SELINSGROVE — Re-enacting history helps keep it alive and preserved for generations to come, causing those who participate to put their full hearts into what they do. Such is the case of four members of the 9th Pennsylvania Volunteer Cavalry. For Alex Wolf, Leann Wolf, Eric Siske and Austin Landis, taking part in war re-enactments makes that history real in a way books can’t get across.
“Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it,” Alex and Austin said, quoting the Spanish novelist George Santayana while explaining why they participate in re-enactments.
The group doesn’t focus just on one war, but on wars throughout history. They cover conflicts from the French and Indian War to Vietnam, with most favoring the Civil War and World War II.
The first to get involved was Alex Wolf, who went to his first re-enactment in 2007 in Middleburg. Since then, he’s participated in recreations of the French and Indian War, Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Civil War, World War I and World War II, and has dabbled in Vietnam re-enactments, which are relatively new.
According to Landis, some people believe it’s still too soon for Vietnam re-enactments, but the activity is gaining popularity. Landis has been involved with re-enactments since about 2009 and was soon put in contact with Alex.
Pulled into the scene by Alex were his wife, Leann, and Siske, both of whom started with World War II and went on the wild ride from there of getting involved with other eras.
The experience is somewhat different for Leann, who, depending on the era, is often donning corsets and long hoop skirts. Dressing up in period garb from the Revolutionary and Civil War eras can take upward of 40 minutes without receiving any help.
World War II era is her favorite because of the bigger role women play, and their clothing, she said.
The group said participating in re-enactments provides a history lesson like no other — you learn stories of the world taught in history books while also gathering information on local history that is not as easily accessible to the public.
History is important to the quartet, and each believes there isn’t enough of an emphasis on the topic in public education.
“Today in school, they just touch on some of the history,” Leann said. “You learn a lot more through re-enactments because of being one-on-one with the people and everybody having their own little niche of their knowledge for different parts of the war.”
Added Landis: “It’s a bit more hands-on history, a bit more material. It’s one thing to read things in a book; It’s another to try to put on a whole uniform and live it for a weekend.”
Siske agreed, saying one of the big things that drew him in was the ability to live it rather than just read it. He recalled only having three days dedicated to learning about the Civil War when in high school, which he doesn’t believe is enough.
“They’d spend very little time in schools teaching it, and when (re-enactors) come around kids, they love it,” Siske said.
Another aspect is the camaraderie of the re-enactors, who not only live out the events together but spend time getting to know one another and talking about shared hobbies and interests.
“You see somebody on the street wearing a hat or something and go talk to them and find out they’re a re-enactor,” Alex said, “and you’re there talking for two to three hours!”
It also allows them to connect with their heritage, because all of them have had ancestors who fought in different wars.
“I got into World War II because my grandfather served,” Alex said, “and I portray my great-great-grandfather in my Civil War uniform.”
The ancestry is important to the group, but one of the main overall reasons why they do what they do is to honor the veterans and keep the memory alive of what they went through and sacrificed.
“It’s trying to remember the past and keep it going into the future,” Siske said.