Donning armor and smiting your enemies with a sword has always made for compelling storytelling. The popularity of Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings and other medieval-themed media attest to the fact that we like hearing about knights, knaves and maidens who test their mettle by wearing and wielding actual metal.
But why just read about it or watch it on TV? Wouldn’t you rather BE the hero or heroine of an epic tale?
If the answer to that question is yes, or even if you’re just interested in learning more about the medieval world in general, then bring your family to the Medieval Family Fun Faire from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, July 7, at Camp Russel in Oglebay Park. Admission is free, and the site is open to the public for an unforgettable hands-on history.
The Medieval Family Fun Faire is hosted by the Shire of Ballachlagan, the local branch of the international organization the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA). Concessions will be available throughout the day to quench your thirst and fill your hungry stomachs. A portion of the proceeds from sales, as well as raffle items and a 50/50, will benefit Ohio County 4-H.
The grounds of Camp Russel will be overflowing with all manner of activity. Knights in armor will fill the air with the din of their struggle as they fight in real combat. Rapier fighters with steel swords will dexterously dance along the battlefield as they cross blades. A thrown weapons range will be open to those who wish to test their skill with ax or dagger.
But the day is about more than just fighting. Visitors to the faire will find members of the SCA performing and teaching Western European and Middle Eastern dance, commonly known as belly dancing. The Arts and Sciences area will be full of different artisans engaging in their crafts, many of whom will be holding sessions for public instruction and hands-on training.
Dr. Dominique Hoche, associate professor of English from West Liberty University who specializes in medieval literature and graphic narrative and is also a member of the SCA, believes, “One of the best ways to learn about the past is to recreate it. I’m an apprentice right now, and I’m learning how to use medieval techniques and fabric to make ladies’ gowns and men’s fighting garments. Even the way of sewing a seam by hand was different in earlier times. It’s a really fun challenge for a seamstress.”
With that in mind, keep an eye out for the Viking Living History Project (VLHP), hosted by West Liberty University professor of history Dr. Darrin Cox and his volunteers, many of whom are also SCA members. The VLHP brings history to life by recreating a historically authentic Viking encampment from clothing to armor to feast gear and kitchen equipment. Visitors can try on the clothing and chain armor, inspect trade goods and interact with content experts on all manner of Viking life.
Children 12 and younger will have the opportunity to complete a scavenger hunt for Viking beads that will take them through the entire faire collecting these trinkets, and wisdom, throughout the day (supplies limited, first-come/first-served). If you find enough, you too could have your very own Viking beaded necklace so exquisite that the king of Denmark might get jealous.
And yes, for those brave enough, you might get to try your hand at some sword-fighting as well.
“While we can’t let the general public take part in the mass melees and tournaments that they will be witnessing during the day, since they haven’t had the requisite safety training, we do have loaner gear available for newcomers so that they can start the process,” said Warwood Middle School art teacher and Shire of Ballachlagan Seneschal Russ Schultz.
Basically, some members of the public will get to wear armor and swing a sword at seasoned SCA volunteers who will teach them the basics of armored combat. This goes for children, too, as the SCA has youth combat as well.
All fighters, both young and old, are protected by the modern equivalent of a full-body suit of armor, or in the case of those who wish to go the extra mile, an actual suit of plate armor just like knights of old used to wear. Before actually participating in the larger fights, however, combatants must pass an authorization process to make sure that they are not a danger to others or themselves.
The SCA is a non-profit group who is dedicated to researching and recreating the arts and skills of pre-17th century Europe. The “Known World” of the SCA has over 20 kingdoms and 30,000 members worldwide. Besides dressing in the clothing of the Middle Ages and Renaissance, members compete in tournaments, attend royal courts, hold feasts, dance, and construct all manner of arts and crafts from the time period.
The Shire of Ballachlagan covers the Northern Panhandle of West Virginia, which is part of the larger Kingdom of Aethelmearc. Although they have numerous other meetings and workshops, Ballachlagan holds their regular practices at 1 p.m. on Sundays at Brooke Hills Park beside the Mountaineer Shelter just beyond the playground and playhouse/barn.
For more information on the Medieval Family Fun Faire, look for the event on Facebook. The Shire of Ballachlagan is also located on Facebook and encourages all to like their page and join their group for some medieval fun. Don’t just read about history — come and be a part of it.
• Dr. Darrin Cox is a professor of history at West Liberty University. Much of his time is centered around the Viking Living History Project, in which he trains student volunteers to be re-enactors of the Viking Age for the purpose of hands-on history demonstrations within the local community.