This is a perfect story with which to follow up yesterday's post on Gettysburg. As part of its 220th anniversary, the Massaponax Baptist Churchof Spotsylvania County decided to recreate the famous Timothy Sullivan of Ulysses S. Grant and his staff during the height of the "Overland Campaign". The decision to recreate this image reflects the tight hold that the Civil War continues to exercise on both the identity of the church and the surrounding area.
It's hard to know what people think they are doing when they set out to re-imagine or re-enact some aspect of the past. Perhaps in this case it is as mundane as whether the logistics can be duplicated. More than likely it is, in part, an attempt to establish a meaningful connection with the past, the upshot of which is some lesson or experience that has been lost to modernity. I am reminded of the reenactors in Tony Horowitz's popular book, Confederates in the Attic, which depicts men going to extremes to recreate the experiences and look of both living and dead soldiers. I rarely ask whether these dramatic reenactments are accurate representations of the past since a complete picture would have to include the subjective experience and this is simply impossible. Instead, I tend to see these events and the people involved as sharing a set of values that are every bit a function of some perceived deficiency with our contemporary culture. In short, for many the hope or belief that we can experience or recreate the past comes down to a form of escapism.
The last few paragraphs of the story on the MBC is quite telling:
The lens peeked through the window panes of Massaponax Baptist Church, from the same location where O'Sullivan stood. The reproduction shot is a closer photo, cropping out Massaponax Church Road in the background. The original photo shows that thoroughfare filled with horse-drawn wagons. Yesterday, cars, trucks and motorcycles zoomed by as re-enactors sat on benches waiting for the photo.
Modern development has encroached on the historic church. The congregation recently bought adjoining land for a new building. Across the street, a sign advertises for tenants for the future Massaponax Crossroads offices. "If you look around, there's no doubt our area is changing," said the Rev. David Hockney, pastor of the church. "The challenge for us as a church is to realize God still has a plan for us.
Did the writer pick up on this tension between past and present as expressed by the participants or by the nature of the event itself?