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OSV Militia Men – on the job to preserve a slice of American history

By  Amy Palumbo-LeClaire

Ever wonder what it would be like to go to work dressed up and ready to serve in the military?  

A stroll through Old Sturbridge Village during a sunny Labor Day Saturday had me curious.  What’s it like to wear an 1830’s Militia Man uniform and reenact a scene from our great nation’s history?  Are these stiff-armed, musket men reliving a stale childhood dream to carry a gun or are they volunteering their time for other reasons?  What’s it like to embody the formal attire of our grandfather?  And his father? Can Carlos join?  I had to know. So I put to use my more polished of diplomatic skills. 

I ambushed a few good men on the job.

“The part of the job I like the most is the connections derived from my own family,” said Brian McCoy, a history enthusiast who volunteers his time at OSV a few times per year to play the role of Militia Sergeant and enjoys being dressed in a uniform coat that’s “a little bit nicer than everyone else” and which he purchased via his own personal interest in the time period.  “Different parts of my family have been in this country for a long time.  My great, great grandfather would have been in the militia in the 1830s.  My ancestors would have been in the revolution.  There is a familiar connection when I work.  It’s part of my family’s history. I enjoy that connection.”  

When it comes to understanding the fine nature of American “commonly enrolled militia” during the time period for which he stands for, Brian, a stay-at-home Dad whose wife, Samantha, teaches eighth grade History at Sacred Heart School, Greenwich, CT, turned out to be the real McCoy.

“The term ‘militia’ is used very broadly now,” he said, comfortable in the skin of his uniform.  “Back in that time, it had a specific connotation.  People were closer to the militia.  They understood its nature and function.  Nowadays, a group of people gets together to train in the woods, wear camouflage and they call themselves militia.  It’s not the same ‘militia’ in the sense that we show.  There is a chain of command that passed from the individual, to the governor, to the state. The militia of this time period was organized, it had a chain of command, and rules which people were responsible for.  If you violated rules, there was a consequence.” 

Brian McCoy has also worked as a museum restoration employee in Westchester County, New York, a living history museum, which also offers the opportunity to reenact, yet on a smaller scale than at Old Sturbridge Village. His six-year-old son, Ethan, is also interested in history but, presently, would rather play with dinosaurs.

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Captain of the Militia, Rich Heckert, has been working at OSV for six years.  Aside from leading the men reenacting the 1830’s “enrolled company” militia, Heckert, a supervisor, runs the Tin Shop, where he gives musket demonstrations and trains other employees.  “I have been studying history since I was about eight and now I’m almost thirty,” he said.  “I work here full time and do historical reenactments outside of the village for two time periods, the Revolutionary War, and the Civil War Reenactment.”  Heckert reportedly enjoys learning about and teaching the different lifestyles practiced back then and, moreover, how the basic (simple) way of doing things has shaped the way we do things now.  “If it’s perfect the way it is, why change?”  

Should you have questions about reenactment job opportunities at Old Sturbridge Village, contact Rhys Simmons, Director of Interpretation at 508-347-0313 for details.   Email him at [email protected]