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Patriots' Day: Two Mornings in April

Patriots’ Day: Two Mornings in April
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Well, kind of, I want to interject, but I hold my tongue. Patriots’ Day isn’t a time to debate the finer points of history. The boy is smiling, and that’s good enough.

A few hours later, I find myself behind a pack of excitable but slow-moving Boy Scouts on the path that hugs the old road that the British followed as they retreated back to Boston after the shots at Concord.

The boys take turns describing how they would kill a British soldier. “I would cut off his head,” one shouts. “Well, I would cut off his head and then shoot his head!” boasts another.

There are enough national studies, political gaffes, and Tonight Show “Jay Walking” segments to prove that we as a culture are not that interested in our own history. The boys in front of me are the exception. They’re still at the age when history is inherently interesting because it’s the subject in school that most closely resembles a Mel Gibson movie. In a few years, though, it will be harder for them to imagine phantom Redcoats darting among the trees. Most will lose interest. Those precious few who don’t will become history nerds, and from there it’s a short, slippery slope to becoming a historical reenactor.

There are far more reenactors in this country than you’d ever guess, a fact that’s easy to see at the park’s annual “Battle Road” events. For Revolutionary reenactors, this is their Woodstock. Units travel from several states to participate in this day of demonstrations, which culminates in the reenactment of the battle at Meriam’s Corner.

The Scouts and I round a bend in the road, and the treeline opens up on a small field filled with scores of people dressed in striking red British uniforms. Some of them are cooking over campfires, while others are just talking with the tourists. A line of regulars is undergoing inspection, blocking the path ahead. A woman in bright-purple jogging shorts squeezes around the line of soldiers. On any other day this park is a popular running path, but today, much to her surprise, it’s an 18th-century encampment. The British commanding officer chuckles as she offers him an embarrassed, “Hi, sorry,” then continues down the path, jogging a little faster than before.

If you ask reenactors why they get into this, you get a lot of answers, but ultimately the conversation always comes back to one common theme: fun. In this country it’s common to dress up like the thing you’re passionate about, whether in a Tom Brady jersey at a Pats game or a Starfleet singlet at a sci-fi convention. We take our fandom seriously. Reenactors are really no different; they just root for something more important than pop culture.

In a few minutes, the Redcoats form up and begin their march to Meriam’s Corner. After the shots at Concord, the British were subjected to a string of ambush attacks all the way back to Boston. Meriam’s Corner was the largest of these skirmishes, and as such it’s by far the largest reenactment of the weekend.

The same Park Service rules apply. No one falls down, though with so many people on the field, it’s less obvious that they’re not aiming at one another. The colonial forces attack, retreat, and reform over and over again as the British column moves slowly but steadily down the road. At times, it’s hard to tell exactly what’s going on, and a reenactor would later confess to me that this battle is probably more for themselves than it is for us.

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