A Civil War general dances with a World War II Navy gal. A man dressed as a German Wehrmacht officer from the 1940s walks past an encampment of Viking raiders from 900 A.D. And while a collector considers buying a Samurai sword, a roomful of re-enactors exchange pointers about the best way to conduct a fake sword fight.
Such will be the scenes as the 13th annual Military History Fest, Reenacting and Trade Faire takes over the Pheasant Run Mega Center in St. Charles Friday through Sunday, Feb. 17-19. Attendees will be able to speak with people who portray soldiers and settlers from eras ranging from ancient Rome through World War II. Dealers will sell military collectibles, re-enactment uniforms and equipment, and historical books and videos while experts conduct seminars and workshops.
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The annual fest was started in 2006 by Michael Bollow, a now-45-year-old marketing manager for a software company. The Aurora resident said that "I always have been interested in military history. After I graduated from college, I started doing World War II re-enacting and selling gear for re-enacting.
"But when winter came and the re-enactments stopped, I missed that and missed my friends and missed the chance to buy and sell this stuff. Also, the re-enactors in the different time periods didn't have much interaction with each other. So I thought of starting this indoor winter convention, where whether you were interested in World War II or interested in Vikings, this would be for you."
Originally called "Reenactment Fest," the event at first was held at the Sheraton Chicago Northwest hotel. It outgrew that and moved to a North Shore hotel. Having outgrown that spot as well, it moved to the 40,000-square-foot facility at Pheasant Run six years ago.
Bollow said about 1,000 people attend each year.
He said 13 re-enactment groups will build indoor camps, with a wide range of approaches, from ancient Rome to World War II. One of the most unusual will be the recreation of a bombed-out World War II house occupied by Polish Army troops (actually, Chicago-area re-enactors of Polish-American descent).
Marie Lobbezoo, a human resources manager from DeKalb, said she has been dressing up as World War II and Renaissance-era people since she was studying for her master's degree in military history. In fact, she met her husband while both were doing a re-enactment. But at Pheasant Run this year she and her husband will dress as 1969 civilians for an important purpose.
"You really don't see things at the Military History Fest that are much beyond World War II," Lobbezoo said. "But our Vietnam vets never got a proper welcome home. So we will portray a typical Midwest family from 1969 welcoming the troops back."
"There are more Vietnam War re-enactment groups than there used to be," Lobbezoo said. "Some of them are actual Vietnam veterans and for them it's a form of therapy. While they're re-enacting, they can feel the same kind of camaraderie with their fellow soldiers that they felt over there. But now they can go home right afterward."
Bollow said World War II and the Civil War remain the most popular topics for Midwest people to re-enact. He said the History Channel TV series "Vikings" has not greatly increased interest in that era, but interest in World War I has exploded with the 100th anniversary of that war, which went on from 1914 to 1918.
"We've had German and French and American groups from World War I," Bollow said. "This year a group re-enacting Germans has built a biplane and will bring it to the show."
Bollow said re-enactors tend to divide into two groups based on how "farby" they are. A farb -- a word he believes comes from the phrase "far be it from me to tell you how you should do this, but" -- is extremely fussy about reproducing uniforms and equipment exactly like the real ones. For example, a farby Civil War recreator will wear only 1860s-style underwear and only uniforms that were stitched together by hand.
Live entertainers will play period music throughout the three days. On Saturday and Sunday, more than a dozen educational seminars will include one about using masquerade costumes, led by Lobbezoo and Jackie Jacobs.
"Another friend of mine will lead a seminar about sword fighting, and another one will talk about bare-knuckled fighting," Lobbezoo said.
Other seminars will deal with topics such as the service academies' role in the Civil War, the Confederate submarine Hunley and ale brewing.
Socially, the festival comes to a climax Saturday night with a "Reenactors Ball."
"Women come in their best historical gowns. Men wear frock coats and dress uniforms," Bollow said. "We turn down the lights and play the song 'Time Warp' and you'll see Robert E. Lee dancing with a WAVE from World War II. Then the rest of the night we dance to modern music."
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