absolutely, positively civil proceedings, designed to separate you and your group members from your money and your new found hobby.
Good luck in your efforts to remind the American people of our proud political heritage, as described by Thomas Jefferson:
When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty.