A bumper sticker seen at Wheaton's Cantigny Park Sunday explained the attitude that drives those who participate in historical war re-enactments: "History should not be a mystery."
Dozens of re-enactors from the North West Territory Alliance brought the Revolutionary War to life at Cantigny all weekend, showing visitors how men and women lived and fought during that formative era. The NWTA is a not-for-profit group that specializes in re-creating the life of the Revolutionary War period.
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"It's unfortunate, but it seems like many Americans don't know much about their own history, their heritage," said Roselle resident Ron Feldman, a re-enactor who was dressed up as a British soldier Sunday. "This is a great way to keep this period alive."
Visitors to Cantigny on Saturday and Sunday were treated to battle re-enactments, artillery demonstrations and live music from the time. Many of the re-enactors also camped on the Cantigny grounds over the weekend, living the way soldiers and their families would have in the late 18th century. Visitors were free to walk through the camp.
Sunday's morning battle, the first of two to be staged that day, showed the better-equipped British forces overtake a small band of American fighters. A narrator explained the action to the hundreds in the crowd while the re-enactors fired muskets and booming cannons. The explosions set off a few car alarms in the parking lot.
Attention to battlefield detail was high. After one exchange of cannon fire, a British soldier dropped to the ground. A fellow soldier approached and somberly place his downed comrade's hat over his face.
"A lot of these people have studied this period extensively," Feldman, a self-described history buff, said before the battle. "They're experts. It's good because we get a lot of first-generation Americans and recent immigrants at these events who really want to learn how the country got started -- the price that people paid to get it started."
Wheaton resident John Gombotz and Crete resident Tom Langenfeld portrayed British loyalist soldiers Sunday. Both echoed Feldman's statement that re-enactments keep history alive.
"When you see this, and especially when you do it, you really feel what it's like to walk in another man's shoes," Langenfeld said. "You see what the equipment looked like, what it was like to carry this stuff on the battlefield."
Stephen Durning of Aurora brought his two sons to Sunday's activities.
"I've always loved history, and I think my boys get a kick out of seeing stuff they've learned about in school happen right in front of them," he said.