Restrictions concern reenactors

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An image from the 2002 Rev Times reenactment at the Brandywine Battlefield Park originally published in The Chadds Ford Post.

Local battle reenactors are up in arms over a directive from the PHMC that they fear could squash all mock battle reenactments in the state. A memo from Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission Executive Director Andrea Lowery issued on Jan. 26 pulls the plug on the “force on force” demonstrations, at least on state-run sites.

“PHMC will no longer host, offer or sponsor at its historic sites and museums battle reenactments or demonstrations of physical conflict that involve exchanges of weapons fire, the taking of casualties, hand-to-hand combat, or any other form of simulated warfare or violence between opposing forces,” the memo reads.

PHMC’s decision is based on the National Park Service policy, she said.

The directive goes into effect May 1 of this year, but it won’t have much of an effect on the Brandywine Battlefield Park because PHMC will still allow firing demonstrations and tactical reenactments. That’s all the Brandywine Battlefield Park has been doing for years. It stopped having the popular annual Rev Times reenactment more than a decade ago.

But the new PHMC policy is still a concern to local reenactors who are planning for a major event in 2027 to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the Battle of Brandywine, the largest land battle of the War of Independence. The fear is that the prohibition on reenactments at PHMC sites will lead to the same type of prohibition at other locations.

For several years, Birmingham Township has been holding reenactments at Sandy Hollow, a major part of the actual battlefield. Of concern is that the new state policy will curtail future reenactments there and at other locations involved in the 1777 Philadelphia campaign.

Randell Spackman, president of the Chadds Ford Historical Society said in a press release that the policy was not voted on by the PHMC commissioners and, therefore, “had no public review period and was rushed to be instated before the 2023 season, which was already planned.”

He also takes issue with a statement in the directive that says force-on-force reenactments carry “inherent safety risks to participants and visitors as well as the potential for damage to historic resources that occurs during such events are unacceptably high when seen in light of PHMC's mandate to preserve and protect the commonwealth's cultural and natural heritage and those who are visiting or working at PHMC's properties.”

In response, Spackman said PHMC should either elaborate or quantify those concerns or “ acknowledge that they are purely a matter of their subjective taste, which is quite different from the view of people that attend reenactments.”

He went on to say that reenactors treat the sites with respect and do not glorify conflict, but “show beliefs and desire for change so strong that individuals took up arms to defend that cause.”

“We take great pride in authenticity and spend countless hours researching to create the most accurate representation of who and what we are portraying...The battles are a huge part of what the public wants to see, remove that and site attendance will suffer. This immersive experience brings the visitors that generate the revenue that supports the additional educational programs vital to the keep our history alive.”

Other reenactors, who asked not to be identified, believe the new PHMC policy reflects political “wokism” and a subtly veiled attack on private gun ownership. Both of which would have a negative impact on their avocation of accurately portraying American history.

According to Spackman, “We cannot let this attitude spread to other states, counties, and private lands.”

Lowery was unavailable for comment.

About Rich Schwartzman

Rich Schwartzman has been reporting on events in the greater Chadds Ford area since September 2001 when he became the founding editor of The Chadds Ford Post. In April 2009 he became managing editor of ChaddsFordLive. He is also an award-winning photographer.

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