All Articles
All Articles

Conventional Wisdom: Military History Fest

Visiting with reenactors through our continued insider look at conventions, with photographer Arthur Drooker

by David Graver
on 11 February 2014

Through his ever-present lens, photographer Arthur Drooker has taken CH on tours through the delightful, odd and evocative worlds of conventions and convention attendees. Drooker indoctrinated us into Brony culture, introduced us to over 150 Abraham Lincolns and stripped off the veil shrouding sexual fetishes, all while collecting components for his new book, "Conventional Wisdom." His most recent stop was the Military History Fest, appropriately referred to as the Reencators Fest.


This year, around 1,500 attendees gathered at the Pheasant Run resort in the Chicago suburb of St. Charles, Illinois, from 31 January to 2 February 2014. The 10th anniversary of this particular festival was the most attended it has even been; scattered with costumed historical figures and servicemen, collectors and admirers of past. Although the focus is on the history of war, Drooker's realization was one of peace—in a way, a mind-bending revisionist medley occurs between all the factual accuracy. "There’s Robert E. Lee sharing a laugh with a WWII German officer; musketeers chatting up Elizabethan maidens; and General Black Jack Pershing conferring with an armored Polish hussar," Drooker explains to CH. "A tighter band of brothers and sisters you won’t find anywhere else."


As with other conventions, friendship and unity stand as two of the most important pillars of the Military History Fest. Event organizer Mike Bollow tells Drooker, “To be in the same room and dressed in your period garb, the friendship becomes real.” Bollow is a reenactor himself, as well as a military antiques dealer. Back in 2005 he organized the initial iteration of this event, then-called the Reenactor Fest. It was the first of its kind, embracing war reenactors across all time historical periods. 600 assembled at the Sheraton Chicago NW and recognized that this was just the beginning. Bollow later changed the event's name to Military History Fest, believing it would broaden the appeal. It did, and caused him to move the convention to the larger Pheasant Run venue.

DrookerMilitary3.jpg DrookerMilitary4.jpg

At this year's event the venue was split between commerce and play. According to Drooker, "There was a lot to touch on the vendor floor, where dealers sold accoutrement from seemingly every major conflict." He notes that attendees could buy anything from "a reproduction Napoleonic mess kit to an authentic Nazi-era Iron Cross, which cost $250." Commerce factors heavily into conventions, where attendees are often granted access to rare items or are bold enough to buy them when they see for themselves.

An encampment area lay just beyond the vendors walls. There, reenactors put their garb to use while staging historical scenes. The spaces included "a WWI German bunker, a French Revolution guillotine, and a Pompeii tavern, circa 50BC," Drooker explains. These weren't just for looking at, but for engaging with. Drooker also mentions that "conveniently, they were all located near the present day snack bar."


Like other conventions Drooker has been attending for his project, the culmination takes place at a dance, celebrating camaraderie, friendship and the one time every year when these reenactors are together. At the The Reenactor’s Ball, attendees don their finest period-specific attire to mix and mingle, moving along "to period dances such as the Virginia Reel and the Patty Cake Polka." And in a moment of meta-acknowledgment, the crowning tradition involves the event's theme song, “The Time Warp,” from the "Rocky Horror Picture Show." Drooker explains, "Nowhere else will you see an Indian warrior, a knight in full armor and all their friends jump to the left, step to the right, put their hands on their hips and sing." Although attendees portray varied communities across centuries of history, they stand together a solid community in their own right at the annual Military History Fest.

Cool Hunting was invited to follow Arthur Drooker behind-the-scenes as he continues to survey and photograph conventions around the US. All images in this ongoing series are by Arthur Drooker.

The CH25 is a showcase of creators and innovators from a broad range of disciplines who are currently working to drive the world forward.

Jonathan Sparks

Reinventing electronic music by inventing multi-disciplinary instruments

Read More
Recorded music is becoming so cheap, so the value of music is now in live performance

Sarah Kunst

The entrepreneur single-handedly changing the landscape for women in tech

Read More
People who live on a planet that is half women but can never seem to find any when they need one, I have solved your problem

Melissa Kushner

Addressing the needs of orphans and vulnerable children in Malawi through microenterprise

Read More
Poverty is complicated, there is an increasing temptation and pressure in the development space to oversimplify things

Eelke Plasmeijer

The locally driven restaurant that’s upending Balinese food culture

Read More
We really try to keep things simple and let the produce do the talking

Sabine Seymour

A future where smart clothes are as ubiquitous as zippers

Read More
In the future you will not buy a piece of 'functional' clothing without SoftSpot

Marcus Weller

Using technology to turn motorcycle helmet design on its head

Read More
I was taken aback both by the number of people that doubted it, and by the equally large number of people that got behind it

Leopoldine Huyghues Despointes

The young filmmaker and non-profit founder who just wants people to follow their dreams

Read More
I feel confident and ready to accomplish so much more, the movement is on

Dan Barasch + James Ramsey

A quest to make the future brighter—underground

Read More
We both share a passion for groundbreaking technology and a shared love of New York

Vanessa Newman

Redesigning pregnancy for the post-gender generation with Butchbaby & Co.

Read More
I want my customers to feel comfortable and unchanged, in that becoming pregnant didn't take away from or compromise their identity

Cynthia Breazeal

How an emotional, empathetic robot named Jibo stands to revolutionize communication

Read More
The thing that's so provocative about social robots is that it's fundamentally a community technology

Pauline van Dongen

The Dutch designer blazing the wearable technology path

Read More
I’m fascinated by concepts of change, movement, energy and perception; since they are closely related to the way we experience the world

Douglas Riboud + Justin Guilbert

How a mission to create great coconut water led to a whole new way of doing business

Read More
We’ve made a conscious decision to be as transparent and honest as we can, and let people decide for themselves

Kegan Schouwenburg

Revolutionizing orthotics through 3D-printed insoles

Read More
What orthotics do is they effectively change the geometry of what your alignment is like

Alex Kalman

The tiny museum in Manhattan that’s redefining museums

Read More
The mission is to put this small simple and powerful tool into the hands of as many people as possible

Roxie Darling

From un-shampoo to transgender identity, the NYC colorist boldly defining the next chapter of hair

Read More
Hair color is as much a science as it is a craft

Meredith Perry

How searching the Internet helped a 22-year-old invent wireless electricity

Read More
It’s not about where the information is, it’s about how you use the tools

LaToya Ruby Frazier

Documenting the slow, troubling change in Braddock, Pennsylvania

Read More
I am not a journalist, I am a conceptual documentary artist using my visual expression for building narratives that are unseen and unheard

Kathleen Supové

The NYC performance artist who’s radically reinventing the piano recital

Read More
I like pieces that are virtuosic, that show off the piano and what it can do, and are awe-inspiring

Lulu Mickelson

A civic leader bringing change to NYC through design

Read More
Human-centered design is one of the many tools that we can use to better engage the public

George Arriola and Monohm

An heirloom electronic for the post-smartphone era

Read More
We agonized during the design process as all hyper-obsessed craftspeople should

Matt Kenyon

Fusing art and technology to disrupt concepts of corporate America

Read More
I want the work to live in the world and circulate, so it can generate more dialogue

Tarren Wolfe

The next-generation appliance making kitchens greener—literally

Read More
Our goal is to provide food for everyone in the world, and the best place to start is in our very own community

Joshua Harker

Pushing the boundaries of sculpture with intricate 3D printing

Read More
My intent was to explore and depict the architecture of the imagination, to interpret and share forms evident in the mind’s eye

Tal Danino

The bioengineer who’s programming DNA to fight cancer

Read More
[Manipulating genes] is very new, people are just learning how to program these organisms

Corinne Joachim Sanon

The chocolatier bringing social change to Haiti and bean-to-bar chocolate to the world

Read More
Seeing the poverty surrounding me and the lack of jobs and opportunity bothered me
Loading More...