Lonely Planet Writer

How to be a reenactor?

One of these days Will Ferrell will do a reenactor film. The middle-management guy who needs a break from strip malls and polite weekend barbecues, he'll see a Civil War film on a whim, a few days later he'll drive by a blood-spattered, gray-bearded captain on horseback vainly raising his sword with a shout, and stop to check it out. Everyone will be invited to laugh at his brand of commitment, but he'll sell it too - that the enthusiasm and joy of 'pretend histories' might catch on. And, friends, that's how the Reenactor Renaissance will be born.

Until then, maybe travel can help.

Last year, I visited Gettysburg, Pennsylvania - easily as moving a national park site as I've seen - and asked Rebel reenactors how they die first. I got as many answers as reenactors asked - in fact more (one guy told me it was by number, by commander's command, AND 'whenever you see a guy shoot at you... you sort of HAVE to fall!').

This year, I wanted to get deeper into the role - by becoming a reenactor for a day. Fortunately, Philadelphia's Independence National Historical Park chipped in, setting aside a costume of an 18th century printer, and signed me up as a 'volunteer' for the reenactment commemorating the 234th anniversary of the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence. I learned a lot. Reenactors mean it. They love it. They research. They cop clipped faux British accents. And are ready to answer questions, like why one is ripping up copies of the Declaration of Independence.

Naturally, to add spice to it all, I signed up as a king-loving Loyalist - and nerves shot through me with every ring of Independence Hall's bell.

Ferrell, need any extras?

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National parks work and breathe off volunteering options - including ones without knee pants, tri-cornered hats, buckled shoes and way too much wool for 95 degrees. Check here for more information. And pick up Lonely Planet's new Volunteer guide on how to volunteer worldwide.