Re-enactors dress up for local pilgrimage experience
In Natchez, Spring Pilgrimage is about remembering a bygone time and sharing the remnants with people from all over the world.
For Trish Hasenmueller, Vivian Murphy and whoever might be tagging along with them, Pilgrimage is about reliving that time, and there is scarcely a better place than Natchez to do so.
“There is so much research that goes into what we do,” Murphy said.
“We have to get the right fabrics, perform the correct techniques of construction, but it’s like dressing up for a party when there is no party.”
“Natchez is our party.”
For the past six years, Hasenmueller has been traveling down to Natchez along with fellow reenactors, but it is Murphy’s second visit.
Natchez gives them a place to fully immerse themselves in the time period.
Throughout their ten-day stay, the women visit many of the houses and fill in as tour guides when needed. They are also invited to act almost as props in the antebellum houses where they sit on the furniture and knit.
“Where we live, there are various museum houses, but we can’t touch anything,” Hasenmueller said. “But here, we are in people’s homes and we are sitting at their tables.”
“We are putting ourselves into the time,” Murphy chimed in. “Instead of reading about it, or looking at artifacts from behind glass panels.”
In Natchez, Hasenmueller and Murphy feel people really appreciate the meticulous nature of their hobby, which has become a passion.
Down to the last stitch of their clothing, they attempt to recreate the exact way people would have lived at the time.
“We are fabric snobs,” Hasenmueller lovingly calls herself and Murphy.
Among other reenacters, in an almost ‘they hate us ‘cause they ain’t us’ way, they are referred to derogatorily as ‘thread counters.’
These are reenactors who go out of their way for authenticity and surround themselves with fellow reenactors who do the same.
“Our only goal is to represent the time period as accurately as possible,” Hasenmueller said. “And this is the only way we know how.”
Hasenmueller and Murphy got into reenacting in two completely different ways.
Murphy, who lives in Keokuk, Iowa, started in her late 40’s after wanting to attended a Civil War reenactment close to her house.
“I went, and the hobby just swallowed me up,” she said. “A lifelong love of history met a lifelong interest in clothing and textiles.”
From then on it was research, research, research. The hobby was an escape from owning and operating a heating and air conditioning company.
“My poor ex-husband,” Murphy said.
“The hobby had absolutely nothing to do with their separation mind you,” Hasenmueller interrupted.
“He had no interest in the hobby, so it could not have been easy on him when I would buy one book and then buy another book and before I knew it there were books everywhere,” Murphy said.
It was early the 1990’s, information about reenactments was difficult to come by, so she looked for information everywhere.
“The internet has made everything so much easier,” Murphy said. “We can now share our experiences with others and find electronic copies of documents.”
She met Hasenmueller when the two were at a reenactment in the early 2000’s. Hasenmueller was rather new to the hobby and did not have a tent.
“I had a bunch of dishes and lanterns, she had a tent,” Hasenmueller said.
Hasenmueller, a now retired elementary art teacher, started reenacting because of a summer job she had at a historic house near her home in Columbia, Tenn.
“We would sometimes dress up in period dress,” she said. “But it never felt right.”
That is when her research started, but right when she told the owner of the house about her findings, he sold it.
She found a group of reenactors.
“When people ask me if I am working on any art projects I say, ‘I make dresses,’” Hasenmueller said.
She now leaves her husband at home to sit for the animals as she travels to various frontier days or battlefields for events.
Hasenmueller and Murphy became interested in the Civil War era for very similar reasons.
Both being strong and independent women, they were enthralled with women’s changing identity during the Civil War.
“Men were away at war, so women saw it in themselves to pick up the slack,” Hasenmueller said. “They took over farms. They ran business. They started to change things.”
It is these women that Hasenmueller and Murphy portray in their reenacting.
“It is experiencial archeology,” Hasenmuller said. “We are living history and that is what is so great about Natchez.”
“The city is too.”